It’s no secret that kids love digital devices.

Whether they’re playing games, texting friends, or checking out the latest viral video, they're constantly connected, leaving parents with the unenviable task of setting limits on device use to protect their children.

Parental controls for smartphones can help with that. “It just depends on how much of a helicopter parent you want to be,” says Joshua Kanowe, chief strategy officer for the secure communications company Silent Circle.

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There are ways to limit screen time and purchases, control access to the content your child views, monitor your child's activities, and preserve family privacy. The real challenge, it seems, is figuring out how to locate and activate those features.

Google has a free app parents can download for help managing Android devices, for example, while Apple lists its parental controls on a page recently rolled out on its website, a couple of months after shareholders expressed concern about the impact of smartphones on children. 

No matter how much you lock down a mobile device, though, Kanowe, who has an 11-year-old son, stresses that it’s still up to you to monitor your child's smartphone use.

Like many kids his age, Kanowe's son plays a lot of video games. So, Kanowe keeps an eye on related chat activity, remains on the lookout for violent content, and frequently plays games with the boy. (Kanowe also limits his son to a phone that doesn't have a SIM card; the result is that he only uses the phone at home, accessing the web through WiFi.) 

To help you find and master the parental controls on your child's smartphone, we've assembled a simple guide. Here are your options.

Limit Screen Time

For Android phone users: Google's Family Link app, available for free at the Android app store, lets you create a time limit for daily usage as well as a “bedtime” period when your child is prevented from using the device. You can even download the app onto an iPhone to monitor what a child with an Android phone is doing. You can't, however, use it to manage the account on a child's iPhone.

For iPhone users: Things are a little trickier here. Since Apple has not created controls of its own, you must download an iPhone-friendly third-party app from the App Store to do the job.

Control Access to Apps and Content

For Android phone users: The Android operating system makes things a little easier for parents by permitting you to set up multiple user accounts on a single device like, say, your smartphone.

This lets you share the phone with a child, while restricting the device's use when its in the child's hands. If your child has a phone, you can still create an account, log in to it on the child's phone, and manage it from your own iOS or Android device. 

Start by downloading the free Google Family Link app from the Android app store. The app will then walk you through the process for creating a Google account—linked to your own—for your child to use. It also will help you decide what sort of restrictions to place on that account.

A handful of Google apps such as Photos, Gmail, Maps, and Play Music come preinstalled. YouTube is notably blocked, but YouTube Kids is available for download in the app store.

Once you've completed the process, your child can use your phone or another phone to access the restricted account. Your own account will remain unchanged.

You can monitor what your child is doing via the app’s dashboard and email alerts and require parental approval for any new app your child wishes to download.

For iPhone users: Parents with Apple phones can't set up accounts for children on their own phones, but they can place restrictions on phones owned by their kids.  

In the Settings app, select General > Restrictions > Enable Restrictions. This will let you create a passcode that gives you—and only you—the ability to lock down certain features and content.

Use the toggle switches to restrict the phone’s access to apps and features such as the Safari browser, FaceTime, and the iTunes store. You can also curtail your child’s ability to install or delete apps and make in-app purchases.

Other parental controls let you block access to explicit music and podcasts and decide which movies, TV shows, and apps your child can see by choosing the appropriate rating. Websites with known adult content can be blocked. You can also create your own “white list” of kid-friendly websites and limit your child to those.

Parents can get greater visibility into what their kids are doing by using the Family Sharing feature. With that, up to six family members can connect and share iTunes, iBooks, and App Store purchases. In addition to sharing content, kids can use a parent's credit card to make purchases, but those purchases must be approved by the parent.

All of these options are great, but—unlike with the Family Link app—you need to manually change the settings one at a time on each child's phone.

Protect Your Child's Privacy

In a world where adults and kids love to post every tiny detail of their lives on social media, keeping your child's personal information private can be tough. But Apple and Google both offer parental controls to help you with that.

For Android phone users: With the Family Link app, you can prevent your child from sharing Google Photos and limit Google's ability to save information about your child's web searches, voice commands, and other activities.

You can also block access to most social media apps by selecting the appropriate App and Games setting. Your options include "10 and up" or "younger." But that does not block the websites for those platforms from showing up in the device's web browser.

For iPhone users: Apple's privacy protections are housed in the Restrictions section of the Settings menu. That's where you can turn off the Location Services for each app on your child's device.

You can also decide which, if any, social media services your child can use to share photos. There's a setting that lets you keep app data from being shared in the background via Bluetooth. And, as with Android, you can block most social media platforms by limiting app use to kids "nine and older," but your child will still be able to access the platforms' sites through the phone's web browser.