Today, smartphones are a common technological accessory. Most people who have mobile phones have ones that are capable of “smart” technologies such as Internet browsing and accessibility to apps. According to MSN, 10 percent of U.S. children now have cellphones by the time they turn 5 years old, which opens children to the entertainment and technological advantages that mobile technology has to offer from an early age. Unfortunately, it also exposes them to all the dangers associated with smartphones that they may be too young to fully comprehend. As a parent, it is up to you to educate and protect your children from the dangers of mobile technology if you are to allow them the privilege to own or use your smartphone. Here are some ways you can keep your kids safe:
Know the threats
You might think you understand all the dangers of cell phone and Internet usage, but as an adult, there are some situations you naturally avoid that kids do not have the intuition to do yet. Make yourself aware of the dangers associated with mobile technology and kids so that you know what to watch out for, and you know which conversations you need to have with your children in order to maintain their safety. Be sure to bring up conversations about limiting the personal information they provide, what cyber bullying is, how to react to it and why it is wrong to partake in it, that sexting can lead to unimaginable trouble, and that some sites are not safe and can grant hackers access to their phones.
Set the ground rules
Explain to your children that using or owning a cell phone is a privilege, and while it may be fun, there are plenty of ways it can be dangerous. Tell them that they are only allowed to share their phone number and personal information with family and friends they know in person.
Limit their plans
Give your children a text, data, and minute limit. Make sure they understand that their phone is to be used to call home for a ride, text you with updates of where they are, and provide them with the technology they need so they don’t get lost or so that they have a tool in case of an emergency. Make sure they understand that these limited amounts of data/texts/minutes are to be used for those purposes and that they cannot go over this limit each month. This will keep them from using their phone to excess or from the temptation to let their friends play with their phones.
Parental controls: Content filters
Set up filters on your children’s phones to block certain websites, videos, and downloads. There are certainly ways around content filters, but setting up these barriers can help prevent your kids from accidentally entering a site or situation that could be potentially harmful.
Parental controls: Usage controls
Set up usage controls and let your children know that you are using them to monitor their calls and text messages. These controls can block certain phone numbers as well as disable the phone during certain times of they, especially if your child has a chronic problem of using their cell phone in class. These settings may make you feel that you are encroaching on your child’s privacy, but having this featured enabled can help you help them to make responsible mobile technology choices. You don’t have to read every message or look at every photo, but checking in from time to time could be your children’s only barrier against irresponsible or dangerous mobile activity. Make sure they understand that this is your intention. Be upfront about your intentions from the moment you grant them phone privileges so they don’t feel as if you are spying on them behind their backs.
Parent controls: Location and monitoring
Most phones come with a GPS, which can allow you as a parent to monitor your child’s whereabouts and can even alert your when they enter one of your designated “unsafe zones.” Again, there are certainly ways this feature may seem like an invasion of your child’s privacy, but it is an excellent tool to use if you cannot get ahold of your child or if you suspect they could be in a potentially dangerous situation.
Not only do you have to worry about the potentially dangerous situations that come with giving your children constant access to mobile technology, but you should also consider their health. Although the studies are up to medical and scientific debate there are potential links between high cell phone usage early in a child’s development and ADHD as well as other social disorders. Even if you don’t buy into the medical risks potentially associated with cell phone use, consider your child’s social behavior. Children learn effective communication through practice, but communicating via text and social media is a different form of communication than anything that has ever been available to children before. While these forms of communication are useful and effective in their own ways, make sure your children are still getting plenty of face-to-face social interaction to build verbal communication skills in a variety of settings.
Ultimately it is up to you as a parent to keep an open dialogue with your children about mobile technology and phone etiquette. Remember that there are serious dangers associated with improper cell phone usage, but there are also social situations in which using a phone is not appropriate and that your children need to learn how to communicate in regular face-to-face situations as well.
How do you ensure your child’s safety when you grant them mobile technology privileges? What filters or rules do you use? Has your child ever encountered a dangerous situation through mobile technology? How did you handle it? Share the knowledge in the comments section below.