What are we doing to protect kids from the dangers of smartphones?

Child with mobile tech

Child with mobile tech

We live in a time when many four-year olds are able to pick up an iPad and operate it better than most adults, where children from the age of six are sporting smartphones instead of the classic action figure or Barbie doll. It almost seems natural to buy a kid a smartphone, iPad, or computer.

The problem with this generation of little tech junkies is not them being in possession of smartphones or having unlimited access to internet, but what they do with these gadgets and possible threats that are accompanied with the use of smartphones.

It’s all about image

Many youngsters are drawn to these gadgets because of the social capital that comes with having a BlackBerry, Android, iPhone or iPad. Many parents not aware of the implications purchasing a six-year-old child one of the above mentioned devices. Smartphones facilitate easy access to the internet and host an array of ways in which one can communicate. These children become engrossed in the world of texting and chatting, adding and inviting random people and accepting strangers just for the purpose of ‘doing what is fashionable and seems right’.

Recently a cyber-trend called ‘sexting’ has become a major issue with an abundance of tweens and teenagers sending sexually orientated text messages, photos and videos to each other.

A little perspective

According to a US study done online by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, approximately of the 1 280 teens interviewed between the ages of aged 13-19 all have access to cell phones, of which 39% of teens have participated in sexting related messaging. This might seem natural as teens are bound to start exploring their boundaries sooner or later; the problem is that the consequences of sexting in many cases are devastating.

A recent sexting related tragedy in Ohio, where teenager Jessica Logan sent a nude picture that was meant for her boyfriend, but was accidentally sent to several pupils in her community and surrounding high schools. She was ostracised and taunted, to the point where she hung herself. It is stories like this that make parents start thinking of the possibility that their child or teenager may fall subject to a similar scenario.

Luckily for those paranoid parents there are a few nifty applications you can attain and load on the young one’s phone to monitor his or her phone usage. Applications like My Mobile Watch Dog, Stealth Genie, and Mobile Spy give the parents the ability to block certain web applications, restrict specific numbers, receive SIM-change notifications, and monitor times of use, GPS tracking devices as well as seeing all incoming and outgoing messages and texts, to name but the basics.

In an article on CNN tech, an investigator for the child sex investigations unit in Colorado, Mike Harris, spoke about these apps and the benefit it has. Harris loaded these applications onto his phone and posed as child where-from he has made 44 arrests with the help of this phone monitoring software. “It makes life easy for me as an investigator. It saves me hours of time, which obviously means I have more time to go out and catch offenders,” he said.

The software also documents text messages and other data that can be used in court, he said. “Now all I have to do is go into the account and pull everything out that was done between that sex offender and me.”

On the flipside
This seems all fine and dandy when you are loading this software onto a child’s phone that is still too young to make proper character judgements or a rebellious teenager’s phone. The implications arise when parents start using these applications on their knowledgeable teenagers’ smartphones, as these apps can monitor almost all actions on the phone and block phone usage at certain times.

The ideal would be that parents should trust their teenagers and know that they brought them up with enough understanding to be careful, but where does one draw the line between wanting to protect your child and invading his or her privacy?

The main point is though that children are being exposed to an array of unhealthy online, smartphone related environments, and perhaps instead of spying on your child you should teach them and make them more aware; a type of cell phone etiquette. Top Ten Reviews listed the five main rules every child and teenager should be given before handing them a cellphone:

  • No texting while driving
  • No bullying
  • No sexting
  • Only communicate with people you know
  • Don’t use the phone in inappropriate settings

In the end the choice will be with the parents to educate their children, but just in case the tech world has the parents’ back.



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