Receiving their first mobile phone has almost become a rite of passage for kids these days. With increasing peer pressure on children to have phones at younger and younger ages, what 12 or 13 year old doesn’t seem to be sporting their own device. The pressure is not only on from teens and tweens themselves to have phones, but also parents who feel the need to be in contact with their kids as needed throughout the day. As parents, we want the best for our kids but also understand some of the risks that come along with giving our children open-ended access to a world where we cannot always be around to protect them.
The question of how and where we can place limits on our kid’s cell phone use is an important one that is more complex than we may at first think. In a recent New York Times article, parenting blogger KJ Dell’Antonia described her experience when her son bought his first phone and how she decided on how to best lay down rules and boundaries for healthy and safe use of the device. While leaving the issue of specific rules open ended, Dell’Antonia made a clear point to her son that she must always be able to access his phone and the social media accounts on it. Keeping the door open for inspection can mean a lot to a concerned parent, but it is still important to remain aware of other potential risks that come along with phone ownership that are worth considering.
Risks to Children on Mobile Devices
1. Constant Access to Social Media
The name “smartphone” is a bit of a misnomer, since being a phone is only one of the many capabilities these devices boast. Packed with apps like Facebook, Snapchat, Whatsapp, and others, a smartphone offers an open gateway to mass communication with the rest of the world. This means that kids can remain plugged in to social media everywhere they go, making disconnecting that much harder. Maintaining strong family connections are dependent on ensuring that our children (and us for that matter) are able to limit the amount of time that we spend staring at our small screens and actually interact with one another. This can be especially important for our teens who have homework to do and bedtimes to keep.
2. Unchecked Internet Access
Sometimes we forget that our smartphones provide us with the Internet in our pockets. This sudden freedom for teens can sometimes lead them to search for content that is either not age appropriate, or simply explicit. Being their device, they are likely to feel off the radar and may decide to push the limits outside of your comfort zone.
3. Beyond Polaroid
Without realizing it, we have essentially given our children the means to make their own photo shoots and movie studios. As kids will be kids, and make plenty of stupid mistakes, the chances that those mistakes will stick around for a long time to come are highly increased now that every moment can be recorded spontaneously. Some of these instances will be laughed off as childish antics, while others will prove to be more scarring and affect their reputation for years to come. It is essential to explain to our kids that whatever enters the digital universe can never be fully erased. This is doubly true for images sent to others through SMS or other messaging services. Even SnapChat’s “self-destruct” messages are not safe from being saved as a screenshot for further distribution. There is no end to where these pictures or videos can end up and the damage they can cause.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
As hard as it is, being a responsible parent can mean taking that extra step to look out for your kids. Luckily NetSpark Mobile offers easy to implement solutions that parents can manage remotely from their own browser or mobile device. These solutions include real-time content filtering, limiting access to apps either completely or during specific times, and the ability to set up restrictions for each of your children with separate settings so that your 16 year old can have more flexible access than your 12 year old.
Choosing how to manage your kids and their mobile devices can be a tricky situation at best. The first step is really having a conversation with your children to make clear what your expectations are for when and how they use their phone. The need to teach them healthy habits from a young age is becoming increasingly necessary. Passing on the values of self control and mindfulness of how we use our devices can leave a lasting impression for kids as they look to us to learn how to navigate their own digital world.