These days, more than half of children under the age of ten have a mobile phone. When they hit high school, this increases to almost three-quarters of them. Of course, children having a mobile phone with them has plenty of benefits, namely that you can get in touch with your child wherever they are and can keep track of where they are. However, mobile phones come with a tremendous amount of responsibility – or should, anyway – and should be used respectfully and safely. The generation now carrying them are the first to use them from such a young age, and both the parents and the children are on a steep learning curve when it comes to how to manage them. It does not matter whether you have chosen to give your child an expensive, all-inclusive contract or a SMARTY PAYG sim and basic phone – there are lots of things that you need to bear in mind in order to keep your child safe. Read on to find out more.
Why can mobile phones be dangerous?
Well, the mobile phone itself poses no danger, of course. It is how it is used that can be dangerous. We all hope that our child is sensible and will not do anything silly, but sadly, the lure of mobile phones combined with a lack of knowledge around safe mobile phone use, immaturity and the strong force of peer pressure means that kids can and do get into trouble with their phones. As a parent, your role is to understand the risks associated with children using mobile phones. These may include:
- ‘Sexting’ – sexually explicit text messages and social media messages
- Accessing material inappropriate for their age
- Overuse of the mobile phone
- Sharing personal information with strangers
- Spending money on in-app purchases
Who is responsible for the child using the mobile phone?
Your job as a parent is to make sure that you keep your child safe from the above dangers, and any others posed by the unsafe use of mobile phones. However, the network operator of the phone also holds a certain degree of responsibility when it comes to protecting a minor. UK laws demand that all network operators have to block any inappropriate web content from phones used by children. You may have to phone up and speak to someone within their customer services department to request this, but once they are aware the phone is being used by a minor, it something that they are legally required to do. However, you need to bear in mind that this system is far from being foolproof and some unscrupulous sites can and do slip through the safety net. If your child does access something inappropriate, you should let your network operator know as soon as possible so that they can block it from being accessed in the future.
Some mobile phone networks provide some services and features to make them more child-friendly. For example, if you are concerned that your child will spend more money on data or phone calls than their plan allows, you can cap their usage or spending, or have a message or email sent to you when they are getting close to or are at their usage limit. This does vary by provider, so check it out before you sign up.
Before you give your child a mobile phone to have full control over, it is crucial to check all of the settings on it. Most smartphones these days have child-specific settings on which you can protect and control with a password. Again, each phone model is different, so have a read through the manual and get to know the phone before you hand it over.
There are also specific apps that can be downloaded which allow even tighter control and monitoring over your child’s mobile phone. There are a few to choose from, one being Net Nanny. They allow you to block or lock specific apps and set times when the phone cannot be used for anything other than emergency phone calls, which can be handy for school hours and when they should be in bed sleeping.
You can download apps, you can have the operator block things, and you can maintain strict parental control, but the best way of keeping your child safe when they are using their mobile phone is to educate your child about the dangers of using a phone. By doing this, you will help them to make sensible decisions and understand what to do if they see something that they do not like. Here are just some of the things that you may want to talk to them about:
- What cyberbullying is, and what they should do if this affects them
- Why they should not give out personal information to anyone that they do not know
- Why they should not send pictures or messages that are sexual in nature
- What is appropriate content and what they should do if they see something upsetting or adult
- How in-app purchases cost real money, and how it can land someone in debt
- Appropriate times to use a mobile phone
The three ‘c’s – contact, content, and conduct is worth teaching. These are:
- CONTACT: Making sure that the person your child is chatting to on social media or over a text message is a real-life friend and that they are who they say they are.
- CONTENT: Are they accessing age-appropriate content?
- CONDUCT: That your child is not being bullied online or by message, or that they are not doing it to someone else.
The concept of apps is a relatively new one and is one of the most significant dangers posed to children by a mobile phone, particularly social media. These include Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp and Facebook. These do have age restrictions on – usually 13, but of course, many children lie about their age in order to access these sites. There is also the danger of dubious adults, who sadly pretend to be children to get close to children. This is known as grooming.
If you do allow your child to use these platforms, make it a condition that you check their activities and messages regularly, and that their privacy settings are as tight as possible. They should only accept friend requests or follows from people that they know in real life.
They also should be reminded that once something has been posted online, it can remain there forever, even if deleted instantly. A simple screenshot can be circulated around the globe within minutes with very little technical know-how. It has been known for employers and officers for college and university admissions to check their social media footprint when considering whether to accept them. Even things posted as a young teenager can come back to bite them if they are not careful.
With a little preparation and careful parenting, giving your child a mobile phone can be very beneficial. However, just because mobiles are seemingly everywhere these days does not mean that they are without danger. It is essential that you work together with your child so that they know the boundaries and what to do if they do not like something they come across online or on their mobile phones..