If you’re a parent, you probably worry what the risks are to your child having their own mobile phone. You likely have thought about the pros and cons, realizing there are solid benefits, but also carries risk. How can you be a responsible, informed parent that prioritizes on safety? Certainly, you will lay down grounds rules for your child, but that only works so far. Technology must play a part as well. There are so many other things to consider, such as time spent on the phone, dealing with threats and strangers, and health risks. Do your research.
There are reasons to allow a young child to have a mobile phone. They can reach you in an emergency, and you can reach them, whether by voice or text. They will have information at their fingertips from the Internet, which can encourage learning. Social media allows them to be connected to friends and develop a rich social life, rather than be perceived by others as not part of the group. And perhaps most important is the ability to locate them if they are lost or missing, or they lose their phone.
A Nielsen report shows that the top two reasons parents are getting their kids wireless service before age 13 is to get hold of them easily, and so they can reach the parent easily. The third highest is to track their location. The same report states that 45% of kids get a service plan at ages 10-12, with ages 9-11 coming in around 14-15%.
There are risks that must be managed. There is offensive and adult content they are too young to see. There are games making it too easy for them to spend your money. There are pedophiles. There is bullying. And there is the anxiety that can come from social media when it appears others are having a better life. There is also uncertainty about health risks from the wireless signals.
The ideal balance for most is to allow the smartphone while ensuring you are maximizing the benefits and minimizing the risks. For example, that you can locate your child’s phone, but you are also able to prevent them from accessing adult content. This needs to be a combination of both technology and instruction to your child. One alone is not enough. Technology solutions to control risks go only so far, and you can only trust your child so much to know what is ok and what is not, and how to react to danger. Once you allow your child to have a phone, you want to use both technology and ground rules.
For the technology side, at the very minimum be sure you can locate the phone. Apple and Google have built-in solutions however you should go further. Why? Because the phone’s free solutions don’t let you restrict websites your child can go to, have limited monitoring of how the phone is being used, lack geofencing and are easier for your child to disable. Also, the locating and tracking methods greatly differ between Apple and Google, which can be difficult if you have a different phone than your child or your children have different phones.
Screen shots from the Family Orbit software have been included to give you an idea of what is possible with high end mobile phone child safety software.
Locating your Child
Test this capability in advance. Rather than have to use the web, ideally you have an app that lets you access location easily, and without alerting your child. If you have more than one child, consider software that can let you monitor multiple phones from the same application. You’ll want to ensure the GPS is enabled on your child’s phone, for more accurate locating. Note that GPS may not work indoors, however modern phones still are able to calculate location fairly well based upon other information such as cell phone towers and Wi-Fi hotspots.
While safety is the primary concern, children are prone to losing their phone, and this will also help you retrieve a lost phone and save a lot of money. Stolen phones may or may not be able to be located, many thieves know how to disable this shortly after they steal it.
Advanced child safety software can also offer geofencing, meaning you can get alerts when your child goes outside a specific area. For example, you might want to be immediately notified when your child is not at home, not at school, etc. rather than only when you check.
We do not recommend using mobile phone tracking software that doesn’t include a geofencing feature. Being alerted immediately your child has left where they should be can save their life. If your child encounters danger, they may not be able to message you.
As indicated above, don’t rely only on technology, rather set rules for your child. Here are some topics to discuss with your child:
- When are they allowed or not allowed to use the phone
- How much time can they spend on the phone
- Guidance for keeping the phone away from them while sleeping, to reduce health risks
- How should they handle phone calls or messages from strangers
- Expectations on communicating with you if they are going somewhere out of the ordinary
- How and when to call 911
- Ensuring they have all the important phone numbers in their contacts
- What sorts of things are inappropriate to take a photo of
- What types of messages or photos need to be reported to you
- What is allowed in using the app store
- Ensuring they are responsible for ensuring their battery lasts all day
- Ensuring they don’t abuse any data plan limits you have with Netflix, etc.
- Ensuring they understand that as a parent you have the right to look at their phone anytime
- Sharing their account login information with you, e.g. social media and email
As indicated above, setting time limits on phone usage is important. Most children spend too much time staring at their phones, much of it non-productive and can cause anxiety and depression. One report cites children 8 and younger spent about 15 minutes a day on their phones in 2013, but was up to 48 minutes by 2017. You cannot personally monitor them all the time but with technology, you can. For example, the Family Orbit software allows you to force a limit on their screen time, based on a schedule.
Children will not like some of this technology nor the ground rules, but as a parent you should stand firm. They will hopefully understand one day when they are older and follow your example with their own children. There would be lifelong pain for you if something bad were to happen that you could have prevented.
If you have some of your own tips as a parent, please share them in the comments below.
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