Recently, I saw a local news broadcast about “The Hidden Dangers in Your Child’s Cell Phone!!!!!” (Exclamation points, theirs.) The story was about how, when you take a picture from your phone and posts it to a social networking site, the GPS location function of their phone can pinpoint – for anyone who cares to look – your exact location.
The anchors appeared shocked – simply shocked! They gravely thanked the reporter for exposing this terrifying fact.
What the story didn’t explain, was that it’s incredibly easy to turn off the Geo-locator function. But I guess, had they done that, they wouldn’t have had a story.
But what the story did point out to me, is how little people know – or even think about – mobile safety. Especially parents.
According to a recent study sponsored by Snapdragon Processors by Qualcomm (which power and enable more than 420 different smartphones and tablets), only 50% of parents whose under thirteen year olds own smart-phones have talked to their children about protecting their privacy while on a mobile device. Yet according to the same study, 39% of those parents said their children had called their contacts without their knowledge, and 36% said their kids had downloaded apps without their knowledge. Sounds like parents need to start talking.
Lots of parents use programs like Net Nanny or McAfee Parental Controls to control what their kids see at home. They make sure the family computer is in a public place. They admonish their kids about talking to strangers online, giving out personal information. But these same parents hand their kids a smartphone – essentially handing them a computer – let them stick it in their backpack, and say nothing.
It doesn’t make sense. Phones are ubiquitous. The Qualcomm study showed that fully 80% of people admitted to using their mobile device in the bathroom. 56% said they used theirs on a date (not a good date, I would venture to guess), more than one-fourth in a house of worship, and 13% at a funeral.
And these were adult respondents. Imagine what it’s like for kids who are growing up with this kind of connectivity, who take it in stride.
So how do we keep our kids safe wherever they’re connected?
Mobile Rules for Kids:
- Remind them that online rules apply whether they are on a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone.
- Teach them how to disable the geo-location device from their picture app. (You may not want to disable it completely if you use it to keep track of your child)
- Make sure they never share their phone number with anyone other than family and close friends. Do not use it to enter contests,
- Lock the phone with a PIN and don’t tell anyone (even their best friend) what it is.
- Don’t text or post anything that would hurt or embarrass someone or that’s provocative –whether it’s words, pictures, or videos.
- Be aware that once they share anything through their phone, it can be forwarded to anyone, forever.
- Avoid clicking links in ads, contests, or text messages offering prizes or money because they may contain malware or lead to the sale of their information or theft of their identity.
Mobile Safety Tips for Parents:
1. Don’t give your child more than they can handle. Just because you have internet access and texting on your phone, doesn’t mean your 12 year old has to. Only give your child access to the functionality they need and can safely use.
2. Set usage rules early. Don’t want your kid using his phone as he walks to school? Let him know, set consequences then check up on him or her. Make sure your plan allows you to see when and to whom calls were made.
3. Let your child know you will be looking at their texts, data usage, and calls – and then do so once in a while. Not to be a snoop – but to make sure your child is safe.
4. Block certain sites from your child’s phone. Your wireless account should have online access. Log in, find the “Message Blocking” section under your preferences, some carriers allow you to block all websites or messages from the Internet, or you can choose specific websites to block. Learn more about limiting website access on a mobile device here.
The bottom line? Treat your child’s mobile devices the same way you treat their online access: use monitoring, technical tools, and common sense. And teach them to do the same.