Should I get my child a cell phone ? How to protect our “Mobile kids”

For a school project my daughter needed to look up information about the Fig Tree. As a Techie I am aware of the dangerous that lie out there on the net and so I didn’t let my child loose with my Tablet and Google. I wanted to ensure that nothing she would look up would result in anything dodgy. And lucky I checked. As a test, I turned off the “safe searches” that Google has and instantly this image came up (minus the black lines). The reason it came up was because it was titled “XXXXing in a Fig Tree….”

porn picture comes up in search

This got me thinking. Does everyone know how to protect our kids in a mobile world ?

We all know how to use programs like NetNanny and instituted rules such as “no internet in the kids bedroom. All internet must be surfed only in the lounge”. But what about Cell phones ?

If you have given your child a cell phone, make sure you are know what you have gotten yourself into –

Sex-ting and other issues:

Firstly, we have to recognise that if you have a smartphone you have full internet capabilities. Streaming videos, Google searches, Instant Messaging, Email, Facebook, Twitter etc. etc. etc. In fact these devices are so integrated that “Sex-ting” has becomes a real issue. Sex-ting – is when kids are sending and receiving adult images mostly of pictures they have taken of themselves. Its so simple to snap a picture and instantly share it with the world. A study shows that 20% of teens (ages 13-19) and 33% of young adults (ages 20-26) have shared nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves either via text or by posting online. Teen girls are slightly more likely to do this than boys and 11% of the young teen girls (ages 13-16) admitted to sending suggestive photos of themselves. Most of it its under teen pressure.

Install a protective App:

Just like a normal computer has the ability to install software to block out adult content, so does a cell phone.

You have to go into the Application Store for your specific phone and do a search for Child Protection or Block Porn or Safe Surfing etc. There are lots of apps that will do this. Some are free some you have to pay for. If you don’t know how to do this, go into your Cell phone provider and ask for assistance.

An an example (note: not endorsing any of these – so try them out or others):

Network block:

Did you know that MTN and Vodacom have free facility to block any cell phone number from accessing adult content ?

MTN people do this:

MTN Parent control system

source: http://www.mtnsp.co.za/MTNSERVICES/MTNPERSONALSAFETY/Pages/MTNParentalControl.aspx

Vodacom people do this:

Vodacom Parent Control system

source: http://www.vodacom.co.za/personal/services/peaceofmind/vodacomparentalcontrol#vodacomparentalcontrol/?pageUrl=/personal/services/peaceofmind/vodacomparentalcontrol&firstLoad=true&_suid=819

[note: I am still waiting on 8ta and Cell C to reply if they offer such service. If they do, I will update this.]

The Contract:

I really like this concept – make your children sign a contract for the usage & privilege of being allowed to have a cell phone.

Some of the Contract clauses I would like to highlight:

  • I will always report ANY suspicious online behaviour to my parents/guardians, as well as any behaviour that scares or worries me.
  • I will not accept any contacts on ANY social networking sites or instant messaging services like BBM, that I do not know personally (‘real life’). I will only accept family and friends as contacts. I will not accept any contacts that are introduced to me by my friends, unless I have met them before and trust them.
  • I am prepared to take full responsibility for my actions, and I am willing to be held accountable for my actions.

You can download a copy of the contract here and ready lots of other safety information: http://www.cellphonesafety.co.za/parentchild-contract-putting-the-ball-in-your-childs-court.html

To the above list, I would add:

  • You must add me as a friend on Facebook, and a contact on BBM
  • Phone must be password protected with a password I know
  • At any time day or night the second I ask for your phone you instantly hand it over

So in summary:

This is a vast subject and cant all be covered here. I strongly urge parents to get familiar with the dangerous of simply providing your kids with cell phones without having proper protection in place. There are lots of resources on the net that will assist and a simple look up in Google will get you educated fast.

Do not forget that Tablets (iPads, Galaxy, Playbook etc. ), portable Game consoles (Xboxes, DS, PlayStations, etc.), E-readers (Kindle, etc.) – all have internet access built in too. These portable devices often pose more danger to kids than the “traditional” home computer. These devices are small, often too complex for the “adult” to use and are simple to hide.

Be also very aware of the dangers of being bullied via the internet – this is very real and we need to take steps to protect out kids. Simple Google search: “being bullied online” reveals plenty

From my point of view, teach our kids from very early on that whilst the internet and social media are fantastic tools, they also come with elements of danger. Whilst being able to chat to friends over BBM and Whatsapp is cool, it also carries a risk. I tell my kids that at any stage that they feel something is wrong or they have received a picture they don’t like or that someone is saying mean things or that someone wants to meet them in real-life – these are RED FLAGS and I need to know about it immediately (without any fear of any punishment).

The aim of this is not to scare but as with anything in life, if it is managed right, it is a great tool.

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