This is a guest post from Megan Tripper. Megan is an avid blogger and a contributor for Safe Sound Family, a leading source of free family safety information and home security tutorials.
Mobile phones are a great thing to have because they enable the user to do so many things with just one small device. But like all things technological, they can be dangerous if they fall into the hands of children, who out of curiosity might try to experiment with the various features. Inexperienced in the Internet and in the ways of the world, they may unintentionally come across a site that is not appropriate for those in their age group. They may even end up falling victim to child predators.
This all sounds very scary for anybody who has children, but it does not have to happen. You can monitor your child’s use of the phone and thus keep him out of danger. The sections that follow will outline some of the steps that you can take to protect your children.
Keep the phone out of reach of small children
If your children are below a certain age—say, eight—then it is probably best to simply keep the phone locked away where they cannot get at it. You should also make it a point not to use it in front of them so as to keep them from finding out that these things even exist. Remember that it is the nature of children, who are just beginning to learn about the world around them and how it works, to be curious and inquisitive, and until they mature this characteristic needs to be properly harnessed by their elders. A four- or five-year-old who gets hold of a mobile phone might physically damage it by playing with or throwing it. At home, keep your mobile phone turned off when around your children so nobody can call you on it. Use the telephone instead whenever possible.
And when they finally get old enough…
“Eight is probably the minimum age at which children should be taught to use mobile phones,” according to Erin Raub, Senior Editor at Safe Sound Family. “It’s also around the same time they should be taught how to use the Internet, though they should always be closely supervised at this activity until they reach 18.”
Throughout this period, they should be given instruction on proper and improper use of the Internet. They need to know that those they meet online are not always what they claim to be, that they are still strangers to them and that they must be wary of any attempts to meet them in person.
Here are some other things you can do regarding your child’s online activity:
- If he has a Facebook account, open one of your own and have him add you as a friend—or at least be sure that you know his password as well as what he has on his Facebook page. Restrict his use of the Internet if he changes the password without telling you about it
Online rules peculiar to mobile phones
The safe surfing rules described above can be applied equally to mobile phones. However, there are some additional principles that pertain specifically to the use of the latter for surfing the Web. One of the most important guidelines is not to give out certain personal information—such as credit card or Social Security numbers—in text messages, as hackers can search the text log, discover the numbers, and use them to commit identity fraud.
Your child should know, too, that a mobile phone is as vulnerable to malware, spyware, viruses, worms and Trojan horses as a desktop computer is. Therefore it is imperative that he not attempt to access any sites that he is not familiar with and also not answer emails that look suspicious. You can download anti-malware programs to guard against such problems—they should be run regularly and any detected threats removed immediately. Internet service providers will often offer you such software at no additional cost.
How children can use mobile phones
Mobile phones can be a valuable tool for children as well as for adults. That is why it is good for them to learn how to use them at as early an age as possible. For example, if your child gets lost or injured, he can phone you or some other trusted adult or the police, and the same is true if he should become the victim of or witness to a crime or an accident. A mobile phone is ideal for emergency purposes precisely because it is so small and can be carried in the pocket.
Secret monitoring of your child’s mobile use
As long as your children are still living under your roof, you have both the right and the duty to monitor your children’s online mobile use, so do not feel guilty about doing so. This involves blocking access to all websites other than those that you have visited and approve of. There is also a great deal of software that you can use to block undesired sites. Blockage comes in five basic levels, ranging from complete blocking to no filters for adult surfers. Also check the browsing history on the smartphone to see what sites your child has been visiting. If you are concerned, do not hesitate to sit down and talk to him about it.
You can even sync the phone with your PC and use that to observe your child’s surfing habits remotely. But do not let your child know how you do these things—as long as only you know, he has know way of evading your surveillance attempts.
Children need to be kept as safe as possible from all sources of danger, whether online or offline. As prosecutor Jack McCoy said at the end of a “Law and Order” in which a girl’s behavior on a social networking site has resulted in the murder of her mother, “It’s always ten o’clock somewhere. Do you know where your children are?”