Smartphones and Kids

I’m gonna share something with you.

This is serious.

Yesterday I was at a short talk by a local Law Enforcement Officer who was discussing stalking, and cybercrime.

He told us about recently a local man posed as a middle school aged girl, collected friends on Facebook, and groomed them, got them to share/trade nude photos of themselves “for fun, we’ll delete them after” and the terrorized them by threatening to make public  – to parents, the whole school, everyone – the photos that the girls thought had been deleted.

This is the kind of stuff that leads to suicide.

Luckily in this case one girl told her parents, and the cops were called.

The girl had no idea that who she was talking to for three months was a 50 year old male pedophile. This guy, in three months, had over 50 victims.  In our local area.

Ok. So hold that thought.

There are apps on smartphones that will let kids hide them behind the calculator or another app. So a diligent parent, checking a child’s phone, may not see or know to look for an app hidden behind another, accessed with a code. There are so many different social media apps out there, a parent will never know them all, and can check and monitor their child’s smartphone use and still never know.

Add this to the mix:

A recent study was done that asked teenagers to go without electronics, TV, Computer, etc for 8 hours. Most couldn’t get through those 8 hours. Two did, the rest quit, and a few had thoughts of suicide. The symptoms of going without their electronic devices were similar to withdrawals from addictive substances. Now, this was a small study, and I have no idea about how diverse the population was, or what their mental health status was at the time of the study. More studies need to be done, clearly, because we, as adults, understand how connected we are to our phones. We generally don’t go anywhere without them. I know I get frantic if I can’t find mine, and I am consciously working on letting that go, and leaving the phone home at times I won’t need it.

But here’s the conclusion:

CHILDREN HAVE NO BUSINESS OWNING SMARTPHONES.

It’s like giving a kid a loaded gun and saying, “Have fun, play safe!”

AND…
Smartphones are not going anywhere. We are too integrated now.

What to do? My go-to theory in general is to wait as late a possible to give a kid a smartphone. Get a data-less phone/trackphone and put minutes on it for emergencies if you need that. No child under age 14 needs a smartphone, in my opinion.

“Last kid on the block” is a good rule of thumb, high school aged is another. When it’s at that point, educate. Educate. EDUCATE. Yourselves and your kids. They will *know* they can handle anything, but find out about the scary business. Find out about the apps. Talk to your kids about them, and ways to stay safe. Find out about what’s out there, and the dangers so you can be up to speed. Put limits on the hours of use.

AND…Eat dinner together, talk, play board games, go out to movies together. Make sure you have contact with family as a priority. Build your listening skills. Make sure your teen knows they can come to you with ANYTHING even if they made a mistake. Even a big one.

Bottom line: We don’t know what we don’t know about these devices. It’s a good idea to be as aware as we can, and build the social and family values without them as much as we can.

What have you decided in your family about smartphones? What’s working, and what’s not?

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