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Did You Know?

58% of 12-year-olds have a cell phone. Does this mean that your child should have one? Instead of worrying about the “appropriate age,” focus on the needs of your child and your family. Does your child need an easy way to contact you? Do you trust him or her to be responsible with a cell phone? Have you set clear guidelines for the use of mobile devices? Considering these factors, rather than your child’s age, will help you choose what is right for your family.

Lenhart A. Teens and Mobile Phones. Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2010

When you think about your children’s online activities, do you consider their cell phones? They have evolved from simple communication devices to mobile, miniature computers. For example, smartphones have operating systems similar to that of computers which allow users to download programs or “apps.” These apps help users do things like access e-mail and play games. Also, most cell phones allow users to download and upload content from the Internet just as they would on a computer. However, cell phones can be more difficult to monitor than a computer, and children often use them without adult supervision. Make sure to review your family’s Internet safety rules with your children and become aware of the following risks before allowing them to own cell phones

 

Making Cyberbullying More Painful

Cell phones make it easy for children to communicate with their friends, but they also make them vulnerable to cyberbullying. Cell phones can be used at anytime and anywhere, giving cyberbullies unlimited access to their victims. Children may send and receive mean-spirited phone calls, texts, and pictures at any hour.

 Playing a Role in Grooming

Predators also know and take advantage of the fact that cell phones let them talk with their victims at any time. They are also aware that parents and guardians often forget to monitor children’s cell phones. Predators may send children cell phones and ask them to keep the phones a secret. They can then talk to and exchange text messages and pictures with children without close monitoring by parents and guardians. Others may ask children for their cell phone numbers after meeting them online or try to connect with willing children by sending texts to random numbers.

 Sexting Made Easy

“Sexting” is a term used to describe the sending of sexually explicit text messages or pictures of minors by minors. What most young people do not realize is that the production, possession, and distribution of explicit photos of minors, even if they are self-produced, may be illegal. Furthermore, if these explicit photos end up on the Internet, children may be taunted by their peers and jeopardize scholastic, athletic, and employment opportunities.

 Unintentional Sharing of Geolocation Data

Most smartphones have GPS technology which allows the user’s precise location to be pinpointed by apps and on websites. Social networking sites such as FourSquare, GoWalla, and Facebook take advantage of this technology by encouraging their users to “check-in” or share their locations. A “check-in” can be shared with a list of friends, so make sure you know who is on your child’s friends list before allowing them to use this type of technology. Children also may share their locations unintentionally through pictures taken with their smartphones; these photos often have geolocation data embedded in them. Consider disabling the location services on smartphones before allowing children to post photos online. 

Tips

Help children use cell phones safely

Is your child counting down the days until he or she is permitted to have a cell phone? Or are you already negotiating minute and text message allowances? Whichever stage you may be in with your child, these tips will help you set rules for safer cell phone use.    

  • Establish rules for when they are allowed to use their cell phone, what websites they can visit, and what apps they can download.
  • Review cell phone records for any unknown numbers and late night phone calls and texts.
  • Remind your children that anything they send from their phones can be easily forwarded and shared.
  • Teach your child never to reveal cell phone numbers or passwords online.
  • Talk to your child about the possible consequences of sending sexually explicit or provocative images or text messages.
  • When shopping for a cell phone for your child, research the security settings that are available.

Discussion Starters

Start a discussion with your child

Use these discussion starters to get an Internet safety conversation going with your children. The more often you talk to them about online safety, the easier it will get, so don’t get discouraged if they don’t respond immediately!   

  • What features do you use on your cell phone? Could you show me how to use them?
  • Have you ever gotten a text from someone you do not know?  If so, what did you do about it?
  • Have you ever sent a text that was rude or mean?
  • How many numbers do you have stored in your phone? Do you know them all in person?
  • Has anyone ever taken an embarrassing picture of you without your permission?
  • Have you ever taken an embarrassing picture of someone else? What did you do with it?
  • Have you ever talked with someone you first met online on your cell phone?
  • What would you do if someone sent you a text or picture that was inappropriate?