Holiday time is gift- giving time, and we all want to make our children happy. When considering this year’s gift – are you thinking about purchasing a Smartphone, tablet or some other internet-enabled device for your child? Do you feel the need to “keep up with the Joneses”, or that the earlier your child becomes familiar with the technology – the better? Or is it simply because your daughter has been using the “everyone in my class already has one” excuse? In fact, recent data shows that 41% (!) of third graders already have access to a personal Smartphone!
Two sides of the same coin
Whatever your motivation, you are probably aware that there are two sides to this coin: on the one hand, the benefits of being technologically ahead, exposed to the enormous repository of knowledge that is the Internet, and the ability to be socially connected to their peers – are all enormous advantages for your children. On the other hand, there are the dangers that we constantly hear about: cyberbullying, sexting, pornography, online predators, and privacy issues are only a few.
And there are so many other questions to consider:
- What is the” right” age to give them their first device?
- What will they do with it?
- Will they be able to use it all the time or only for a few hours each day?
- Do I even understand the potential dangers?
- And what about “parental controls”?
Confused? In fact, a recent FOSI (Family Online Safety Institute) report dealt with parenting in the digital age, exploring how parents weigh the potential benefits and harms of their child’s using electronic devices and being online.
There doesn’t really seem to be a clear answer, but here are some points to think about:
- Technology is part of modern life. Children should be allowed to become familiar with it and become digital citizens like most of the people around us
- The Internet is an amazing repository of knowledge and information – children need to feel comfortable with it and with the ways to access this information and make use of it!
- As adults we are aware of the fact that our connection to our Smartphone is quite unique – we check it often (the average user checks their Smartphone 150 times a day!). It is much more than just our telephone or our phone book. We use it for recreation, to play games, to socialize, to navigate, to seek information, to shop, and much much more. The boundaries between what is and isn’t allowed are not clear, even for adults. Do we want our children to behave this way at their very early age?
The Smartphone could be dangerous
Along with it being an amazing tool, there are inherent dangers associated with being connected to a Smartphone, to name a few:
- If there is no filtering in place, your child could access websites with inappropriate content – pornography, anorexia, hate, violence, and many more.
- Smartphones can be a very convenient platform for cyberbullying as your child will be able to reached at any time, and at any location. And there are quite a few very popular anonymous social media apps that enable anonymous cyberbullying
- Sexting is another burning issue – how long before your child is exposed to their first sexually explicit image? Or before they are encouraged by someone else to send one of their own?
- Privacy issues are also of concern – will your child be sharing their full name? Phone number? Address? The name of their school? How about their location? Unless turned off, anyone can determine where your child is.
- Your child could also be at risk of being approached by online predators, who may even convince them to meet them in person
So, what should I do?
One way to determine whether the time has come to purchase a Smartphone for your child is to ask yourself these 2 simple questions:
- Does your child need the phone to stay connected with you or for emergency situations?
- Does your child understand and respect the time and usage limits you have placed on other things like television and video game playing?
If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, your child might be ready for their first phone.
Things you can, and should, do
If you do decide to go ahead and buy them a Smartphone, it is still very important that along with that shiny holiday gift-wrapped box with a Smartphone inside you give them an equally important gift – talk to them! Talk about what types of apps are okay to download and how to surf the Internet safely, make sure that they understand who it is OK to communicate with and more importantly, with whom it’s not OK, that they understand what is OK to share online and what is not OK, which pictures are OK to share and which are not. In addition to all this, make sure that the phone you give them is protected. PureSight Multi can help you do that – check out how!