It’s a scary world out there and technology, although helpful and convenient, has made the world a little scarier for parents trying to shield their young from dangers lurking around every corner. Now that dangers no longer lurk but visit you in your home and stream into your children’s bedrooms, how do you make the judgement call on when mobile phones and Facebook are a good idea – one that will keep them safe and connected, or a hand-held danger ready to explode at any moment.
Cell phones for kids?
I remember when I got my first cell phone. I was at the ripe old age of fourteen (going on fifteen). Mobile devices had been around for a while but they weren’t commonplace and even if you had one it would hardly ever ring because no one needed to get in touch until after school when they would have access to their landlines anyway. The networks were terrible, the phones were bulky and it was almost embarrassing to pull one out. And you definitely couldn’t parade it at school, it would almost certainly be confiscated as a ‘toy’ and you would be berated for ‘showing-off.’ But times have changed. Toddlers have flashing mobiles, mock iPads and kiddie laptops courtesy of Fisher Price, so beyond playing house they’re learning how to live in the digital world from a very young age.
Arguments that mobiles will affect the general development of children will probably have to be rubbished if you allow your child to sit in front of the TV and play games all day. It’s true that text-speak may have an affect on your child’s spelling and grammar but if you continue to send them to school, check their homework and be as involved in their education as you should be I’m sure this can be curbed. Then there is the issue of your children ‘growing up too soon’ and detaching themselves from the family unit to sit with their heads in their screens through dinner, prematurely missing out on the human interaction around them – that can wait until they’re fourteen right?
Then again if your pre-teen does have a phone, you’ll know when their movie is done so you can fetch them, you can keep tabs on their whereabouts when they’re out and if they get into trouble they can be the ones to reach you. Studies conducted in the US show that ‘75% of kids 12-17 have a cell phone.’ Are you not damaging your child by cutting them off from you and their peers if you exclude them from this group? Studies also show that ‘31% of 8-10 year olds own a cell phone and 69% of 11-14 year olds.’ After that the numbers soar to over 85%. According to soundmindinvesting.com, the best way to approach the matter is to ask yourself how much your child needs a phone. Do they have after-school activities and will they be away from home for extended periods of time? Another important question is whether your offspring are responsible or whether they’ll abuse their new gadget, lose it frequently or put you in the poor house with exorbitant bills. In the end it’s a very personal decision and should be treated on a case-by-case basis.
Social media for kids?
This is an even trickier one. Social media isn’t necessarily about keeping in touch with your child or their safety. If your child has on-line profiles and visits chat rooms there will be a whole lot more policing and trusting you’ll need to do. Facebook has a set age limit of thirteen but clearly this is not adhered to with over seven million minors under the age of thirteen reported to be registered users on the site.
Social media is so deliciously attractive to kids – it’s a secondary arena for the school hallway but can be just as damaging depending on the child. Cyber-bullying is one important aspect to consider when lifting the restrictions on your home PC. Digital Trends reported on an opinion-based poll done by SodaHead.com, a leading authority on social-networking use – according to this study, 34% of parents believed the current Facebook rules that do not allow under-thirteen’s are right on the money. 19% went so far as to say that Facebook should be strictly for adults over eighteen years old. It will be next to impossible to prevent our child from joining a network since they can do this from absolutely anywhere, so be vigilant and check the sites for evidence of your child’s participation if you believe they are way too young. Manage your home privacy settings, teach your kids the dangers of the digital world, encourage open communication at home and make use of the “report an underage child” form on Facebook if you have to. You cannot educate them if you don’t know, so force yourself to get tech-savvy if you’re not. A little embarrassment today will go a long way to keeping your child safe tomorrow.