Mobile phones and kids can be a match made in heaven. As librarians, we can be in constant contact with children, and kids can call for help, be entertained, and even be educated using their cellphones. But given that smartphones have data connections, there are inherent risks to kids in using them, from cyberbullying to inappropriate Internet material. It may be helpful to know some best practices to help keep children safe on their mobile phones. The practices in this article come to us courtesy of the U.K- based company TigerMobiles. They're all useful in the U.S. as well.
Most Older Children Have Smartphones
A recent infographic from TigerMobiles addresses the issues of keeping kids safe on their phones. And this is a big deal since 59 percent of kids aged 12 to 15 will be going online on a smartphone. (This figure comes from a study by Ofcom on children's media use and their and their parents' attitudes toward it.) It's important that all caregivers, whether parents, foster parents, teachers, or librarians, know how to protect kids from possible mobile threats.
Kids need to know limits, so it's key that they be involved in conversations aimed to educate them as to what mobile limits are and why they're important. Some of the essential topics that need to be covered are
- Cyberbullying: Kids should know they can approach you if they're being bullied and also that they can cause harm by bullying others.
- Sexting: Sending nude or sexy pictures is inappropriate, and a child who is asked to send such pictures should tell an adult.
- Texting and driving: Important for older teens, kids should realize the dangers of using a phone while driving (and know that it's illegal).
- Sharing personal data: Kids should know that they should never share their name, address, or birth date with someone online, even in online forms.
In addition, there should be times when phones just aren't used at all. During school time, activity time, homework time, and bedtime, kids should know to put down their phones.
The Three Cs
As part of its aim to keep kids safe online, the Internet Keep Safe Coalition recommends that caregivers keep in mind the three Cs of the Internet when monitoring kids and their cellphone Internet usage.
- Contact: Does the child know the person they're contacting through their phone in real life?
- Content: Is the content the child is accessing appropriate for their age level?
- Conduct: Is the child being bullied or bullying others online?
And the Apps …
But it's also important that we caregivers be educated and know exactly what kind of risks there are out there. While many mobile operators do allow parental monitoring of kids' phones, not all do. So, we need to stay up-to-date with what kids are doing and what's popular.
The good news here is that many of the most popular apps that kids tend to use are required to abide by COPPA (the U.S. Children's Online Privacy Protection Act). Under this act, children under 13 aren't allowed to sign up for accounts. That's not to say that kids aren't going to sign up anyway by lying about their birth date.
The greater part of the tigermobiles.com infographic cited above is dedicated to making caregivers aware of the popular apps that kids use and advising them on protective measures. From Snapchat to Facebook, Kik to Instagram, every app has its own pros and cons. And only by understanding what these apps are, and how kids are using them, will we be able to protect children.
Taking Advantage of the Protections Mobile Phones Have Built In
Finally, when dealing with children, we all know that even the best kids slip up from time to time. Giving a young child 100 percent access to a smartphone isn't the best of ideas. Fortunately, there are ways that we can prevent kids from doing certain things with their mobile phones. We should be aware of these methods in order to decide the best kind of restrictions to put on cellphones accessible by children.
Many phones have parental control settings. You can find instructions for setting up parental controls on an iPhone, for example, on the Apple support site. Many other kinds of devices have this option as well.
Plus, a variety of apps aim to safeguard children when they use a phone. In general, these apps allow you to restrict what kids can and cannot do, which apps they can access, and even at which times a phone can function. Some apps also send reports to parents or caregivers, showing them which sites have been accessed, which numbers have been called, and who and what has been texted.
The Bottom Line
Education and communication are key to protecting kids on their cellphones. It can be easy to think of our phones as necessary and even a safe, normal part of life. But the truth is that for younger users there are dangers out there. It's up to us to protect them.