My eight year old asked me the other day, “Dad, why does everyone have an iPhone?” It was not an easy question to answer, and without wanting to get into it I answered, “Because Apple is really, really good at marketing.” The reality is that sales of smartphones have skyrocketed over the last few years. But, many parents are unaware of the growing concerns of being constantly connected.
The increase in texting has been remarkable in the last decade.
If you’ve ever walked through a public airport or mall you’ve seen people with their heads down, texting away. It’s become the quick and easy mode of communication, especially for teenagers.
Texting is a convenient way to stay in communication with someone, but there are inherent dangers as well. Texting is like having a private, one-on-one conversation. A person can be physically among a group of friends or family, and yet emotionally and mentally they are in another place having an intimate conversation with someone else.
Social networking has become an extension of face-to-face interactions for kids and teens, and sometimes a complete replacement for real-world interactions. Facebook and Twitter allow kids to control how they’re viewed by others, and most kids portray an image of themselves online that’s different from who they really are. This trend is silently eroding kids’ ability to interact, engage and have relationships in person.
I remember when Wi-Fi first became mainstream. I thought it was so cool to be able to surf the Web while sitting on the couch. Now, smartphones have huge screens and data coverage is expansive, so we can surf the Web anywhere, anytime.
Want to check that baseball score? You can do that right before class starts (or even during class!).
Want to see the latest weather report? You can do that on the bus on the way to school. All the good and bad of the World Wide Web is available at your child's fingertips twenty-four hours a day. You don’t have to think too long to find risks that can come with that.
Kids that are constantly connected are also constantly exposed to the dangers of the internet. The most common dangers are inappropriate content, data hackers and predators.
How to Keep Your Child Safe
- Talk to your kids.
Talking to your kids is the best way to keep them safe. They are excited about the technology and what it allows them to do. They don't think about the dangers—they may not even understand what those dangers are or how to avoid them. You have to have open communication about what could happen.
- Make the rules—after all, you pay the bill.
I'm shocked at many parents who pay for their kids to have unlimited texting and data have no idea how that technology is being used by their child. Many cell carriers have options that let you, as a parent, keep close tabs on how a smartphone is being used. If you find something suspicious, be the parent and engage in the conversation about what's going on.
- Set up clear boundaries and expectations.
It should not be too much to ask that your child put the phone away while you talk to them about their plans for the evening. As a parent, I'm not going to be proud if my kid can text 500 words a minute, but can't look me in the eye and have a meaningful conversation. We should push against the trend and teach our kids healthy social skills that don't involve a battery charger.
Just as we have rules about going out and being home on time, we have to set rules and boundaries about the use of smartphones.
A smartphone can be a great addition to the family technology lineup, and if clear communication and boundaries are set up, your kids will thank you—or maybe text you "thx."