So, your student got a smartphone or tablet for Christmas. How do you safeguard them from unsavory websites and inappropriate interactions with strangers...or friends?
In a previous post, we covered a handful of the basic safety measures for keeping unwanted Internet content out of our homes. Here we want to help you consider some tips to ensure your child’s safety should they become the proud new owner of a smartphone or tablet.
All smartphones and tablets have restriction settings to help parents guard against unwanted content coming to the device. For example, Apple products offer basic parental controls. The options let you turn off access to apps like the web browser, in-app purchases (purchases that can be made within an app), access to the camera, FaceTime and content purchased from iTunes or the App Store.
If you have an Android, Kindle or other device, run a Google search for parental controls for your new device and see what options you have.
Texting and Apps
Let’s talk about texting. Today’s teens and tweens are connected to one another—and to the world—through digital technology more than any previous generation. The next generation is not using email. They text and instant message (IM) each other to get faster responses and see photos of what is going on in real time. “That’s great, Brian, but my student just has an iPad, so I don’t need to worry about who and what they are texting.” Ah-ha! Did you know your child does not need a texting plan in order to text?
A few stats for you:
- 1 in 6 teens between the ages of 12 and 17 who own cell phones have received naked or nearly nude pictures via text message from someone they know.
- 50% of teens ages 13-18 often communicate through the Internet with someone they have not met in person.
- 20% of teenagers sent naked or seminude images of themselves or posted them online.
Texting plans are no longer needed since apps allow users to speak to each other over Wi-Fi. Do you know what all the apps on your student’s phone are used for?
Three Apps to Watch For
Two apps that are commonly used by teens to chat and share pictures with their friends are Kik and Snapchat. A third app to have on your radar is Down.
Kik is a free instant messenger app available on most mobile platforms (smartphone, tablet, iPod touch). It can replace a texting plan because it uses Wi-Fi or the phone’s data plan. Kik users can send and receive text messages and photos and start group chats with other Kik users. We have listed it here because it can be used as a work around by your teen if you have intentionally left them off a texting plan. The company has put together a guide for parents.
Snapchat is a free photo sharing app available on most mobile platforms. The app allows users to send photos that disappear within a few seconds of viewing. This company has also put together a guide for parents.
Down was known as Bang With Friends before it was banned from the Apple App Store. It returned to the App Store with a new name and is tied to the user’s Facebook account. It allows users to select which friends they’d be interested in hooking up with anonymously. If there is a match, the app connects the dots and lets both parties know. (Down does not have a guide for parents.)
These are just three better known apps out of hundreds that your child could download and use. Are your children using apps that you have not explored yet? Take a regular tour of their apps and research any you are not familiar with.
Talk to Your Student
Although tweens and teens may be more savvy in the digital realm than their parents, their lack of maturity and life experience can lead to trouble. It’s vital that you talk with your student and that you monitor their online world. Remind them that everything sent over the Internet can be shared with the entire world. Set clear expectations for how, when, where, and in what ways digital technology should be used. Follow up with consequences when these expectations are not met. Finally, check messages, chat logs and profiles for inappropriate photos, messages, content and friends regularly. Mobile technology will be a part of your child’s life, and probably sooner than you would like. Stay proactive in shepherding them toward safe, responsible use.