What are the dangers of smartphones for kids?
Giving your child a smartphone puts the world in their pocket, which can be enormously exciting, but also risky.
Media law consultant Emma Sadleir, author of Selfies, Sexts and Smartphones, gives us insight into these risks, and how to mitigate them.
1. The internet doesn’t forget
Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Social media should be thought of as a tattoo – even if content is deleted shortly after it is posted, a screenshot means that someone could have a permanent record of it.
Before posting anything, your kids should consider whether the content should be seen by what we call ‘the 6 P’s’.
• the Police,
• a Paedophile,
• a Prospective university admissions officer/Prospective employer/Potential scholarship provider
• The Principal
• a Phisher
If the answer is ‘No’, don’t post it!
2. Never has ‘stranger danger’ been more real
For our kids today, the number of friends they have on social media is a direct (but completely false) indication of social status. Blindly accepting anyone who sends a friend request means that strangers have access to the content they are posting.
As parents, you need to ensure that your children use maximum privacy settings on all social media platforms, that they only accept friend requests from people they actually know, and they do not share personal information, such as their address, online.
3. Sexting is a social currency today
‘Sexting’ is loosely defined as the sending of sexually explicit messages, photos and videos to someone else. For teens with smartphones, ‘nudes’ as they are referred to, are being sent every single day… By the nicest, most well-educated, well brought up children, at the best schools in the country.
If your child is under 18 and has created content that is deemed to be sexually explicit, he or she could be found guilty of the criminal offence of creation of child pornography.
4. Smartphones affect sleep patterns
The blue-light emitted from cell phones robs your children of the melatonin so desperately needed for sleep, and is proven to have a damaging effect on sleep patterns at night. Your children need to sleep. Phones (and all other screens) should be taken away from children for two hours before bed.
Please, we are begging you: DO NOT LET YOUR CHILDREN SLEEP WITH THEIR PHONES IN THEIR ROOM.
5. There are legal consequences for posting harmful content online
The most common response we receive from parents of kids who are in trouble for something they have posted or shared online, is ‘But my child is underage!’ In SA, a child over the age of 14 has full criminal capacity and can be prosecuted for any offence he or she committed.
For civil proceedings, a child as young as seven can be sued (albeit in the name of their parents). The legal consequences for conduct online are as severe (if not stricter) for offline behaviour.
• Sign a contract with your kids to ensure their commitment to use their smartphones responsibly. You have a right to know, and have a say, in how your kids use their smartphones.
• Filter software to retain a degree of control over the type of content your children view on their phones.
• Find out what apps your kids are using, and download them yourself. It may feel out of your comfort zone, but it is so important that parents understand the platforms that their children are spending time on.