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Getting Smart with Your Teen’s Smartphone

04 March 2014 Written by  By Simone Godfrey
Published in March 2014 Articles

According to a 2012 poll by Pew Research

Center's Internet and American Life Project 78 percent of teens have a cell phone, and more than a third of them have smartphones, up from only 23 percent in 2011. There are 1.3 million Android devices activated every day, which means that four new phones are activated for every child born in our country. These statistics are frightening when considering the impact these smartphones are having on our teens.

The task of being good parents for teenagers has always been difficult, but today’s technology raises the parenting challenge to a new level. During the most awkward, emotional and insecure time when young people are trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into this world, we are handing them a powerful communica­tions device that makes them susceptible to sexting, bullying, texting while driving, and addictive social behaviors. We parents have a responsibility to monitor our children’s activity and set strict boundaries on phone usage. If you imagine your child is being responsible with his/her phone it’s time to rethink; it’s time to think smart; it’s time for some tough love. Your child deserves to be raised in a safe environment that encourages integrity and maturity. It’s your job as parent to make sure it happens.

When our two teens received their first smartphones, their father and I began to monitor their activity. We reviewed their texts, calls, websites, apps, friends, posts and purchases. Monitoring online behaviors became a challenging part time job for both of us, and one we don’t take much pleasure in. No matter how much we look over their shoulders, how many contracts they sign, and how many discussions we have with them about safe behaviors, the fact remains that at their age they are naturally curious and easily influenced by their peers. They are only beginning to learn what integrity is and how to apply it to their every decision. The more experience they have with their phones, the more difficult it is to for us to keep track of what they are doing. Just when we imagine we know what is going on, a new app or website pops up that we never imagined existed.

During one routine monitoring session, I discovered some questionable texts between my son and a female friend. Just as the conversation seemed to be heading in an inappropriate direction, it abruptly stopped and the subsequent text was from a different day and on a totally different topic. It didn’t take much imagination to see that a portion of the conversation had been deleted, so I found a software program that can recover deleted information from any phone. I expecting to find evidence of poor behavior and was pleasantly surprised to see the text results weren’t too bad. However, I did find naked photos of some of my son’s classmates. I felt a stab of pity for the parents of these girls, who obviously were unaware that their daughters were posting naked pictures of themselves to boys in their school. I don’t blame the girls as much as I blame their parents. There are widely available programs, such as My Mobile Watchdog, Mobile Spy, and Net Nanny Mobile that will copy any photo your child takes or receives to the parent’s phone or laptop. Some parents say that they don’t wish to intrude on their children’s privacy and even feel that doing so would be a violation of the child’s personal rights. But children deserve the discipline and protection that only parents are in a position to supply. Our children need to be protected from making poor choices now that might come back to haunt them years in the future.

Surveys estimate that as many as a fifth of our children send nude or semi-nude images of themselves to each other in the modern day version of, “Show me yours and I’ll show you mine.” However, those youthful indiscretions become magnified exponentially by the World Wide Web that can send copies of such things anywhere and forever. There are multiple channels available for such indiscretions including Instagram, Vine, Facebook, SnapChat and a host of other social media platforms are being flooded by young girls posting sexy selfie images is the norm.

Social media is the vehicle of the kind of activity that I am describing, but the standard media encourages the behavior.

Popular TV shows have sexual innuendoes through most of their episodes and some of the lines are downright embarrassing to hear when I am in the room with my teen boys. We are becoming desensitized to behaviors and attitudes that would have seemed outrageous not too long ago but that have now become the accepted norm. It’s time to push back. It’s time for us parents to reinstate what is and isn’t appropriate and acceptable. Take the time to investigate, monitor, and set clear and strict boundaries with your teenage children. Never assume that they would never engage in such activities. Begin tracking their phone activity and the apps, and let them know that you are doing so.

From the beginning a major role of parents has been to protect the young from dangers that are out there in the world, beginning with wolves, bears, and other wild animals. The dangers and risks are no longer “out there.” They are on children’s computers, phones, and pads. It is appropriate that we do battle against these dark forces that threaten our children’s emotional safety right now and their happiness and wellbeing during the years ahead.

New stats are showing more and more teens are staying away from Facebook and moving towards apps that have more privacy and danger. I’ve listed a number of new apps that teens are using now that you might not be aware of:

ASK.FM
Ask.fm is an anonymous question and answer platform website used regularly by lots of young people in Ireland and around the world.

It allows anyone to post anonymous comments and questions to a person's profile and is increasingly being used as a means to communicate abusive, bullying and sexualized content.

Here, Webwise outlines a step-by-step guide for parents and teachers detailing how young people sign-up and use the site, http://www.webwise.ie/AskfmGuide.shtm.

VINE.COM
Vine is a social media app that lets you post and watch looping six-second video clips. Many of the videos are harmless, but parents need to be aware that Vine is full of content that is inappropriate for children. http://www.commonsense­media.org/mobile-app-reviews/vine.

SNAPCHAT.COM
Snapchat is a photo- and video-sharing app with a twist. The media you send disappear seconds after they’re viewed—you get to decide how long a photo will “live,” from 1 to 10 seconds, after it’s viewed. Users love the spontaneity of that—it feels like socializing that’s (digital) footprint-free—but, as we’ll cover in this guide, there are ways to capture and recover images, so no one should develop a false sense of “security” about that. Snapchat runs on the Apple iPhone and Android phones but it also runs on iPad, Android tablets and iPod Touch, which are often used by very young children. It was developed as an antidote to “traditional” social networking services, where images can stay around forever and people have to worry about self-presentation and reputations. Snapchat users feel like they don’t have to worry if they’re having a bad hair day or just want to make a silly face.

What are the risks in using snapchat? Though there’s nothing inherently dangerous about Snapchat, it’s often referred to as “the sexting app.” There’s no research showing that’s true and plenty of anecdotal evidence that it isn’t the focus for teens, but—like any media-sharing service—Snapchat can be used for sexting, harassment, etc. It can be particularly hurtful if that happens, because Snapchat is typically used among friends (or at least people who have each other’s username or phone numbers).

You can get more information on the parents guide to snapchat,

http://www.connectsafely.org/wp-content/uploads/snapchat_guide.pdf

REDDIT users submit links or text, which are voted up or down by other users. Content is ranked to determine the post’s position on the front page. All the content is organized into categories known as “sub-reddits.” This site is more popular with boys, who are using the app less as a social network than as a source of news and as a search engine. The forum-like interac­tion means your teen can “talk” to anyone.

TUMBLR enables blogging for those afflicted with a short attention span. Of course, teens love it. Photo, audio, and video posts are often re-shared from other sites with very little text. Tumblr’s big attraction is the ability to create collections of media that quickly and powerfully express the poster’s personality. Beware of the anorexia communities popular on Tumblr glorifying images of frighteningly thin young girls and women.

KIK is a smartphone messenger system where users send videos and images instead of text. Think emojis on steroids. Teens love meme and Kik allows them to search for and share images, memes and YouTube videos. Parents might be surprised to see some of the jokes their teens are sharing, but there is no unique danger here.

PHEED allows users to share all forms of digital content in 420 character or less. Teens are the primary users of Pheed, which is one of the top apps in the iPhone store. Each user gets their own channel where they can post their content publicly or privately. In addition to the social media aspects like Facebook, Pheed is a full service broadcast medium. Users can share audio tracks and live broadcasts. Your teenager could conceiv­ably live-stream every waking moment on Pheed. I think we’ve all seen that episode of "Law & Order." Users can also charge for access to the channel. A profit motive and under-developed judgment? What could possibly go wrong?

Wanelo which stands for "Want, need, love" -- is Instagram-meets-shopping and the dream app of many teenage girls. Users post images of and links to products, which are then bought, saved, tagged and shared by other users. When enough users tag a product, a store page is created. Users can follow stores and get updates when new products from those stores are posted. Wanelo is a wonderful tool to find out exactly what your 14-year-old daughter wants for her birthday. Serious threats to your bank balance here.

4CHAN is a simple forum platform. Anyone can post images on bulletin boards, and anyone can comment. Similar to Reddit, the boards are dedicated to a variety of topics, but here users do not need to create an account to participate in the community. Anonymity can create extremely hostile environments online, so if your teenager is using 4chan, you’ll want to have conversations about how to deal with virtual aggression. 

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