JOPLIN, Mo. —
Guy Voltz has a stark message for parents who are reluctant to learn all the capabilities of a smartphone: They better learn them if they want to monitor their kids’ Internet usage.
“What we hear more of, all the time, is that parents never realized that a smartphone can get full Internet,” Voltz said. “The next thing they want to know is if there is software to block it. Not really. There’s nothing out there to truly stop kids from getting on.”
A recent study, conducted by Cox Communications and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, reported that parents are pretty good at keeping watch over a child’s Internet habits while on the computer.
But smartphone usage is a different story. Children 10 to 13 years old interviewed in the survey said that their parents haven’t warned them about Internet dangers on mobile devices.
According to the survey, reported on by consumeraffairs.com:
- More than 95 percent of children use their mobile devices to access the Internet, but parents typically provide safety parameters only for the home computer. One in five parents (17 percent) admitted to using parental controls for the children’s mobile devices.
- Although mobile devices have fewer parental controls to activate than computers, many parents say they’re unable to use them because they’re not sure how to work it.
- 82 percent of parents said they’re very knowledgeable of what their kids did online, but a lot children admitted to engaging in inappropriate behavior that their parents had no idea about.
- 44 percent of the children surveyed said they’ve viewed something that their parents wouldn’t approve of, and 34 percent said they lied to their parents about what they did online.
- 42 percent of children said they received a personal online message from someone they didn’t know, and only 22 percent of parents said they were aware of this.
- Around 17 percent of children surveyed said they’ve gotten an email or online message with pictures or words that made them feel uncomfortable (7 percent of parents said they were aware of this), and 12 percent said they’ve been a victim of online bullying (6 percent said they didn’t know this happened).
“We all must remain vigilant and proactive when it comes to knowing what children are accessing on the Web and the devices they are using,” said Ernie Allen, president of the NCMEC. “Educating parents about the potential risks their children face online and empowering them to take simple preventive steps is critical to helping keep families safe.”
Voltz, owner of Cell Phone Medics, said he wasn’t surprised by the survey’s results because smartphones and other mobile devices access the same Internet as desktop and laptop computers.
“It’s a subject that they don’t want to learn,” Voltz said about the attitudes of some parents toward smartphones. “Most say their kids would never (access the Internet), but they are oblivious.”
What to do
Voltz and others at Cell Phone Medics teach smartphone classes every Saturday. Topics range over a variety of subjects; whatever attendees want to cover, Voltz said.
Monitoring smartphone usage comes down to a few basics, however:
- Don’t rely on software on another device. There is no software that will block the Internet on a child’s smartphone or track a history of usage for viewing on another computer.
- The only way to check Internet usage is to check the device manually. Whether a parent checks while a child is looking or asleep is up to them. But it’s the only way to view the important parts.
- Go into the browser’s history. Usually mobile devices have only one Web browser. However, other apps can involve Internet access or chats.
- Talk, don’t judge. What a parent finds may look bad, but is actually relatively harmless. Experts recommend keeping an open dialogue with kids about what they see on the Internet.
The ultimate question parents must answer, Voltz said, is what a device will be used for. Parents should question whether a child needs a smartphone that can get on the Internet.
“Evaluate what children need, with emphasis on the word ‘need,’” Voltz said. “Do they have a necessity to get on the Internet? There are several cool non-smartphones out there that text just fine.”