The age at which a child starts owning a phone has decreased, especially in Asia. Do we not see children immersed in their phones instead of talking to each other on MRTs? You look at them and feel sorry – this is a generation that has stopped taking pleasures in simple things.
However, there is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed here, and that is phones itself. Once a medium of simple one-on-one communication, phones today have made it possible for the world to peep into your child’s life. It is the vulnerable point through which a person with malice in his mind can gain access to your child.
Phones and children
No one can condone the reason why your child has a phone – it is necessary. He travels far, the world is not safe, and you want him to be accessible all the time. However, when you hand over the phone to a child who is not old enough to use it sensibly, you are actually making his life more difficult.
Paedophiles lurk around, trying to exploit the vulnerabilities, trying to gain access to your child’s life. In real life, your child knows not to talk to strange men and women, not to accept any sweets from them. You have engraved this on their brains. However, what if the child think that the text they just received was from another child? Children tend to trust other children more easily than they trust adults.
But it is not just the paedophiles that are trying to gain access to your child’s life. Even common data thieves are interested in getting a peep in your life, and what better way than through your young ones? Gain the child’s trust and he might just reveal your address, or install a software on your phone without you even knowing about it.
I don’t want to sound bleak, but anything, from a phone call, a text message, the camera, an app, or even the browser is a potential entry point for a noxious element in your child’s life. The only thing you need to do now is to protect your child from these elements.
Potential vulnerabilities and how to address them
Any kind of communication, active or passively sought, one-on-one or a mass broadcast is a potential threat to your child. The earlier you accept it, the better it is for you. Even if your child just uses a simple feature phone and not a smart phone, he is still vulnerable.
Had it not been so much easier if he could just call you, and that was the extent to which he could use the phone? You can do it to an extent, by using smart wearables like FiLIP. It is a watch-like wearable with location tracking, an ability to receive text messages from your phone and an emergency mode. You can track your child and he can communicate with you using the device.
Not all schools will allow such tech, though. So most of us have to resort to the traditional phone. So, the wise thing to do is spot the vulnerabilities and address them early on.
1# Phone calls and text messages
You can call your child, but so can anyone else, unless you restrict the access to a few known numbers. But it is easy to bypass the security systems on the phones and if your child wants to, he can change the settings easily. What you need to do is to get the phone logs – an account of all the activities that happen on the child’s phone.
You can use services like PhoneSheriff that provide you with an access to whatever transpires on your child’s phone. You get an activity log and even an access to deleted text messages.
The internet is a dark place. It gives me creeps even to imagine a child stumbling on explicit content unknowingly. Adult content can creep into your child’s life via apps, websites or even text messages. On top of that, curiosity is your biggest enemy when it comes to children in this context.
The best thing to do is to make it difficult for your child to go online, at least from his phone. Give him a feature phone if you can. If not, give him a good smart phone where you can lock down apps. iPhones and Android operating systems allow you to block certain apps, and makes it harder to install them.
Make sure that you do not share the app installation password with your child. Make sure that the phone demands one every time your child tries to install any app.
Restrict the internet pack so that the child uses the data he has cautiously. In addition, services like NetNanny and Phonesheriff will help you keep the phone safer.
If you want, you can lock his phone in a kid mode. There are plenty of apps to do this and all he can do is access a few apps on the phone and make phone calls.
At the end of the day, whatever you do, your child can find a way around it. If you block his phone, he will access whatever he wants using his friend’s phone. It is important then that you keep the trust between the three of you alive.
Do not restrict him for everything. Let him keep a few secrets as long as they are not a threat to his health or his security. Make him understand that a few apps are not safe for him. So, instead of him using Whatsapp on his own, encourage him to pick up the phone and call his friends.
If that is not possible, dole out your number. His friends can contact you and you can pass on the message. Establish that a phone is a privilege at the end of the day, and it is to be used for communication when the child is out. So, create such an environment at home that he keeps his phone aside as soon as he enters home.
Also, read: 5 useful hacks for an anxious traveller; #2 is a must