It is unavoidable that your teenager will have a smartphone at some point. As parents, before you equip your kids with these powerful devices, it is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with using them. Here are 7 things we think every parent needs to know before giving your child a smartphone:
- The internet is like a tattoo – What every social media user needs to know is: 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”. These are:
- 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!
- Sexting is a social currency – ‘Sexting’ is loosely defined as the sending of sexually explicit messages, photos and videos to someone else. For teenagers in the digital age, “nudes” are 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.
- Stranger Danger is a real worry – If your kids have hundreds of followers on Instagram or Snapchat, it is impossible that they actually know who all of them are. This means that strangers have access to the content they are posting. It takes just seconds to create a social media profile, and most kids accept requests on the basis that someone “looks like someone they may know”. 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 etc online.
- Smartphones affect sleep – DO NOT LET YOUR CHILDREN SLEEP WITH THEIR PHONES IN THEIR ROOM. 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.
- You can get in trouble with the law – you might be thinking “but my child is underage – how can he/she get in trouble with the law for content on social media?!” In South Africa, 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 7 can be sued (albeit in the name of their parents).
- Having a smartphone is not a constitutional right – While it is unavoidable that your child will own a smartphone and be on social media at some stage, parents need to remember that owning a smartphone is not a right. As the providers of smart phones, parents have every right to know and have a say on the way in which their kids use their smart phones. Many parents sign contracts with their kids ensuring a commitment to use the smartphones responsibly. Filtering software is another increasingly popular option for parents to retain a degree of control over the type of content their children view on their phones.
- Talk to your children! Please! – Talk to your children and get on the apps they are using. 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. In doing so, you will help to create a safe space for your children to talk to you, in the event that things do go wrong.