Children like to use mobile phones as it increases their feeling of independence as it enables them to plan arrangements with friends and family. They can also have a lot of fun with games and by using mobiles to take pictures and videos. Children can also exchange data (e.g. pictures or videos) wirelessly over short distances using their phone's bluetooth technology. As mobile technology develops increasing numbers of children have access to the internet through their phones, providing them with access to their email, social networking and gaming sites etc on the move.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS THAT CHILDREN ENCOUNTER WHEN USING MOBILES AND TABLETS?
Apart from children spending all their time chatting to their friends and not to you (!), there are some risks in their use of mobile technology. A large proportion of new mobile phones have web access, and more recently - mobile TV has been launched. This means that young people can access content from the internet and TV wherever they are, and without parental or teacher supervision. With the advent of picture and video messaging - children need to be increasingly careful about the images they share. It is very easy for inappropriate images to be shared around a number of phones, changed and even put online, where it is impossible to get back. This is particularly worrying, if images are used in child abuse sites. Young people also need to be aware that they put themselves at risk of mobile bullying, or inappropriate intimate contact if they give out their mobile number to people they don't fully trust.
HOW CAN I REDUCE THE RISKS TO MY CHILDREN WHEN USING MOBILES AND TABLETS?
There are now mobile phone operators who sell phones with filtering software included, so that children won't access inappropriate websites or content. It is worth checking that your child's phone has this capability. Remind your child that any image they send on their mobile can be changed and shared online, and that once they have sent an image they have lost control of it. Read through the young people's website with your child, and help them to understand that they shouldn't give out personal details such as their mobile number to strangers, or other young people that they don't fully trust.
- Parental settings – some mobile phone service providers allow you to set certain controls over your child’s phone. This can include, blocking access to certain sites and monitoring your child’s activities. When buying a mobile, speak to the sales representative to find out more about what services they offer. You can find out more about what controls are available looking at ‘parents’ sections online.
- Loopholes – even if you have set controls, your child may be accessing the internet through other sources. Many phones can access the internet through Wifi, which could be available on your street and picked up for free. Accessing someone else’s Wifi may mean that your safety settings no longer apply.
- Understand what your child’s phone can do – all phones are different and you need to know what they are capable of so you can manage the risks.
- Set a pin code on your child’s phone – setting a pin code is like a password. Without a password, others may use your child’s phone. This could enable them to access personal information, online accounts or run up expensive bills.
- Set boundaries and monitor usage – this doesn’t mean spying on your child! You can set rules with your child about where it is used and how long for. For example, if you don’t want your child to use their mobile at night, why not only charge it overnight in the living room?
- Discuss what they can share – teach your child to think before they share online and the consequence of doing this over the mobile phone, such as sharing their location.
- Discuss and monitor costs – phones can be expensive. As well as bills, costs can be run up through downloading apps, music or leaving data-roaming on abroad. Your child should be made aware of the financial responsibility that comes with owning a phone. There are different ways to manage costs, such having a contract or pay-as-you-go deals, make sure you discuss this in the shop.
- Keep their mobile number private – children need to understand that their phone number should only be given to people they know and trust, make sure that if they are concerned, they ask you first.
- Be prepared in case the phone is lost or stolen – Know who to contact to get the SIM card blocked. Every phone has a unique ‘IMEI’ number, make sure you write this down so if the phone is stolen, the police can identify the phone if they find it. You can get this by dialling *#06#.