There has been a lot of talk about mobile phone
safety, but it has largely focused on distraction while driving as
well as the possibility that cell phone use might cause health
But now there's another reason to be concerned.
Mobile phones in Japan and Europe have been linked to harassment and
sexual exploitation of both children and adults.
Talk to Your Kids
I'm not suggesting you ditch your cell phone. As
a parent, you need to talk with your children about how to protect
themselves from exploitation, bullying, and invasion of privacy, as
well as an out-of-control phone bill.
A cell phone can be a great communications and
safety tool. In addition to keeping up with friends, kids can also use
it to check in with parents, respond to parents calls and phone for
help in an emergency.
Putting the World in Children's
But there are some dangers associated with this
technology. When you put a cell phone in children's hands, you're
giving them access to the world and the world access to them,
including when they're away from home and parental supervision. What's
more, today's cell phones are not just mobile telephones. They're also
Web browsers, instant messengers and e-mail terminals. In other words,
just about everything you can do from an Internet-connected PC, you
can also do from a cell phone.
Until recently most of the problems were related
to "texting," but is changing. Most companies now offer
phones with color displays, built-in digital cameras and the ability
to instantly transmit photos from phone to phone, via e-mail or to Web
sites. There are also phones that can record moving video.
What's more, cell phone companies are starting to
roll out their higher-speed networks, which make it practical to
download graphics, photographs and video along with sound and text.
One company is even talking about experimenting with downloading
aroma, though it's not clear whether this is something people will
A color screen means that your child can look at
the same type of graphic content available on the Internet from home.
A built-in digital camera means that your child can not only see
inappropriate material, but can send it as well. That's my biggest
concern. Kids -- and adults, for that matter -- need to be extremely
cautious about the way they use this new technology, especially when
it comes to sharing digital photos or movies. Pushing a few telephone
buttons can send a child's image, phone number and mobile e-mail
address to the wrong person. It’s even possible to use your cell
phone to instantly post photos on the Web for all to see. Already,
some gyms have banned cell phones in the locker room because of
concerns about inappropriate photographs.
You should also be concerned by the fact that
phones are phones. Predators cannot only send kids messages, but they
can also call them to arrange meetings. Because kids can access the
phone while they're away from home, they're particularly vulnerable
because they are out of their parents’ reach. It's common practice
in Europe for predators to groom a child on the Internet and then
contact that child via cell phone to arrange a face-to-face meeting.
The user of a cell phone is not necessarily
anonymous. Although it can be disabled, most cell phones have caller
ID on by default. That means that when you call or send a text message
to someone, you are giving that person your phone number, which he or
she can use to make harassing calls as well as to send unwanted
instant messages and e-mail. It's not uncommon for bullies to use cell
phones to harass other kids and, tragically, it's not unheard of for
children to be contacted on their cell phone by adult predators.
Bullying by cell phone is becoming a major
problem in the United Kingdom. A survey conducted by a British group
found that "mobile phones appear to be the most commonly abused
medium with 16% of young people saying they’d received bullying or
threatening text messages, followed by 7% who had been harassed in
Internet chat-rooms and 4% via e-mail." If your child experiences
harassing phone calls or text messages, call the provider to see about
getting the number changed.
There is another potential problem. The Federal
Communications Commission has mandated that phones be equipped with
"geo location" systems designed to make it possible for
others to pinpoint exactly where the phone is located. The main
purpose of this system is to enable 911 operators to locate cell phone
callers in case of an emergency, but there also are planned commercial
uses of this technology to allow businesses to offer location-based
products and services to cell phone users. While privacy safeguards
will be built in, they can also be defeated. As these services become
available, children and adults need to learn how to control them so
that they are not used for the wrong purposes.
As if all this is not enough, there is the issue
of cost. Unless they are careful, kids can easily spend $100 or more a
month on cell phone fees. Many plans have free nights and weekends,
but make sure your child knows the company’s definition of
"night," which sometimes starts as late as 9 p.m. Also,
there is typically a charge for both incoming and outgoing text
messages, Web access, and special features such as downloading games,
screen savers and ring tones.
One way to control costs is to get your
children a pre-paid service. When they are out of money, their phone
stops working, other than to call 911. Another is to talk with your
provider about package deals. At the very least, talk with your kids
about using their phone responsibly.