• Dr. Bill Walker

Policing Your Children’s Smartphone Apps

In a recent blog, we discussed 4 of the most dangerous smartphone apps for kids. From hooking your child up with adult strangers to allowing them to post live nude videos of themselves, the world of smartphones and apps have made children vulnerable in ways never previously imagined.

Parents - What Are You Going To DO about this problem?

It can feel like a no-win situation. Demanding your child remove apps makes you a controlling bullying their eyes and results in upset, angry kids. NOT taking action keeps the peace but at a potentially dangerous price.

Catherine Teitelbaum, an Internet safety expert, offers some helpful guidelines for parents {1}

I. As a Parent – Set a Good Example

Do you bring your phone to the dinner table? Your children will take this as a sign that it is o.k. for them to do the same.

Do you text and drive? Your teens will also text and drive – “but mom, YOU do it!”

The examples you set with your smartphone will have a great influence on your children’s phone habits. They are always watching you.

II. Make a Written Contract For Screen Use

A written contract is an agreement between parent and child on the rules of the child's smart device use (phone, laptop, desktop, iPad).

This contract is a written, signed agreement with clearly stated consequences for not following the terms of the contract.

I discussed how to do this, with a good example in a past post, found here.

III. Make Sure Your Child Gives Their Correct Age When They Sign Up

Most social apps require children to be 13 years old to use the app. But there is no way to verify this. The result is a nine year old can state they are 14 and sign up for an app.

There is a basic reason popular apps like Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter require a person to be at least 13 years old to use their app. It has to do with the maturity level of children at different ages. A six year old has limited social skills and ability to evaluate unsafe online requests and situations compared to a 12 year old. Some children are just not ready to use social apps in a safe way.

Much worse, children can enter adult pornography sites simply by checking a box that says they are 18 years of age or older. There is no way for these sites to verify the truthfulness of this information! Either you supervise your child’s online screen activity, or it does not get done. Parents, this falls to you.

The issue here is maturity. As a parent, you must ask yourself – ‘is my child mature enough at their current age (elementary/preteen/teen) to not be affected in a negative way by using these apps?’ Parents must set limits based on this question.

IV. Talk – Talk – Talk with Your Child About Responsible Phone/Computer Usage

Sweeping this issue under the rug can endanger your child. Teitelbaum makes two excellent suggestions:

1) Let your child know what online content you are comfortable with and what kind of content makes you uncomfortable, including what is unacceptable.

Failure to communicate will result in kids making comments like, “But you never said I couldn’t look at porn!”.

The online contract we discussed in Point II (above) will go a long way in helping parents manage this problem.

2) Review apps together with your child.

Teitelbaum says, “Our family reviews apps on a case-by-case basis with my son, and we look at a number of factors — is there an ability to talk with strangers or not? What’s the app rating? We also assess the age level and warnings to see if there’s anything inappropriate, and we read safety guides to see what reporting controls we have” [1]

The Bottom Line

The reality is we live in a world dominated by computer devices and the apps created for them. What can a parent do, other than do their best to provide structure and limits to help their children navigate this wild, wild West of modern technology. Doing what you can to set guidelines is far better than doing nothing.

A final observation: Every child is unique. Regardless of their age, some children are more mature than others. Parents must take in to account their kid’s individual ability to be responsible, follow rules, and recognize potential dangers while dealing with apps and people in the online environment.

Let your instincts be your primary guide as you deal with the issues discussed in this article. Keep your instincts sharpened by keeping yourself educated on the ever-changing nature of social media.

Before You Go

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--bill walker



#smartphoneapps #children