Mobile phones are now so widespread in society that they’ve become one of the few items you can’t leave home without. In recent years, more parents have allowed their children to carry a mobile phone in order to keep in contact for safety reasons.
According to figures released by Ofcom, 3% of 5–7 year-olds in the UK, 13% of 8–11 year-olds, and around one third of 12–15 year-olds own a smartphone. While there are clearly benefits to a child carrying a mobile phone, the rising numbers of children using mobile phones also increases their risk to danger in the form of inappropriate and harmful content.
While chat rooms and social networking sites can be great places for children to communicate, it’s important to talk to them about what they can do to keep themselves safe online. Despite the many benefits that come with mobile phones, you need to be aware of the many safety issues that your child may have to face, including:
1. Access to harmful or inappropriate content of a violent or sexual nature.
2. Enabling of their location services, being located and contactable by strangers
3. Using their mobile phone to take naked or intimate photos of themselves to send to their boyfriend or girlfriend (sexting)
4. Running up large bills by making lots of calls or signing up to premium rate services, such as downloading ringtones or games
5. Using their handset while walking or cycling, this could increase the risk of them being involved in an accident
6. Using their mobile in public places where it might not be appropriate to take photos of people without their permission
What you can do:
To protect your children from any of the scenarios above it is worth encouraging them to follow the following common sense guidelines:
1. Try not to make calls in public.
2. Keep your mobile phone hidden, e.g. inside your jacket or coat pocket, but not in the view of strangers.
3. Don’t lend your mobile phone to strangers (or to your friends unless it’s a genuine emergency).
4. Set up a PIN or password on your mobile phone, so you are the only person who is able to activate it or use it.
5. Try to remain in well-lit areas when you use your phone.
Besides facilitating SMS, calls and downloads, most smart phones enable users to have access to information on the internet, so if your child is lost or needs to find his or her way around a new, unfamiliar area or simply is lost on holiday, a mobile phone could prove to be more than invaluable – it is a necessity in today’s world.