Mobile phones, mobile dangers: Protecting children with cell phones

The cell phone in all its iterations -- from pre-paid to smartphones -- has become common throughout the world.  According to the United Nations' telecommunications agency, the ITU, there will be over 5 billion mobile phone subscriptions by the end of this year.

The cell phone markets have become saturated, leaving the wireless companies little choice but to search for new, untapped markets.  Their primary targets?  Kids.

According to Mediamark Research and Intelligence to, the number of children ages 6-11 who own a cell phone nearly doubled from 2005-2009, reaching 20% last year.  In the age 10-11 bracket, the numbers are even higher at 36%.

But, as with virtually any new technology, cell phones -- or the improper use of them -- can pose a danger.  For children, these dangers can come in the form of cyberbullying, sexting, and online predators.  For parents, it's often a matter of not being as tech savvy and informed as the children, leaving them in the dark as to what's really threatening their kids.

With so many new phones, apps, and threats pooping up every day, how can you spot the dangers and protect your children?

  • Know the threats -- Cyberbullying, sexting, predators, textual harassment -- the list of threats your children can face from using a cell phone is long and scary. To protect your children, you need to educate them, which might mean educating yourself first. Doing a little research online can quickly provide you with information on the most common cell phone dangers, not to mention some scary cautionary tales to share with your kids. Once you're armed with that knowledge, you'll be better equipped to prepare your children.
  • Research the solutions -- Protecting children online is a growth industry. There are a number of commercial products available that can help your keep your children safe. Products like Safety Web and Net Nanny allow you to monitor your child's online activities and what's being posted about them, both vital in a time when kids can upload messages, pictures, and even videos from anywhere they have cell service. Other products like Guardian Angel or Firefly mobile phones offer wireless service that you can control, to keep your kids from accessing content you'd rather they avoided.
  • Choose wisely -- We all know how wide the selection of cell phones is. When deciding what phone to purchase for your child, make the smart decision. Look up online reviews for specific information about each phone. Pay special attention to the "safety" features: parental controls to limit what your child can do with the phone, texting limits, and GPS to help locate your child if he or she becomes lost. Choose the phone that best fits your child and his or her level of responsibility.
  • Impose limits -- No parent likes to be heavy-handed, but children do need limits, especially when it comes to technology. Imposing limitations on cell phone use can be done by parental edict, or by choosing a service plan that does it for you. Pay special attention to limiting text messaging. According to Pew Internet, teenagers average over 3,000 texts sent and received every month. Text addiction can lead to social difficulties for children, or even difficulties in school.
  • Give kids the responsibility -- No matter how closely you monitor your children and their cell phones, you simply can't catch everything. Spend a few minutes with your children reviewing the "rules of the road." Make sure they understand that a cell phone is not just a fun gadget, it's also a responsibility. If they understand the importance you place on their safety, chances are they'll do the same.

Navigating the world of technology with kids can be tricky business.  To them, it's exciting and cool, while to you it can dangerous and scary.  The most important thing is to pay attention to your children and make them feel comfortable, so if they do encounter a problem, they'll come to you with it before it's too late. 

David A. Milman, Founder and CEO of Rescuecom

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