by Larry Magid
If you’re like most parents, your kids already have a cell phone or are chomping at the bit to get one. And, increasingly, teens and even “tweens” are getting smartphones that can do everything a family PC can do and more.
A March, 2012 report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 23% of 12 to 17 year-olds have a smartphone. Nearly a third (31%) of older teens (14-17) have one.
Today’s smartphones are not only more powerful than PCs from just a few years ago, they are equipped with more features including cameras, camcorders and location services that make it possible to track both the phone and its user. And just as PCs run software, smartphones run “apps” from third party developers who are mostly unaffiliated with the phone maker or carrier.
It’s not just teens using smartphones. Younger children are also getting them and as a parent, it’s important to understand what these phones can do, whether they’re right for your child and how you can make sure that your child is using his or her phone appropriately.
A new free downloadable booklet, Generation Smartphone: A Guide for Parents of Tweens & Teens, helps answers these and other questions. Created by mobile security company Lookout in partnership with Monica Vila, The Online Mom, the guide is designed to “help parents take the guesswork out of raising intelligent, responsible smartphone touting kids.”
Is your child ready?
The guide poses “4 Questions to Ask Yourself To Determine If Your Child Is Ready for a Mobile Phone” including whether your child needs a phone for emergency situations, if he or she understands and respects time and usage limits, if the child understands what apps are OK and how to safely use the Net; and whether your child knows “who and who not to communicate with? What they should and shouldn’t share online? What sorts of words and pictures NOT to send?”
Once you get your kid a phone, the guide recommends “7 things to do” including setting a password, adding important people to the contact list, educating yourself on school phone rules and making sure the kids understand family rules for downloading apps. The guide also recommends downloading “a security app to protect your investment.” Lookout, along with several other companies offer “freemium” (some services are free but you can pay for enhanced services) that can help locate missing phones, protect against malware and even wipe phones that may have gotten into the wrong hands. The iPhone comes with a “find my phone” feature that locates and wipes lost phones. For more on this see my post Cell Phone Safety: Protecting Privacy, Data and Kids Too
My favorite section of the guide, entitled 4 Ways to Build Responsibility & Your Relationship With Mobile Phones recommends ways for parents to help teach their kids responsibility and good judgement. Tips include having your child contribute to the bill, sending them text messages ranging from telling them that you love them to engaging them in conversations, incentivizing them with expanded phone privileges and encouraging them to use their phone in a balanced way.
Parents as role models
I’m sure Monica would agree that how you act with your own phone can have a big impact on how your kids use theirs. Parents need to be good role models, which includes thinking about how you’re using your phone when your kids are around. Are you paying more attention to friends and business associates on the other end of a phone than you are to your own family? Are you limiting the use of your phone when you’re around your kids and are you being safe when in the car by not texting while driving or allowing phone conversations to interfere with safe driving.
Podcast interview with Lookout CTO Kevin Mahaffey
Larry Magid sat down with Lookout’s Chief Technology Officer and co-founder Kevin Mahaffey to talk about the company, cell phone risks and the report.