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The Dangers of Smart Phones

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The Dangers of Smart Phones

Todd Warnock/Getty Images

My 8 year old asked me the other day, “Dad, why does everyone have an iPhone?” It was such a loaded question, and without wanting to get into it I answered, “Because Apple is really, really good at marketing.” The reality is that sales of smart phones have skyrocketed over the last few years, and the number of people who use them is really high. But, many parents are unaware of the dangers of being constantly connected.

Texting

The increase in texting has been remarkable in the last decade. If you’ve ever walked through a public airport, or mall, you’ve seen people with their heads down texting away. It’s become the quick and easy mode of communication for lots of people, especially teenagers. It’s a way to stay connected to their friends anytime, anywhere (assuming they have cell coverage.) Texting is a great and convenient way to stay in communication with someone. But, there are inherent dangers as well. Texting someone is like having a private, one-on-one conversation where no one else can hear you. A person can be physically in one place with one group of friends or family, while emotionally and mentally in another place having an intimate conversation with someone else.

Social Networking

Kids and teens are using social networking as an extension of their face-to-face interactions. But many kids are replacing their real-world interactions with virtual interactions. Facebook and Twitter allow kids to control how and when they’re viewed by others in their circle, and most kids portray an image of themselves online that’s different than who they really are. This trend is silently eroding kids’ ability to interact, engage, and have relationships in person.

Internet Use

I remember when Wi-Fi first became mainstream. I thought it was so cool to be able to surf the web while I sat on the couch. Now, smart phones have huge screens and data coverage is accessible in a lot of places, so we can surf the web anywhere, anytime. Want to check that baseball score? You can do that right before class starts. Want to see the latest weather report? You can do that on the bus on the way to school. All the good and bad of the World Wide Web is available at our fingertips, but we don’t have to think too long about the risks that can come with that. Kids that are constantly connected are also constantly exposed to the dangers of the internet. The most common dangers are inappropriate content, data hackers, and predators.

How Can I Keep My Kid Safe?

1. Talk to your kids

Talking to your kids is the best way to keep them safe. They are excited about the technology and what it allows them to do, and often, they don't think about the dangers. You have to have open communication about what could happen.

2. If you're paying the bill, you're setting the rules.

I'm shocked at many parents who pay for their kids to have unlimited texting and data, and yet have no idea how that technology is being used by their child. Many cell carriers have options that enable you, as a parent, to keep close tabs on what type of use that smart phone is getting. If you find something suspicious, be the parent and engage in the conversation about what's going on.

3. Set up clear boundaries and expectations.

It should not be too much to ask your child to put the phone away while you talk to them about their plans for the evening. As a parent, I'm not going to be proud if my kid can text 500 words a minute, but can't look you in the eye and have a meaningful conversation. We should push against the trend a little, and teach our kids to have healthy social skills that don't involve a battery charger. Just like we have rules about going out, and being home on time, we set rules and boundaries about the use of our smart phones.

Smart phones can be a great addition to the family technology lineup, and if some clear communication and boundaries are set up, your kids will thank you, or at least text you, later.
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