When I was a girl – just beginning to date in the 1960s – it was thought prudent that a girl should not leave home without a dime in her shoe. Thus equipped she had the means to call home if a situation arose that required rescue. In those days public telephone booths were plentiful.
These days I would just as soon send a youngster into a minefield as send them out to find a pay phone at night in strange surroundings. Modern technology has rendered public pay phones nearly obsolete and cell phones now provide a digital tether for busy parents and children. Today’s cell phones often have wireless Internet capabilities s well, allowing kids to browse the World Wide Web, send text messages, and download ring tones, wallpaper, videos, music and games.
The Web opens up a world of possibilities for children, expanding their horizons and exposing them to different cultures and ways of life, but dangers also lurk as children hit the road to explore the information highway.
The very anonymity of the Internet can put children at risk of falling victim to imposters and predators. Mobile phones present a challenge for the protective parent, because they are often used outside the home, away from parent’s watchful eyes. It is even more difficult to monitor the Internet activities of your children on a mobile phone than on a home computer.
Most Internet service providers (ISPs) offer parent-control options to block certain material coming into a computer. Filtering programs are available that block certain sites and restrict personal information from being sent online. There are programs that can monitor and track online activity as well. The sad fact is that when it comes to the information superhighway though, most parents are puttering along in the right lane while their savvy young techno junkies whiz by in the fast lane.
Then there’s the issue of expense. Even with a “Family Plan” keeping the gang connected can add up. Most plans charge additional fees for accessing the Web and text messaging, and kids can easily rack up big bills by exceeding their plan minutes, downloading expensive ring tones, games or music, or excessive texting.
Health issues are beginning to surface as well. Although the final word is not yet in, some scientists recommend limiting cell phone use by children, as they may be more vulnerable to the radiation that cell phones emit. Repetitive strain injuries can result from constantly typing text message with thumbs.
So what is a responsible parent to do? This week we’re asking for your input on the subject of cell phone use and cyberspace policies in your family.
- Does your child have a cell phone?
- Does he/she have access to the Internet?
- Do you monitor your child’s Internet activity?
- Do you feel you would recognize the signs if your child was at risk on-line?
- Are you aware of what your children see and hear on the Internet?
- Are you aware of who they meet, and of what they share about themselves online?
- Have you taken advantage of any of the resources available to protect children on-line?
- If so, what has been your experience with these resources, positive or negative?
- Are you aware of cell phone policy at your child’s school or in their classroom?
- Has your child’s cell phone ever been confiscated or stolen at school?
- Has your child ever racked up huge cell bills, and if so, how did you address the issue?
- Are you alarmed about any of the potential health risks of cell phone use?