Kids and Smartphones: The Moral Dilemma

Okay, admit it: you’re jealous of the modern youngster. I know I am. All it took to make me happy when I was a child was a $.79  HotWheels car from our local Toys R Us.

These days, though, kids are begging for ever more elaborate toys, and I’m not talking about Furbies. I’m talking about tablets, smartphones, and computers.

I shared a cell phone with my younger brother even throughout high school, and we only had access to it when we had after-school activities and Mom wanted us to have a backup plan in case we missed the late bus. But as soon as we got home, the phone went back into Mom’s Secret Drawer, where it wouldn’t be seen again until the next time we needed it.

So yeah, I guess I’m a little jealous of every nine-year-old who has their very own tablet or smarter-than-smart phone.

The thing is, jealousy isn’t the only problem to arise from this new trend. Keeping our kids safe when they insist on constant contact with the World Wide Web has never been more important. So let’s take a look at some of the problems – and some of the potential solutions.

So What’s the Problem…

To put it mildly, kids are at a bigger risk online than any of us. Considering how many adults I know who practice spectacularly poor judgment on the web, it’s fair to say that most kids also have a long way to go when it comes to playing it safe.

The cyber-bullying “epidemic” has never been more prevalent than it is right now, and there have never been more ways for kids to put themselves at risk. It seems there’s a new anonymous chat app almost every day, and if our kids’ time with their gadgets isn’t supervised, it’s possible they may find their way into a conversation they’re not ready to have.

Another frequent problem is the tendency for our young ones to rack up huge bills that their parents will then be responsible for. On one hand, it could be argued that anytime a parent hands their child a device with payment information stored on it, they might deserve whatever they get. But the bigger problem is a simple lack of technical savvy.

Earlier this year, the FTC filed a complaint against Amazon, hoping that it would grant refunds to parents whose kids “accidentally” spent small fortunes on unauthorized in-app purchases on their mobile devices. If nothing else, stories like these are helping to spread awareness and are helping parents realize that there’s help available – if they know where to turn.

…And What’s the Solution?

The good news for parents is that there’s no shortage of quality parental control apps. In fact, the leading mobile operating systems (Android and iOS) have some pretty robust parental controls baked right in; you just have to know where to look.

As a parent, you also have access to plenty of third-party solutions as well. There’s even a fairly new app called Ignore No More which, while not exactly a safety feature, could go a long way toward getting your child to actually pick up the phone when you call.

At the end of the day, though, I do feel that the best defense against the host of dangers that modern technology represents for children is just a little bit of old-fashioned discernment. To be blunt, I don’t see any reason why a grade school student needs their own smartphone. Or tablet. Or laptop computer, for that matter.

My parents understood better than most how to set reasonable boundaries; I shared a primitive flip phone and a laptop with my brother, and our use of both of these devices was very carefully supervised. I’m a grown man these days, and looking back on it, I’m glad they were as (over)protective as they were.

We need to collectively decide whether we’d rather disappoint our kids by turning down their request for the latest tech – or if we’d rather sleep well at night. Just saying “no” could be the shortest route to finding peace of mind.

Image Credit: Flickr (via Creative Commons)

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