Should you stalk your child's smartphone?

If you don't understand smartphones, you shouldn't be buying them for your children.

If you don't understand smartphones, you shouldn't be buying them for your children.

With smartphones, handhelds and wi-fi hotspots everywhere, keeping an eye over your child's shoulder on the home computer is so last century.

Instead surveillance apps let you track your child's every text, phone call, photo and website visit, without them knowing. But should you? 

Kids these days don't just have the world at their feet, they carry it around in their pockets on their smartphones.

READ MORE: Why my son isn't getting a smartphone

A survey found half of teenagers have sexted sexually explicit images of themselves.

What if they're cyberbullied? Groomed online by a predatory paedophile? Distorted by internet pornography, ruined by risque sexting, fleeced by financial scammers?

The academic research is worrying too. More than 90 per cent of boys and 60 per cent of girls aged 13-16 said they'd seen pornography online.

However, there are plenty of reasons why you shouldn't track your child's smartphone use. 

Susan McLean, an Australian expert on cybersafety, said it's "parenting by remote".

The people selling monitoring apps prey on vulnerable, panicked, time poor parents, and  "if you have those sort of trust issues, you have a lot more problems than what your child is doing on the internet", she said.

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They can also give you a false sense of security and your child is potentially a few steps ahead anyway, said McLean.

Also, because depending on their age and stage, it's an invasion of their privacy.

Amanda Third, a fellow in digital and social cultural research at Western Sydney University, said children need to be exposed to some level of risk online so they can develop the skills, practices and attitudes to deal with it.

However, there are options for working with your children.

But first, you cannot plead ingnorance by saying you don't "get technology". If you don't understand smartphones, you shouldn't be buying them for your children.

Now that digital media is so integral to everyday family life, the conversations around it "need to start very young", said Third.

"The moment you start to show them your iPad or show them a photo online, however innocuous those moments might seem, they are the opportunities to talk to your children about what good media practices look like and how (your) family's values align with that." 

And as children get older, the experts recommend you actively monitor their online activities so you know where they are going and who they are talking to, just as you would in the physical world, and that they are not flouting any age restrictions in their online activities. 

If you don't understand an app, ask your kids to tech you how to use it.

Third says research shows "very compellingly" that the best online protection children can have is active monitoring plus the security of a set of values and principles that help them to make sense of what they see online and to deal with it, by clicking away and by talking to a trusted adult if they are upset.

It's when children don't know what to do or who to talk to, or when they see something online that reinforces something bad they have seen in real life, that they are vulnerable to harm, Third said. 

She points out that the children who are the most vulnerable online are the same children who are most vulnerable offline, for example those without a trusted adult to turn to. 

The research is also clear, she says, that children don't approach the online world in a moral vacuum. Instead they carry with them the rules and values they have learned in real life: "They translate their moral capacities into online domains and that has a very protective effect for them." 

 - SMH

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