As summer break lumbers on, students armed with the latest in smartphone technology are using social media for entertainment and an air conditioned escape from the summer sun. As a social media geek and a member of the boomer generation (the very tail end, thank you very much), I’ve witnessed some of these smart phone wielding tweens and teens placing themselves in situations that both terrify me and boil my maternal blood. So after spending time on multiple social media platforms this summer and making a few mini-enemies (minimes?) by posting questions such as “does your mom know that you’re on here?” I decided to talk to you, the parents, and share my reasons for wishing that smartphones had age restrictions:
- Complete lack of self-awareness – the little girl in Maryland who placed her phone in front of her crotch while wearing short shorts was not trying to be provocative or run an adult themed show during her recent Meerkast, but her intentions meant nothing to her audience – which appeared to be mostly adult males. Summer time kids like to live stream from their bedrooms and tell their audience things like “I’m bored as f**k” and then invite them to “ask me anything”. This common practice invites conversations that go in directions that children are not equipped to handle. Unfortunately, once these conversations start, kids don’t know how to get out of them because they’re good kids who were taught not to be rude; and because mom and dad are at work, there’s no one around to save them… or shut off their phone, I’m just sayin…
- Total oblivion to their surroundings – again the bored kid who is streaming from his bedroom. Unaware of the fact that items in their room expose their identity and location – i.e. name tags from an event, gym clothes with the school name. Mirrors are another nightmare because kids seem to be universally incapable of thinking “hey there’s a mirror in my room, better check the images that are being captured from its reflection” Recently I witnessed a little girl on Meerkat, who told her audience that she was 11 years old; excuse herself from view because she needed to blow her nose. She moved outside camera range, only to move in front of the mirror which was in range, where she proceeded to blow her nose into her lifted up her t-shirt, completely unaware that she was exposing her chest to an audience of international viewers.
- Naivety – Most children are not able to recognize the predators, bullies and other dangerous types that lurk online, especially in platforms largely thought of as being for teens. Unsuspecting and unsupervised children on livestreaming platforms are easily drawn into inappropriate activities, conversations and “games”. A little girl on Periscope a few weeks ago who was dressed in a pair of “daisy duke” shorts and a tank top while streaming from her bedroom, was encouraged to take down her ponytail and shake out her hair by an audience that included many adult males. She gladly obliged then, proceed to toss her hair and pose suggestively. When I posted a question asking about her parents’ whereabouts and told her that she shouldn’t be streaming without them in the room, she dismissively told me that her dad knew what she was doing and he was fine with it because he knew that she was smart…
- Lack of platform capabilities and limitations – children know how to stream, and how to post, but their knowledge often stops there. Things like geo-tracking, platform connections (Periscope to Twitter; Meerkat to Facebook and the expanded potential these connections bring for personal exposure and identity theft); how to block people; how to know who is in their audience, profile management etc. – should all be part of the whole pie of a user’s online experience.
- A belief in anonymity and no concept of discoverability. Some kids (and parents alike) still think Snapchat images are temporary; that anonymous apps such as Whisper and Yik Yak are really anonymous and secrets shared between online friends stay secret – oh and that these people are really their friends. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say that nothing online is anonymous; secrets are going to be blabbed and often linked back to the originator and online images will travel more extensively and probably live longer than the people in them.
I could go on but these 5 reasons are at the top of my list – at least for today. No parent wants their child to be the odd ball because they don’t have the latest and greatest gadgets; nor does any parent enjoy being the source of their tweens wrath because they took a stand and said no. But sometimes it’s not a bad thing to say no, and let your kids be angry with you. Especially if the cause of that anger is a parent doing whatever it takes to keep their kids safe and lessening their exposure to exploitation and victimization.
Now if you still think your child needs a smart phone, at the very least, please utilize the parental controls that are offered by your carrier. Remember, parental control are not a stand-alone solution, they must be consistently monitored and should be combined with open communication, education, ground rules and consequences that are consistently applied when violations of the rules occur.
Please share this with all the parents you know and read it to your children. Have a discussion about my thoughts and let me know yours, I’d love to know where you stand on this. Post your thoughts below and lets talk!