By Shane Diffily, co-partner at SelfieCop
Parents. Let’s try a thought experiment.
Imagine you could track just 10% of everything your child does.
For example, just 10% of the movies they watch or 10% of the places they go, or 10% of the people they meet?
Scary isn’t it?
Well, welcome to your child’s smartphone!
10% is precisely the amount of knowledge most parents have about how their kids are using their phones.
For example, a recent study found that although 80% of kids own smartphones, a full 90% of activity is completely unsupervised.
According to the respected security firm McAfee, 75% of parents say they simply don’t have time to keep up with advancements in technology. Indeed, 1-in-4 parents admit to having given up trying to monitor their children’s digital lives at all!
The sad truth is that this lack of oversight has created a void into which children can disappear for long periods – and the results are not good.
In particular, the phenomenon of “sexting” is now causing real damage.
A perfect storm of technology & hormones
Sexting is defined as the practice of taking nude or partially nude digital images and sending them to another person, whether via SMS, social media or smartphone apps.
Professor Lori Andrews at the Institute for Science, Law and Technology in Chicago describes this phenomenon as “a perfect storm of technology and hormones.” Sexting, she explains, is “a way of magnifying girls’ fantasies of being a star of their own movies and boys locked in a room bragging about sexual conquest.”
Sexting it is at near epidemic proportions. Consider these figures.
– 60% of teens have been asked for sexual images of themselves.
– 75% of teens in some parts of the United Kingdom have sent a sext.
– Sexting has been recorded in children as young as 10 years old.
In fact, the scale of sexting is matched only by the immense damage it is causing
Private images that “go viral” are the source of vicious cyberbullying and have ruined the reputations of many young people.
The problem is that children are impulsive & ill-equipped to think though the consequences of their actions. Yet, 44% of teens admit to commonly sharing “sexts” among friends.
Predictably, this leads to severe distress among those depicted, as well as an increase in depression.
But it is not only those represented in such images who are affected. An entire generation of young people is at risk of being criminalized as a result of sexting.
Whether or not your child actually creates a sext image is often irrelevant in the eyes of the law. Merely viewing or forwarding such a file leaves them open to prosecution, given that many photographs depict teens under the age of consent.
Clearly much of the solution to sexting lies in a broader desexualization of society. Yet, there are a number of more immediate actions parents can take to protect their children.
First, engage with your child
Although they may not show it, the sheer pervasiveness of sexting has made many children uncomfortable. Peer pressure has a way of making kids do things against their will, but simply talking to your child about sexting could give them the extra confidence they need to resist temptation.
You may also wish to discuss the effects sexting has had on other kids. The aim is not to frighten them but to help dent the impulsiveness that is the cause of so much grief.
Second, get to know your child’s smartphone
Used wisely, smartphones are both practical and a source of great fun – but your children also need to know that safe use is a condition of access.
For example, you may wish to agree a contract that lists the rules by which access is allowed. A great example of this between a mother and her son was publicized last year. Any contravention of the agreed rules will then have penalties – up to and including confiscation.
You may also wish to restrict phone access to certain times of the day and, perhaps, to prohibit it being taken into the bedroom at night.
Finally, penetrate the void around your child’s phone
As the old Russian saying goes, Doveryai, no proveryai. “Trust, but verify.”
Rules are not enough. Dissipating the void that surrounds kids’ smartphones requires direct intervention.
Research shows that children who know they are being monitoring by parents will change their behavior and take fewer risks.
From time to time you should conduct an unannounced inspection of your child’s device to ensure rules are being adhering to. Check through all their photos & videos (and whatever social networking apps are installed) to ensure everything is as should be.
Technology is particularly useful for helping with this task.
The SelfieCop app allows you to see a copy of every photo or video taken by your child’s smartphone, including via apps like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Kik, etc. – as well as supposedly ‘secure’ photo sharing apps like SnapChat.
The aim is to deter unsafe behaviour; and for this to work you must always tell your child that it is installed and what it does. (It also includes a feature that prevents it being uninstalled.)
By combining regular inspections with an app like SelfieCop with, kids are forced to STOP-&-THINK every time they take a photo or video, “Do I really want my mom or dad to see me like this?”
Overtime, this type of self-policing becomes second nature and can vastly reduce the chances of your child taking or sharing an unsafe image.
The hope is that as more & more children are supervised in this way, sexting will become less & less common and the fewer lives will be damaged as a result.
Download SelfieCop now for a one-off price of just $2.99 per phone or tablet. (No top-ups or subscriptions.)
Shane Diffily is a specialist in the discipline of Digital Governance. As co-partner at SelfieCop, Shane is determined to help parents stop sexting. SelfieCop has been praised by child protection agency ISPCC as “a useful new tool that can help parents safeguard their children’s online activities.” It is also actively promoted by various e-Safety groups and police forces. For more about Shane, visit www.selfiecop.com.