Controlling Pandora’s box

I know I’ve mentioned it before, and yes, I’m guilty of repeating myself. However, it’s something I’d like to bang my drum about because, for the most part, people tend to switch off when the words “online safety” are mentioned.

Still there? Good, because a recent survey of 2,000 parents found that one in seven had found unsuitable content on their child’s mobile phone. Those are some big numbers, and the kids involved are aged between 7 and 14 years old. 

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The trouble is that, as a parent, I know that the responsibility is with me, but the fact is that smartphones are a Pandora’s box. The survey also revealed that the average British child gets their own personal mobile phone at the age of eight.

For the most part, children are pretty wise and it’s an unfortunate by-product of our internet-fed youth. They’re usually well aware of how things work and you’ll usually find fairly harmless apps and mobile games. These are fun, sometimes educational, entertaining, challenging and rewarding. They’ll perhaps even instil an element if competitiveness and, likewise, adults enjoy mobile gaming too. If you’re anything like me then you’ll no doubt have played Angry Birds, Despicable Me or Cut the Rope. They’re a great time-filler and, if you have a look next time you’re on a bus or a train, they’re very popular indeed.

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I’ve got Cut the Rope on my Android phone and I love it, but there’s one level I just cannot get past. However, I keep on coming back to it again and again…. and again. I can’t put the thing down. Slightly irritating, slightly annoying, but still very enjoyable indeed. I even find myself getting drawn into it, but then – perhaps more annoyingly than anything else – I’ll find that my son will pick up the very same game and will complete the very same level incredibly easily. Agh!

Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find social media creeping in. Facebook is becoming a standard way of communicating now and, although it might seem fairly harmless, social networking sites and video sites like YouTube can quickly become pretty harmful thanks to a large amount of unrestricted content (do a search for “crashes” or “death” on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean).
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The main concern for parents is their children getting bullied on a smartphone, or perhaps getting distracted and too involved in their smartphone. It’s something that adults are guilty of at times as well. However, the biggest issue is that browser. It can deliver a wealth of knowledge but, at the same time, it can deliver a huge splodge of depravity, horror and pornography. 

What the mobile phone of today has turned into, effectively, is a Sky TV box with all the adult and horror movie channels turned on. There’s an effort by the networks at restricting content based on age, but it’s really not good enough. That smartphone that your child has can, and (for a lot of kids) will be used to switch on those adult channels and see things you would never, in your wildest dreams, want them to see.

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The answer, it seems, isn’t all about restricting content. Blocking content is like trying to fill cracks in a dam. You fill one crack, then another appears somewhere else. According to that same research, 54% of parents speak regularly to their kids about the nasties on the internet but 70% pretty much admit that a child’s natural curiosity may make it difficult to stay one step ahead. 

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We can no longer monitor our children online. Not fully, so it’s important to talk to them about staying safe on the internet. It’s a similar approach to teaching them about crossing the road or the dangers of train tracks, electricity pylons and strangers in the street. That and some good filters, some checking and some good safety software should see you through. Don’t forget to ensure that your credit or debit card isn’t automatically linked to your phone or you have a password setup, else those infamous in-app purchases will soon appear on your statement.