BBC: Parents Unaware of Dangers Kids Face on Tablets and Smartphones

by Matt Klassen on February 12, 2014

For years parents have faced an onslaught of educational awareness regarding their children and television and online safety, a constant barrage of encouragement for parents to utilize the variety of parental controals included in most internet browsers and security software platforms designed to keep children from accessing content inappropriate for them (and in some cases, for anyone else). In fact, I would guess many of us with kids wouldn’t dream of letting our children online without such controls in place.

But a recent survey from BBC Learning has discovered a startling fact, that most parents, even those ones who implement such controls on TVs and PCs, are largely unaware of the dangers their children are confronted with when using tablets and smartphones, and with the exponential rise of mobile device usage among children and teens that means that many of our most vulnerable find themselves in a dangerous and damaging world that they’re simply not prepared to encounter.

What’s strange is that underlying this paucity of parental supervision on tablets and smartphones is the bewildering assumption that somehow the internet kids access from mobile devices is different than the one they would access on a computer, meaning parents often feel more comfortable giving children carte blanche control of their iPad, while they would never dream of allowing such unfettered access on their PC.

As David Emm, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab told the BBC, parents are simply not as aware of the dangers of accessing the internet on tablets and smartphones as they are with PCs. “When children use mobile devices to access the web, they are using the same internet, with the same risks,” he said. “There is a common misconception that smartphones and tablets don’t need the same level of protection as a PC…But with such a high percentage of parents not having a clear view of their children’s online activity, this way of thinking needs to change.”

In fact, the survey from BCC Learning found that almost one in five children have witnessed something online that disturbed or upset them, almost double the number the parents surveyed had estimated.

A separate study had also found that a staggering 20 percent of parents do not monitor what their children are doing online, and that even among the 90 percent of parents who indicated they had discussions regarding online safety when using a tablet or smartphone with their kids, the vast majority still let their children use such devices unsupervised.

The bottom line: Given that the internet is a rough place to traverse for the most seasoned and jaded among us, what chance do our vulnerable youth have without tools for avoiding similar experiences? As Tony Neate, chief executive of Get Safe Online, explains, “Unfortunately, none of us – of whatever age – is immune from encountering problems online…Without using controls such as built-in security, safety and privacy features and search engine filters, children will almost certainly run into something that really isn’t appropriate for their age, or any age.”

So what tools do parents have to combat the dangers of the mobile world? The first, and I can’t stress this enough, is common sense. Recognize that anything you might want to restrict your kids from accessing on your TV or PC is still readily available on your tablet or smartphone and take appropriate measures to block such content. Tablets and smartphones have parental controls too, so learn how to use them.

Second, recognize that the mobile world opens your kids up to the world of online anonymity, and if there’s one thing that emboldens people to do or say totally inappropriate things to others, it’s the notion they can’t get caught. Just because your kids know how to use Facebook or send text messages, doesn’t mean they should. As parents, set reasonable age limits for accessing such tools.

Further, Neate offers a few tips for parents:

  • Families should talk openly about what they are doing online
  • If your child has been looking at or exposed to inappropriate content, talk about      why it is not a good thing
  • Encourage children to speak to you if they come across something they find worrying      or upsetting on websites, games or while social networking.

With online habits like social bullying and sexting on the rise—not to rise the concomitant rise in related teenage suicides—I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that establishing appropriate mobile conduct may be the greatest challenge to this generation of parents, as most seem completely out of the loop when it comes to the dangers posed by the mobile world.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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