Dangerous Connections: The apps

(WIAT) — Parents and grandparents sat silently captivated inside a crowded library at Simmons Middle School in Hoover where School Resource Officer John Barnes told a group of digital immigrants what their digital native children could be doing with their smart phones.

Barnes said, “We are trying to educate parents of the dangers of social media kids are faced with everyday. When we were growing up, we didn’t have this problem.”

He told the group, “It used to be with computers we’d have to worry when they got off the school buses. They’d have to log in. Now they are 24/7.”

Inside the library, the other presenter told the parents who gathered that the internet isn’t black and white, but there’s a lot of gray. “Sometimes in the digital space, there is so much gray. That’s where we have so much trouble.”

Andy Wilbanks is a youth and family minister at Hunter Street Baptist Church. He says next year his second grader will be receiving a Chromebook laptop as a student in Hoover City Schools.

His church recently brought in an organization called ParentChat that helps families navigate the internet.

Wilbanks said, “The main thing is for parents to be informed and understand some of the dangers that are out there and have a healthy view of technology in their home asking questions, finding folks that know what their talking about with technology and being able to ask the right questions.”

It’s important to recognize the signs when something isn’t quite right with your child’s behavior. Matt McKee says there are some red flags, such as if “they are not turning in their homework, they’ve become lazy.”

McKee encourages conversation and asking these four questions of your child:

  1. “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen lately?”
  2. “What’s the craziest thing your friends are doing?”
  3. “What’s something that has surprised you recently?”
  4. “Can you teach me how?”

McKee formed ParentChat because he wanted to do something about what children were being exposed to on the internet, particularly when it comes to inappropriate material that’s sexually explicit. During his presentation at Hunter Street Baptist Church earlier this month, McKee mentioned a device that recently launched.

Circle with Disney is “both an app and a piece of hardware that wirelessly connects to your home network” according to Circle founder Jelani Memory, who said, “What circle will do is actually recognize every single device connected to you network.” That includes smart phones.

Memory said, “If you want to set up a profile for each of your kids you can and make sure the content is specific to them and their needs. If you want to filter out things like mature, explicit content or even things like social media things like Instagram and Facebook…and it’s incredibly easy”

A study released by the American Academy of Pediatrics says children are becoming engaged with smartphone technology as early as two years old. It found nearly half of children under age one used a mobile device on a daily basis to play games, watch videos or use apps. The number was even higher for 2-year-old toddlers. 77 percent of those studied used mobile devices. This particular research was on parents surveyed in a low income minority community.

As summarized in the November online issue of AAP.org, the authors concluded that “the high proportion of young children with their own mobile device was of particular concern because little is known about how children’s independent activity on mobile devices affects their cognitive, social and emotional development.”

That’s young children. The prevalence of mobile use among tweens and teens is even higher according to the Pew Research Center Survey on Teens, Social Media and Technology Overview 2015. 

Pew author Amanda Lenhart said, “24% of teens go online ‘almost constantly,’ thanks to the widespread availability of smartphones.”

Among teens with smartphones 91 percent go online from their smartphones occasionally, 94 percent go online daily. This is activity that may or may not be supervised or monitored in anyway by a parent. According to the non-profit agency NetSmartz, “Cell phones can be more difficult to monitor than a computer, and children often use them without adult supervision.”

But that doesn’t mean children have to use smart phones without adult guidance. School Resource Officer James Barnes says, “Know what your kids are doing. Be a parent, be involved, know how these things work.

Matt Mckee said, “It means parents need to be curious and stay curious.” Spend time with your child on their devices. He advises parents to know all the passwords, check them to see if they’ve changed, and store them securely away from your child, in case you forget. He also says do random check-ins on their devices.

Finally, parents have to have a plan when they put that smart phone in their child’s hand. A good plan includes a contract that they sign agreeing to your terms. It alleviates arguments later. They don’t get apps until you understand the apps. Then, allow the age-appropriate apps, one at a time. McKee doesn’t advise any apps until they’re 13.

Copyright 2015 WIAT 42 News

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