Too often, I've hit the send button and tried unsuccessfully to stop a message from going out. When that happens, I get mad at myself or maybe I suffer from short lived embarrassment. These are emotions I can deal with. Can your children? What happens when a simple little text gets out of hand? Maybe they thought it would be private. Maybe they wanted to grow up faster and experience adulthood before they were ready for it. And maybe by doing so, they made reckless choices that would follow (and maybe haunt) them for life. It happens. Children are vulnerable and often just want to fit in. What may not bother me can have drastic (and sometimes tragic) effects on our kids. It isn't fair. Being supportive can help, but stopping the issue before it's a problem is the key.
Recently, I was asked to attend a mobile safety school to educate myself and others about the dangers of mobile phones and how to have a safer experience. Wireless safety is a major concern of mine and there are a few great programs out there to help teach children to be safe when using their phones.
We know that mobile phones are an important part of family life today, and they help parents stay connected with their children. But along with the practical use of phones comes other issues: bullying, privacy, texting while driving and others.
AT&T is making the effort to learn about what “wireless safety” means, and share that information with families.
The Mobile Safety program has been established to educate parents on what safety means when it comes to mobile devices, and to provide resources that help parents navigate this day-to-day in their homes.
AT&T conducted a study of 1,000 parents and 500 kids – ages 8-17 – on a variety of topics that relate to mobile phones, devices and other issues. Here's what they found out:
Many of you have probably either asked or been asked…what the right age to give a child a mobile phone? While we can’t really say what’s “right” – we can tell you that the average age is 12.1. Kids’ first phones by age group:
Age 8-11 – average age 9.5 yrs
Age 12-14 – average age 11.3 yrs
Age 15-17 – average age 13.3 yrs
In addition, we found that, of kids who have mobile phones, 34% have smartphones. Percentage of smartphone adoption by age group:
Age 12-14 – 35% have smartphones
Age 15-17 – 37% have smartphones
What parents are concerned about in their kids’ use of mobile phones:
89% are worried about texting and driving
67% are concerned about bullying text messages
69% are concerned about sexually suggestive messages
77% are worried about their kids receiving calls from unknown numbers.
What we found interesting is how those worries related to what was actually happening, according to kids:
Over HALF have been in a car with someone who was texting and driving
Over 1 in 5 have received a mean text message
Almost half have a friend who received a sexual picture or message
69% have received a call from an unknown number.
So for all that worrying, the reality is that kids truly are experiencing these issues. Whether they are telling their parents or not is a different story, but the study gave us the insight that parents aren’t worrying for no reason.
When we look at these behaviors of kids and their mobile phones, one very well-known behavior is missing – and that’s overage charges on minutes, texts or data. Kids are more likely to have experienced the following issues, as opposed to downloading content (such as apps or games) that lead to unexpected costs on the account:
53% of kids have been in a motor vehicle with someone who was texting and driving
Over 1 in 5 have received a mean or bullying text message from another kid on their mobile phone
Almost half (46%) have a friend who has received a message or picture that their parents would not have liked because it was too sexual
69% have answered a call from an unknown number
We also asked kids about the rules they have on their mobile phones. 66% said they do have rules on their phone usage. BUT, 90% said they would be OK with their parents setting rules. What we see there is an opportunity. Some parents might not be setting rules because they don’t think their kids will follow them, and that may not be the case.
Another interesting data point: 93% of kids have rules on their phones at school. So even if they don’t have rules at home – they are used to having them at school, and it could be a smooth transition to implement some of those rules at home.
We also found that 76% of parents say they monitor their kids’ phones. However, only 42% of kids say their parents monitor their phone. A few things could be happening here. Parents may be saying they monitor their kids’ phones, but actually give them more freedom. OR, parents are monitoring their kids’ phones without telling them that they are doing so.
2 of 5 kids say their parents have not talked to them about mobile safety, and they are more likely to have heard from their parents about stranger danger, alcohol and drugs and sex education that these issues. While these are the standard safety issues that kids learn about from their parents and at school, these other issues are a reality for kids in today’s world.
AT&T has put together a variety of resources to help parents. From learning what other families are doing through videos, or downloadable tip sheets, the website at http://www.att.com/familysafety has a wealth of information available to anyone who is interested.
Q&A with Lesley Backus and Whaewon Choi of Fleishman-Hillard, who worked with AT&T to develop the Mobile Safety School program:
Why do kids age 8-11 actually need a phone?
Based on what we’ve heard from parents, there is no magic age. Every family is different, and this is a personal decision that’s happening within the family unit. We tend to see kids in this age range getting a phone if they’re spending a lot of time outside the home at weekend or after-school activities or sleepovers.
On the website, we have an article called “My First Phone” that looks at some tips for this topic.
Culturally, things have shifted. That first step of freedom once was getting the keys to the car at age 16. Now the phone is the new status symbol. It’s not a reason to get a phone for your child, but it is interesting that the phone has become the new ticket to freedom in a lot of ways.
My son texts a lot and I can’t get him to stop. Any suggestions?
AT&T has a product called Smart Limits for wireless. It’s $4.99 per month, and you can set a monthly limit for the number of text messages you want your child to be able to send.
Some parents will have their kids charge their cell phones in the parents’ bedroom, since often parents think kids are in bed, but they’re texting with friends.
Are there any common ground rules for phone ownership among kids?
From the research we looked at, the most consistent rule was no texting or talking while driving (often it was a family rule, with parents staying off the phone in the car, as well, to set a good example for younger kids). No phones at the dinner table, no phones in the bedroom at night. As kids get older, we found there weren’t as many rules. Parents get more relaxed about having the phone in the room or being able to use the phone whenever they want it.
There are resources on http://www.att.com/familysafety for rules on phones at school, responsible citizenship, new rules to think about as kids graduate to smartphones, etc.
Kids are learning a lot of their behaviors from adults. We need to model good phone behavior for the kids in our lives.
Can we avoid giving kids a smartphone initially?
Kids are pre-disposed to smartphones because they have iPod touches that feel like smartphones, but it’s a case-by-case decision among families. Resoundingly, one thing we heard in talking to parents is that we’re dealing with new technologies, but so many of the same rules for freedoms/privileges apply. New tools, but old familiar rules.
It’s about what each child can handle in terms of their freedom.
We often talk to kids one-on-one about things they’re navigating with their peers. It really depends on how mature you are. Kids recognize having a smartphone is an extra level of responsibility, and they’re interested in talking to their parents about it and having that dialogue.
Can you talk about Family Map?
Family Map is an app you can download for your family on your individual phones. You sign up yourself and your family members, and it allows you to log in and see where a particular phone is. If your child is always with their phone and you want to make sure they arrive at a particular destination safely, you can log in and see that phone on a map. You can also set alerts to make sure you check in at specific times.
It allows you to check on your kids without bothering them – avoiding the issue of texting while driving, etc.
Do schools allow kids to have cell phones on campus?
We talked with a number of educators at a PTA convention over the summer, and rules vary by school. Some kids have to keep phones in their book bags, some have to keep them in lockers – it depends on where you live.
Are you seeing gender-based differences in terms of rules for mobile phones?
We found that results did vary a bit by gender. Girls were tracked a little bit more strongly on their phones than boys in the household. There wasn’t a huge difference, though.
Do moms worry more than dads about mobile phone use among kids?
Moms are a little more worried about the issues overall. There were some issues that dads worried about more, especially when it came to kids sending sexually inappropriate messages over the phone. With texting while driving, getting calls from unknown numbers, etc. – dads were less worried than moms about those kinds of things.
I'm hosting my own mobile safety school soon to help spread the word. Parents should know that they have options to help protect their children. Purchase a blocker to block games, apps, and other purchases. AT&T's FamilyMap can locate family members from your phone or computer. You can get a free content filter and restrict access to inappropriate content. You can also get AT&T's Smart Limits for Wireless to block calls and texts and limit phone use.
My oldest can't wait to get his first phone. He asks a few times each year. Since I home school, I don't see the need. If I didn't home school, I think I would be tempted to get him a phone. I don't think any child is ever ready to have a smart phone at his age. He's 9 and even though he seems to be very mature for his age, kids are so easily tempted by peers and they're curious too. Let's work together to empower parents. By doing so, we can protect our children and make sure they stay safe online and on the phone! Phones aren't bad. Sometimes our children's choices are though. Like all things in life, they need to be given the opportunity to learn by making choices, and that includes making bad choices. Hopefully by educating yourself on wireless safety, you can minimize their bad choices and teach them to be smart with their smartphones!
Disclosure: I am working with AT&T to discuss these issues and I have been compensated for my time and expertise.