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OPINION: Stopping smartphone dangers to teens in their tracks

Smartphone usage among teens is becoming dangerous, Grossinger says. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

For Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Brooklyn teens are now more likely to have one piece of technology than any other – a smartphone.

Millions of teens now use smartphones, and parents, particularly those in urban environments like Brooklyn, are struggling with how to prevent the growing dangers and safeguard their children from cyberbullying, texting while driving, sexting and misuse of dangerous apps.  What most parents don’t know is that there are clear strategies and free solutions for quickly combating this rising problem and safeguarding their kids’ safety. 

Parents do know that smartphone dangers are rising rapidly and the statistics give little reason for optimism:

Ninety percent of teen-aged kids report seeing or experiencing cyber-bullying; with much of it taking place over mobile devices.

Three thousand teens died in distracted driving accidents last year, which made texting while driving the leading cause of teen deaths nationwide. 

At least 25% of teens sext or distribute sexual pictures via mobile devices. One such picture-sharing service, Snapchat, added 3.5 million users just in December 2012.

Parents are at a loss as to how to proceed. The purpose of this piece is to showcase a number of different options for parents so, depending on their child’s age, issues and mobile device type, parents can find the right answer for them. 

For parents whose children use Android smartphones, third-party parental control apps are the best solution. MMGuardian Parental Control, a service I helped to develop, is free as a basic product (there is a premium version).  Parents download MMGuardian to their child’s phone and then create their parental control settings: they set text alerts for words or phrases of concern (to prevent cyber-bullying MMGuardian will send alerts to the parent when their child sends or receives text messages containing these words), choose whether to turn the Safe Driving feature on (preventing their child from texting while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle), choose whether to block certain applications and contacts on the phone, and schedule location and lock times for the device. 

Kids Place, also available on Google Play, is a free service geared towards parents of younger children.  Kids Place enables parents to create a ‘safe zone’ on the phone that contains all the contacts and applications they would like their kids to be able to use and then Kids Place contains the child’s activity to that safe zone.

On Android, parents can also try carrier solutions like AT&T Drive Mode or Sprint Guardian.  AT&T Drive Mode is AT&T’s answer to the text and drive epidemic; it limits the texting capability of a phone in a moving vehicle.  Sprint Guardian is a more comprehensive product and is Sprint’s leading mobile parental control offering.  Unlike third-party apps, however, these options are expensive and have limited capabilities, which is the price paid for using a carrier-branded product. 

For parents whose children use iPhonesoptions are more limited because the iOS operating system does not give free reign to developers.  Apple has limited parental controls built into the phone, which parents can access and control in the phone’s ‘Settings.’  Parents should also look into web filtering options, which will block inappropriate websites, and communicate with their kids effectively so that they are aware of any issues going on in their kids’ lives. 

Smartphone dangers are rising.  Parents need to know that there is a lot they can do to keep their kids safe on smartphones. 

Paul  Grossinger is a mobile technology entrepreneur and former journalist who lives in Park Slope.

August 9, 2013 - 8:30am


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