Sunday, April 22, 2012

Smartphones can hurt or help children's safety

Kim Komando: Smartphones can hurt or help children's safety


Hey parents. Have you had "The Talk" with your teen yet? No, I don't mean that talk. But there's another one that is almost as important these days.

"I'm referring to the talk about staying safe with smartphones and social-media activity. Haven't done that yet? If you've been putting it off because you don't know what to cover, I'm here to help.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center indicates that 1 in 4 teens now owns a smartphone. While I use the word teen in this column, my advice also extends to preteens.

What you might not know is that kids are also doing a lot more mobile messaging through online social platforms, and this often includes sharing their location with friends.

If they're not using location-sharing platforms properly, it can lead to real security and privacy risks. You don't want your kids unwittingly broadcasting their whereabouts and other personal information to strangers."

Many of these tremendously popular social networking apps, such as FourSquare, are free. You may not even know your kids are using them or how they work.

Basically, they allow kids to "check in" to a location and tell friends what they're doing. For obvious reasons, you never want your teen checking in at home or at someone else's home. Teach your child never to reveal a friend's location without checking with them first. Your teen's friends should extend the same courtesy.

Location-sharing apps usually sync with Facebook and Twitter. Unlike Facebook, which can be tightly restricted to friends and family, the communication taking place on Twitter is public and viewable to everyone.

Kids also need to be smart about sharing pictures. Show them how to go into their smartphone settings and turn off geo-tagging. This pinpoints the exact location, time and date that photos are taken.

If your child has already been on the Internet and Facebook for a few years, you've probably already had The Talk about cyber-bullying. This issue has accelerated to a new level now, however, with so many kids carrying smartphones. Encourage your children to bring up anything that has made them feel uncomfortable or scared online, in texts, or elsewhere. Take steps to block bullies at the first sign of trouble.

Help your child review and delete contacts occasionally. Kids fall in and out of friendships like they outgrow clothes. Some former friends may not need to know your child's location.

Remember that technology is a two-edged blade. Location-based services can also give parents peace of mind. Glympse is a location-sharing app that is very popular with parents. After you've loaded the free app on your teen's phone, you can track it on a Google map. You can specify that only you see the information and set a time limit for tracking.

If your child is driving to a friend's house 20 minutes away, for instance, you can monitor him or her on the way and set the timer to stop after 20 minutes. Knowing where your children are and that they're safe is a great comfort.

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