Do you know where your kids are? That used to be the question, back in the day, when we were talking about the physical location of our children as they were running around with friends. We were concerned for their safety and wanted to make sure they let us know where they would be and who they were with at all times. Today, that question takes on a whole new meaning with the advancement in technology like cell phones, iPods, iPads, and the Internet.
Do you know where your kids are? We now give our kids cell phones and smart phones with access to texting, sending and receiving pictures, and the Web. They’re taking full advantage of this access to put themselves out there on any new site or app that becomes available. These tools and apps pop up so fast that it is hard to keep track of them. Facebook and Twitter, while still actively used, are not the “in” thing. Instagram is an app that allows pictures to be taken, transformed, and instantly shared on other sites like Facebook and Tumblr. Tumblr is an app that allows you to share anything from anywhere, your phone, computer, email, or wherever you happen to be.
Three other apps that are becoming more widely used are a bit more disconcerting:
- KIK is a smartphone app for instant messaging that works just like texting. It allows the user to avoid using email or texting. Some use it to avoid data charges or using up texts on their phones, while others may use it to prevent parents from seeing what they are up to if they have parents who keep track.
- Snapchat is a mobile app which lets users share pictures or videos that disappear after a few seconds. This app has developed the reputation as being a “sexting” tool and has become very popular with young users. They think that they can now send out naughty pictures that will disappear without impunity. One of the developers of the app admitted that the idea came from a meeting at a fraternity house after some racy photos were unfortunately shared via Twitter. Unfortunately, these images can also come back to haunt the sender even though they are supposed to be gone. Technology allows people to grab screenshots of the images and save them. Videos can also be retrieved, which is bad news for young people making questionable decisions to use the app for that purpose.
- Voxer is the last one I will discuss. This app works like walkie-talkies on steroids. It allows the user to send instant audio text and photo messages to friends. You can choose to speak instantly back and forth or listen to recorded messages later. You can also instantly share your location, which to the wrong person, has obvious implications.
So, when I ask if you know where your kids are, what is my intent?
First, as parents, we should be keeping track of what sites our kids are on, have the passwords for their accounts, and be checking to make sure they are not doing something that could put them in danger.
Second, we should be keeping track of the apps they are downloading onto their devices. If we see one we don’t recognize or one that gives us cause for concern, we should be asking them about it or have it removed. As I said, in today’s world the options are changing so fast it is difficult to keep track of everything available and what they all do. A simple Google search can usually give you the answer to what an app does.
Finally, we should take a good look at the technology we are making available to our children. Is it really necessary, just because everyone else has it? I challenge anyone to explain to me why elementary school children need to have smart phones with access to the Internet. Parents have told me that they need to be able to contact their children and for them to have cell phones for emergencies. I can buy that, however, for those needs a simple phone with voicemail and limited texts should be more than sufficient. Being able to send/receive pictures and surf the Internet are just recipes for disaster. I have dealt with some of these recently that could easily have been avoided.
Let’s all know where our kids are as best we can all the time, physically and technologically. Pay attention, ask questions, and trust but verify. We can’t escape from technology; it’s the world we live in. But we can control what we give our kids access to, and monitor those things as parents should.
(Kim Claus is the School Resource Officer at Discovery Middle School. She can be reached at email@example.com.)