Kids and Smartphones: The 411 on Hidden Risks
From pedestrian accidents to insomnia to geotagging concerns, know the facts
Knowing that your child has a cellphone in case of emergency can provide enormous peace of mind. But before you hand over that smartphone, establish some clear rules about using it. You might be surprised at some of the risks these devices may pose.
Don’t talk and walk
The perils of distracted driving are well documented, but distracted pedestrians put themselves at risk, too. Some 1,500 or more pedestrians were treated in emergency rooms in 2010 for injuries related to using a cell phone while walking, according to a study published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention. The study found that young people, especially males, ages 16 to 25 were the most likely to be injured. Interestingly, most were hurt while talking rather than texting.
Establish a “no talking or texting while walking” rule. Find a pocket in your kid’s backpack where the phone should always be when the child is on the move. Not only is this a great safety practice, it will also encourage kids to stay social and “present” when friends or acquaintances are nearby.
Curb nighttime use
Without clear rules on nighttime use, that cellphone may be interfering with your kid’s sleep. While your child is lying in bed reading or writing just one more text, or viewing one more Instagram photo, his eyes are being exposed to blue light. Blue light has been shown to suppress melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone the body makes in response to darkness, and that makes you feel less alert – and more ready for sleep. Setting limits on evening use of a cell phone (or any screen, for that matter), including having your child power down an hour or so before bed, can help.
Beware of geotagging
Some apps popular with children and teens use geotagging, which draws a precise map of the user’s daily routine. For instance, Instagram allows its 300 million active monthly users to tag the location of each photo. Those location tags can then be mapped right from the Instagram screen, resulting in a handy guide to your child’s most frequent hangouts.
You may want to sit down with your child for a phone safety audit and discuss the potential hazards of geotagging. If your child uses an iPhone, disabling geotagging in social media accounts is pretty simple: Under “settings,” got to “privacy,” then “location services.” There, you’ll see each app listed along with an option to turn location services “on” or “off.”
On an Android phone, “by default, this cannot be done,” says Jack Wallen, Android expert for TechRepublic, an online trade publication for information technology professionals. He recommends installing a third-party app called App Opps Starter, which allows users to turn off services on a per-app basis. “Anyone wanting to prevent their phones from being tracked when social networking tools are used should definitely install and use this tool.”
Even if you’ve prevented social media apps from using the geolocation function, you can still allow the phone’s mapping app to use the phone’s location tracker to generate real-time maps, which can be helpful if your child gets lost Likewise, if you have a real-time GPS tracking app installed on your child’s phone (synched up with your phone), she’ll need to have the location services setting enabled for the tracker to work.