By Paul Grossinger
Texting and driving, cyber-bullying, sexting, dangerous apps, and distraction in school.
Grandparents might wonder: what do these very distinct issues have in common? The smartphone.
Grandparents of children and teens owning smartphones often find themselves taken aback when confronted by problems with these types of new technology. Smartphones are very new, having only gone mainstream in the past three years, and children and teens are often much savvier users of the technology than their guardians. Increasingly, the threats posed by smartphones have become very specific: for grandparents of younger children, 24/7 mobile bullying, solicitation by unsavory adults, and distraction in school loom as threats and, for grandparents and guardians of older teens, texting while driving is the leading cause of distracted driving, the No. 1 killer of teens in the United States.
These problems, which have only recently emerged, will get worse over time as more and more teens buy smartphones. Right now, only 35% of teens own a smartphone, according to Pew Research, but double digit growth year on year will see that grow to 95% by 2016. So, today’s 3,000 annual distracted driving deaths and hundreds of cyber-bullying suicides could grow exponentially if grandparents, parents, and guardians do not work proactively to address these problems head on.
Grandparents know that their children, parents, and their grandchildren in danger need help finding solutions. Unfortunately, many have trouble finding the best solutions, which are typically mobile applications that lack any effective publicity or global reach and are ineffective at reaching the people who need their products most.
So, this article is here to help. What follows is is a brief guide to the solutions, often free, that individual grandparents may seek out to address the problems that they, in particular, are facing with their grandchild’s smartphone use.
Texting and driving looms as the most visible and dangerous problem posed by smartphones. After all, how could grandparents not be worried about the biggest contributor to the No. 1 killer of teens nationally? Distracted driving increases crash risk by 23 times and reduces teen concentration by 44%, making it a scourge that must be stopped. Luckily, for all its terrifying growth, texting and driving is a problem with relatively easy technological fixes – and free solutions are readily available. On android smartphones, MMGuardian, Izup, and Phoneguard all provide guardians with the ability to directly prevent their children from texting while driving by locking out the text function on their children’s phones when they are in a moving vehicle.
The most insidious, least know problem grandparents must confront is cyber-bullying. No one likes to think their children are bullied but it happens – and with mobile phones it happens 24/7. It is the endless cycle of bullying from school to mobile and back that causes suffering pre-teens and teens to make the horrifying decision to take their own lives. Solutions to this problem are trickier but guardians can take action. MMGuardian, Code9 Family Mobile, and Kytephone all offer parents the capability to both block text messages from certain numbers or to forward guardians the text messages that are deemed of concern to them. So, while bullying is much harder to control, if parents take action to make themselves aware of what is going on in their child’s communication, they are much more likely to be able to prevent tragedy.
Grandparents also need to face down distraction in school and emerging, dangerous applications. Snapchat, for example, allows children to sext by sending messages or photos that self-destruct within seconds – but once a screenshot is taken, the damage is already done. MMGuardian and Kids Place both offer guardians the ability to monitor, block, and time restrict applications on their child’s phone, effectively mitigating and eventually eliminating this problem.
Getting these technology solutions is easy: all grandparents need to do is go onto Google.com, search for “Google Play Store,” go to the store, search for the product listed above they would like to learn more about by name (for example, “MMGuardian”), click on the result, and then download it right from the page. While finding out about these solutions is hard, actually getting them and then deploying them on to your grandchild’s phone could take less than fifteen minutes.
Smartphones are rising and grandparents are right to fear the consequences. But solutions are out there – for those willing to look.