Being a father of a young child, I assumed my days of keeping an eye on my kid’s media use were a long way off. Having a three-year-old daughter has quickly changed my mind. Part of me loves seeing how intelligent and natural my daughter is at using technology like my cell phone, but another part of me is a little terrified.
There are so many advantages to living in a world of smartphones. We are connected to one another in ways we could never have thought of. For instance, I can video chat with my friend in Denmark from my home here in the United States as if he were standing right next to me. At no other point in history could people communicate with someone on the other side of the world that easily!
Living in a sinful world, however, means there are also disadvantages to living with smartphones. There are multitudes of ways that we can get into trouble with our cell phones. This trouble can come from outside sources, like our interactions with others, as well as from the things we do ourselves. It is important for church workers to work with parents to teach them what is out there and how to protect their children from it.
The Blessings of Smartphones
As I previously mentioned, there are many good things that come from living in a world of smartphones. These good things most assuredly can apply to our children as well.
A quick Google search will show you the vast amounts of smartphone apps that are available to you and your children that will challenge them educationally and increase their creativity. Here are some good examples:
- Duckie Deck Homemade Orchestra—Mix and match homemade objects to see what kind of “music” you can make from them, without actually emptying all of the kitchen cupboards.
- Moo, Baa, La La La!—Read some of your favorite books in a new and exciting way! Apps like Moo, Baa, La La La! give your favorite classics a fresh new spin!
- Hopscotch—Let your kids learn skills that could become a career someday, while playing a game.
One of my daughter’s favorite things to do on my smartphone is video chat. We currently live seven hours away from both sets of her grandparents, but fortunately, with smartphones she can still feel like they are a part of her life. We’ll video chat with them multiple times a week. We even let her carry the phone around, talking with them, while playing at the park. Thanks to smartphones, she can still feel loved and cared for by her grandparents, even though they live 500 miles away.
Especially for kids who are involved in activities at school or in the community, smartphones can be a huge blessing in a parent’s life. I remember when I was younger and playing sports, my mom would show up to pick me up after practice and have to wait for an extra thirty minutes for the coach to dismiss us. With smartphones, the guessing game is over; parents can just wait for the text from their child saying practice has ended.
The Challenges of Smartphones
There is so much good that can come from allowing your child to use a smartphone; however, there are also many challenges and even dangers that come along with them.
While many apps that can be downloaded onto your smartphone are not inherently evil, they can easily be used with evil intentions. It is important to know what apps your child has on his or her phone and what those apps can be used for. Here are some examples of apps to watch out for:
- Snapchat—This app allows a person to send pictures that will “disappear” after ten seconds. The issue with this app is that because people think the images simply “disappear,” they may be tempted to send more intimate images to others. While the image does disappear after ten seconds, it can easily be saved by the recipient by taking a screen capture on his or her own phone.
- Vault Apps—There are multiple versions of these apps that are designed to hide other apps or images. Many of these apps are disguised to look like other, simple apps like calculators on the phone, but once opened, a person can type in a password to see “hidden” content. There have been many examples of kids using these types of apps to circulate explicit images to one another.
- Tinder—This is a dating app that is designed for “hooking up.” It uses your phone’s GPS locator to show you people in your direct area whom you can either “like,” by swiping right on their picture, or “pass,” by swiping left. If you “like” someone’s picture, and that person also “likes” yours, a chat screen opens so the two of you can “get to know each other.” The dangers of this app are pretty apparent. First of all, what parent would want their children using an app designed to help people “hookup”? Second, it teaches kids to judge one another based on looks, rather than actually getting to know people and enjoying their personality.
According to Pew Research Center, “One in three online teens have experienced online harassment.” Cyberbullying is the use of online communication to bully, threaten, or intimidate someone. While bullies have always been around, the Internet give a sense of anonymity to the bullying. Many people will say or do much more behind a screen than they ever would face-to-face.
Smartphones allow cyberbullying to happen right from your child’s pocket. Whether through texting or websites like Facebook, your child could be picked on or harassed by others, wherever he or she goes.
Television shows like Dateline NBC’s To Catch a Predator show how easy it is for an online predator to get access to your child. Many of these predators disguise themselves as other young children and try to trick kids into meeting up with them. These predators are extremely common and dangerous. It is incredibly important to teach your children the dangers of reaching out to strangers online and to know whom they are talking with.
What You Can Do to Help Parents
While having strong guidelines on a child’s smartphone usage may not make you the most popular parent on the playground, it will go a long way in keeping the child safe and protected in the virtual world. It is important for church leaders to teach parents that these guidelines and rules are not put in place to control their children or because they don’t trust their children. They are there because this is a dangerous, sinful world, and having expectations and rules is the best way to keep our kids safe.
It is good to be open and honest with our children about our feelings toward smartphones. Let your children know what dangers are out there so they can know best how to avoid them. There are many great tools and resources to keep your family safe when using smartphones; here are some of my favorites:
- Smartphone Covenants—Work with your child to create a smartphone covenant. You can list out your expectations for your child and allow him to explain his as well. Then you both sign the covenant. If you, as the parent, start seeing your child break any of the expectations of that covenant, you will then have something to point back to. Check out this example from Common Sense Media as a jumping-off point.
- Password for Downloads—It can be a great idea to have the app store on your child’s phone password protected. It may seem slightly inconvenient for your child to have to enter in your password every time she wants to download the newest Candy Crush game on her phone, but it will allow you to keep the dangerous apps off the phone, because you’ll know exactly what’s being downloaded.
- Parental Control Apps—There are multiple different apps that allow parents to monitor and filter what is happening on their children’s phones. Many of these apps can filter out explicit content, such as pornography, with the click of a button.
- Find My Phone—While I use this app mainly to locate my wife’s phone in our couch when she can’t find it, it can be a great tool for keeping your child safe as well. This app allows you to locate, alert, or lock your child’s phone—all from your phone. It is especially helpful if your child’s phone gets lost or stolen.
Church workers need to remind parents that, as with all things, it is important for them to investigate and communicate what works best for their own family. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for how to deal with smartphones in the home, but church leaders can give parents information about them so they can decide what is most important to them.
The world of technology opens up so many possibilities for our children, but it also creates yet another layer of danger for them. Thankfully, there are countless tools at our fingertips to help us protect them.
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