The dangers of unsupervised cell phone use are the same as with a computer.

Children can come across confusing or distressing ideas and images, be tricked into giving away personal information, or be egged on by peers to write thoughtless text messages or cruel online comments.

“Parents need to teach children that inappropriate cell phone behaviors can have real-world consequences,” said Jody Hawkins, information security officer at Cook Children’s. “Talk with your children, set ground rules and then put protections in place that help you make sure they comply.”

Parents can control cell phone usage by preventing and monitoring unwanted access. All major cell service providers in the United States offer some form of parental settings that allow you to block unapproved activities and filter out explicit content. Monitoring software adds another layer of protection, letting you watch over your child undetected.

“I recommend apps such as Net Nanny® and eBLASTER Mobile®. They let you view your child’s text and web history, and alert you if he or she accesses something prohibited,” Hawkins said. “However, I caution parents not to fly off the handle if alerted; many children are unwittingly led to unsuitable content by clicking an innocent-looking ad.”

A challenge for parents is to keep up with their kids and the latest in technology. Hawkins offers a few areas of concern:

  • CATE – Call and Text Erasure. It’s exactly as it sounds. Kids can easily erase their texts before the parents ever see them.
  • TigerText – allows you to send a text to someone’s phone with a deletion timer. It also allows you to recall a sent message even after the recipient has opened the message.
  • Vaulty Stocks – looks like your run of the mill stock index; however, it has a hidden vault to store secret photos.
  • Mobile Vault – pretty much hides everything and backs everything up to a secret cloud space.  Also, if someone inputs an incorrect password, the app will take his or her photo (that means you mom and dad).
  • Private SMS – allows you to share a password and send text messages back and forth that will be encrypted.  You must have the password to open.
  • Private SMS and Call (Android only) – allows you to create a blacklist of choice contacts.  Any messages, calls, etc. will be hidden for those contacts.
  • Fox Private Message (Android only) – if you are in the middle of typing a text, a simple shake of the phone will delete the message (i.e. mom walks in).  Also, if you leave the phone at home, you can borrow someone else’s phone and text a predetermined code to your phone and it will wipe all messages.
  • Snapchat – allows you to set time limits from one second up to 10 seconds viewing time. After the time expires, the photo will be deleted. But Hawkins said that’s not exactly the case. “The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint against Snapchat with the Federal Trade Commission in mid-May of this year saying the company deceived its customers by leading them to believe that pictures are destroyed within seconds of viewing,” Hawkins said. “The complaint came on the heels of a discovery that, with a minimum of technical know-how, someone could retrieve the supposedly deleted photos after the time expired.”
  • Wickr – It uses what the founders tout to be “military grade encryption.” It does not store data, and requires no personal information. Hawkins said this makes it perfect for kids who want to send photos safely without parents finding out.

Although this technology is difficult to keep up with and even harder to understand, Hawkins encourages parents to do the best they can and to search the Internet to stay on top of this type of technology.

“We don’t let kids leave the house without telling us where they are going,” Hawkins said. “We monitor their lives, and yet, on a cell phone, they can go anywhere in the world for however long they want in a manner of seconds.”

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