Dialing Into Danger
According to an estimate by the American Public Communications Council, the number of public payphones has dropped by half to approximately one million over the last nine years. One obvious reason for the drop is the integration of wireless connectivity in our lives, i.e., the escalating use of cellular phones and similar devices. Some of us can remember a day when a person would ask for change in quarters so that he could have them on hand for emergency calls. A teenager would check his pockets before leaving the house to make sure he had coins to call home. Times have certainly changed.
In 2000, just 5 percent of 13- to 17- year olds had cell phones. Today, 56 percent do, according to Linda Barrabee, wireless market analyst for The Yankee Group.
Teens aren’t just using their phones to talk. From rapid-fire “texting” to full-fledged Web browsing to videos and video games, cell phones have become portable computers. And that’s opened up a whole new set of concerns.
“Parents are totally clueless about what kids are doing on cell phones. They are taking pictures, surfing the Web, playing games and MP3s. They are harassing each other, cyberbullying,” says child safety advocate Parry Aftab.
Bob Sullivan, MSNBC Technology Correspondent
“Cell Phones and Kids:
Do They Mix?”
Because of the rapid development of technology and the general population’s increasing dependence on the “latest,” a good number of parents believe that their children should also be techno-savvy. And while there are real benefits to having a cell phone—emergency situations do arise—a parent should seriously consider the potential dangers before purchasing one for his teenager:
• UNMONITORED CALLS – How many groggy countenances at the breakfast table can be attributed to late-night conversations or text messages, all unbeknownst to the parent? A parent must understand that allowing a teenager to carry a cell phone gives that young person the opportunity to communicate at any time with whomever he wants.
• TEXT MESSAGES – A teenager is often more aggressive in his writing than in his speech. By this, I mean that he may “text” messages to others that he would otherwise deem inappropriate to say, much less think.
• MEDIA – Camera phones can take, send, and receive photographs, which can be posted online almost as quickly as the picture was taken.
• INTERNET – Last year, two billion dollars was spent on pornography by teenagers who downloaded it to their cell phones.
• RECORDS – Call logs and messages can be deleted. In just a few steps, anybody can alter his cell phone to show that he never received any calls or messages.
Now, before we blame the cell phone for every evil under the sun, remember that the danger is not in the invention but in how it is used. If a parent decides to allow his teenager to carry a cell phone, firm, specific guidelines—as well as definite consequences if guidelines are violated—should be in place for the young person. Here are a few practical ones that parents may find helpful:
1. Do not give your teenager a cell phone. I truly believe that a parent can keep his teenager from falling into some of the world’s traps by simply not giving him a cell phone.
2. Check records daily. A parent should frequently check the cell phone to see who has called or been called and who has been texted or sent texts to his child’s phone. Records of this information is available online.
3. Require your teenager to turn in the cell phone by a certain time each evening. I heard a report that one out of every three teens has either made a call or sent messages to somebody else between the hours of 12:00 A.M. and 5:00 A.M. I strongly doubt that the subject of conversation during any of those hours is anything decent or redeeming.
4. Choose a plan that does not allow text messages.
5. Specify who may be called (i.e., parents, relatives, etc.).
Lastly, parents should consider the total cost of a cell phone for a child or teen: a regular monthly bill and perhaps the tainted life of a youth.