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29 January 2020
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Q. How can I keep my kids safe on their electronic devices?

Most parents of children over the age of six will probably share the concern about a growing public health crisis –cellphone addiction. Increased uptake of new social media is piling more and more information on our little ones and online capabilities of games and social media are leaving them vulnerable if left unsupervised.

Would you leave your young child alone in a shopping centre for a few hours? When you hand the phone over for some peace (we've all done it!), be mindful that you are leaving them alone in a shared space of 50 million people at any one time, the same as the population of Europe. Addiction, predation, bullying, sexting and fraud are some of the everyday worries.

To start, sit down as a family and chat about internet safety. Don't assume your children know of the dangers.Try to agree on specific times for phone usage and keep the phone visible in shared areas of the house. Be aware of what they are playing or watching. Children under the age of 13 cannot agree to any of the terms for social media apps so you are not abusing their privacy to know exactly what they are attempting to sign up to. The Government is currently considering whether or not it should be made illegal to buy a smart device for children under the age of 14, and this would help greatly.

Be aware of photo apps like Instagram; the photographs become the property of the app and some are sold off for royalty-free publishing. For online friends, don't be afraid to ensure they exist as they are portrayed; have a look at their profiles and check their social media friends. Trust your gut and be suspicious of individuals that don't feel right, eg. a teenage boy with no other adolescent boys among his list of friends be friending your daughter online. Above all, stay involved and informed.

Be aware of hidden apps where photos can be stored without you seeing them. "So what?" you might ask, but in a time when sexting and the sending of inappropriate images is so prevalent, such apps provide a perfect foil for these activities. The presence of two calculator apps on your child's phone is a red flag in this regard. A 'vault' app looks and behaves like a calculator app, but when the password is entered into the calculator keyboard, it opens the hidden files. If the app is opened and an incorrect password is entered then the camera takes a photo of you, in this case the parent, sends it to the phone's owner and gives them the option to delete the hidden folders.

Children under the age of 13 have difficulty differentiating games, experiences on social media and reality as their limbic system is not developed fully. This is why after four hours of playing a game like Grand Theft Auto, they will often not see the problem with random violence.Apps to be wary of include:

  • Live video chat apps Melon, Omegle, ooVoo, Viber, Whats-App, Snapchat and Facebook can facilitate predation and grooming as well as access to inappropriate material
  • Dating apps such as Tinder, Yellow, Down and Kik Messenger are all used for sending sexting photos. Sext Buddyis being replaced with Kik buddy
  • Anonymous apps such as Whisper and are bothbreeding grounds for trolling and cyberbullying.

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