The smartphone is now commonplace in society, with over 1.5 billion smartphone users worldwide.
When Antonio Meucci first invented the telephone in 1860 it’s unlikely that even he could dream of the evolution that would take place to get to the smartphones of today.
The smartphone is now commonplace in society, with over 1.5 billion smartphone users worldwide. Undoubtedly they are a huge resource where most of us have become accustomed to having access to the World Wide Web, 24/7.
But the ease with which one can access the internet and all its contents is causing worry for many, and in particular parents. Interestingly, many parents don’t even realise the true extent of these dangers.
It is estimated that half of all teens now own smartphones. A poll by BBC Learning also found that 1 in 5 children had been made upset by something on their device, with 20 per cent of parents not monitoring their child’s on-line behaviour.
Although the use of the Internet is not something new, it was traditionally accessed via the home computer and so precautions and child safety settings were easier to set.
Smartphones offer unprecedented freedom and children are being exposed to the pitfalls of the largely unregulated internet. Tony Neate of Get Safe Online says:
“When children use mobile devices to access the web, they are using the same internet, with the same risks. There is a common misconception that smartphones and tablets don’t need the same level of protection as a PC.”
Social media has allowed children to talk to others all across the world without restrictions and rarely any accountability. With almost half of all children who use the internet, between the ages 8 and 17, setting up profiles on social networking sites, the amount of cyber-bullying is becoming more commonplace.
Smartphones have acted as great enablers as they allow a child to have access to these social media sites all day long.
This has meant 1 in 3 young people are cyber-bullied, a statistic that is likely to rise if not assessed.
Cyber-bullying much like other forms of bullying can have dire effects on the victim, but perhaps worst of all is when it results in physical harm and even suicide.
Consider the tragic case of Hannah Smith, a 14 year old girl who killed herself after being cyber bullied on the website, ask.fm.
As smartphone sales and the use of social media increases it is safe to assume that cyber-bullying will also increase, a 21st century danger that is likely to beckon more problems particularly for children.
China is the top market for smartphone sales, but India and Indonesia are amongst those expected to have the strongest growth. This will undoubtedly result in more unwanted internet usage by children in new places.
Access to Pornography
Moreover, a grave problem with the ever growing access to the internet is how easy it is to access pornography. Another survey taken by mental health charity, Young Minds found that one third of children aged between 11 and 14 had viewed porn on-line using a mobile device.
Although, most websites require you to be over 18, it is difficult to regulate and so children can view pornography, whether by choice or inadvertently.
David Cameron has however said that internet censorship on all homes will be rolled out soon, meaning if a home wants access to pornography websites, which are legal, they will need to ring their internet providers and let them know. This brings up a whole lot of issues regarding people’s privacy but it will mean that children will not be able to view pornography on-line anymore.
Many psychologists believe that pornography and its viewing by children can result in early sexualisation, an alarming thought to many. Its viewing by the young can be misunderstood and have damaging results.
Dr Eileen Vizard explains: “They tend to escalate the seriousness of what they want to look at, sexual material that involves coercive acts towards women or maybe children.”
Perhaps one of the most shocking is that of a case at Mold Crown Court where a 10 year old school boy was accused of raping another boy in the school toilets after viewing internet pornography. Albeit a case in the extreme, it showcases the damage of unregulated internet usage.
Smartphones undoubtedly offer many advantages to their users, but the unregulated access to the internet can have dismal effects, including cyber-bullying and pornography access as well as child grooming and the violence that can be witnessed and enacted by various games.
It is not just on-line access that is a problem; applications can also be downloaded onto a smartphone allowing children to make in-app purchases when playing games without their parents realising; this has resulted in huge bills that the parents did not think existed.
It has become such a problem that Apple has had to refund £19.8 million to parents because of their children’s acquisitions without consent.
The major problem with smartphones is the never ending access to the internet and apps, and one of the only ways to address this issue is if parents are more hands on. There are parental controls on several smartphones including the iPhone but unless parents talk to their children about the internet regarding both its pros and cons the cases of grooming and cyber-bullying are likely to increase.
Smartphones and the threats associated with them are a social epidemic that is unlikely to stop right away if at all, but with better education the dangers should be easier to handle.