Bianca Bujan thinks many parents don’t really know what their kids are being exposed to when they use smartphone apps. In a world where social media seems to rule all and the entry age appears to be getting younger and younger, she worries about how a parent will know if children using apps are staying safe.
Bujan, a mother of three from Vancouver, says her kids are constantly hounding her to use apps, using the age-old argument that “all the other kids are doing it”. In a recent article for 24 Hours Vancouver, she cites a study that claims that by the age of ten, more than half of all children have had access to one or more social media websites, despite the fact that of them, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, have a minimum age requirement of thirteen.
Bujan says many apps aimed at youngsters have security flaws that could expose kids to online communities or pornography.
“From Musical.ly to MovieStarPlanet, the seemingly innocent apps that are all the rage with kids these days are not being meticulously monitored by parents either, and while I don’t think they should be banned completely, I do think that it’s up to the parents to educate themselves on the inner workings of the apps before agreeing to download them for their children,” she argues.
Earlier this year, the CBC reported that sexual predators were using Kik, a messaging app from Waterloo that skews toward the younger crowd.
“I’m 29 and I want to be your boyfriend,” was one of the first messages a 13-year-old named Alicia got minutes after downloading the app, the CBC reported.
Katelyn Byrne, a mother of one from Montague, Prince Edward Island says peer pressure keeps pushing the age that kids are using apps down.
“I think kids should start using apps at around the age of 15 (grade 9-10) as a start, because by then they are on the go more frequently at after school activates and having a cellphone at that age would allow them communication with parents,” she told Cantech Letter. “But with this generation it seems to be starting in grade seven.”
The numbers appear to back Byrne’s suspicion. A recent study conducted by Knowthenet revealed that 52 per cent of 8–16 year-olds admitted to lying about their age to gain access to Facebook, 11 per cent have ignored Snapchats age limits, and 40 per cent did the same to gain access to WhatsApp. The study found that an astonishing 43 per cent of children had contact with strangers through these platforms.
Bujan says the answer is that parents need to stay on top of the apps their kids are using instead of simply trusting that other parents have done their homework with regards to safety.
Sarah Stark, a mother of three girls from North Vancouver, admits that there is a push and pull to the debate, because banning apps entirely might leave her kids at a disadvantage in an increasingly digital world.
“As a mother of three kids age four, six and eight, I believe in being perfectly honest with my kids,’ she says. “Technology intimidates me a little and is even a bit scary to me. I’m honest with them about that. I let them use smartphone or tablet apps in small amounts when it is appropriate…they need to learn how to use these technologies for school purposes and there are many fun learning apps.”
While thirteen seems to be the de-facto agreed upon age, Stark says it’s really up to the individual parent to decide if their kids are ready
“I have strict limits on time and I talk to them openly about the hazards of inappropriate material online and threat of internet predators. Like everything in life there are safety rules. For now, I’m in charge, I’m strict, I’m honest and I believe giving them time with technology is appropriate. With a good understanding of the risks and benefits I can see that they are able to use their time with technology wisely and maturely. There is no exact age where I think it should be allowable, each parent knows their child best. Setting limits and having them followed is key.”
Many parents will admit to losing the battle at least as often as they win, admitting defeat against shiny, bright and interactive iPads that serve as a beacon to almost any child. A recent article in Mac World, meanwhile, highlighted the best apps for babies and toddlers.