According to a report on statista.com, children in North America spent up to 170 minutes on social media in about 9 months in 2017. This is equivalent to a seven full days, that is a lot considering that the statistic hasn’t factored in other phone uses like internet browsing, texting and phone calls.
What is clear from this figure is that children these days are spending a lot of time on their phones. For the most part, this is completely normal and harmless. However, there is a lot that could go wrong if you aren’t careful. Below is more information on how to recognize and deal with suspicious activity on your child’s phone for their own safety.
What could possibly go wrong?
Cyberbullying is an epidemic that is spreading through society like wildfire. It could be anything from mild teasing to serious emotional abuse. A 2017 study revealed that up to 25% of teenagers experienced cyberbullying through their phones. This puts a lot of young phone users at risk. The worst part is that those most affected are at an age where they are naturally withdrawn. This makes it very difficult to get them to open about what they are going through.
- Sexual exploitation
Another form of suspicious activity you should be looking out for is sexual exploitation. This takes many different forms but the most common is phone sex which is particularly common with teenagers. At first, they think it is harmless fun because the people they do it with are often people that they trust. However, this puts them in a seriously vulnerable position. This is because the compromising evidence that could very easily be used to hurt or manipulate the child.
- Exposure to inappropriate content
The internet has a lot of positives to offer but it can also be a very dark place. There are all sorts of easily accessible sites with inappropriate material. It could be anything from pornography to sites showing gory crime scene photos. One scary statistic explains that 80% of children get exposed and consequently hooked on pornography unintentionally. This is therefore something that you seriously need to look out for and protect your child against.
- Stalking and other predatory attacks
This commonly happens through social media platforms. The predator could be someone older or even the child’s age mate. They usually find a way to befriend the child after which it turns into a stalking nightmare. A lot could go wrong here with harassment being the most common possible outcome. This is different from cyberbullying as there is usually very little abuse involved. It just happens that the person cannot take no for an answer and keeps messaging, calling and sending material to your child despite the lack of consent.
- Money scams
These are a bit rare but children still fall prey especially if they have credit cards to access to family cards. For the most part, the losses are incurred through background subscriptions linked to sites they visit. The child usually isn’t aware when this happens. You will just find yourself with odd costs to cover when the phone bill comes.
How to identify suspicious activity
Now that you know all that could possibly go wrong you are probably itching to know how you can stop it. However, before you put on your supermom or superdad suit you need to first learn how to recognize abuse and other suspicious activity on your child’s phone. Here are 5 key signs and what they usually represent.
Signs of phone addiction
If your child all of a sudden seems unhealthily attached to their phone, then something isn’t right. This usually happens when you the child gets involved in things like sexting. It is also common with children who discover what the dark corners of the internet have to offer. Sometimes it is just kids being kids and there is nothing to worry about. However, it never hurts to do some further investigation just to be sure.
1. Unexplained changes in mood or behavior
Is your child all of a sudden always sad, moody or agitated? If yes then there is a good likelihood that it is related to some phone experience. These mood changes are common with children getting cyberbullied. Sexting and depression also go hand in hand especially when there is a strain in the relationship.
2. Signs of anxiety and restlessness
Anxiety shows that your child is afraid of something. Online harassment and stalking are the most common culprits in this case. You may see your child constantly looking out the window, suddenly unwilling to leave home and nervous when handling their phone.
3. The tendency to avoid social interaction
This often happens with children who have something to hide. It could be anything from inappropriate texts to porn addiction. If the child is always locked up in his or her room with their phone then it should raise some alarm bells. This is particularly the case if it is new behavior and unlike their character.
4. A sudden interest in going out without explaining where
This happens when children meet people online that they think the parents wouldn’t approve off. It is common with teenagers but could also happen to younger children. More often than not, these people turn out to be child predators.
5. Simply asking the child
Sometimes the best way to figure out what is going on is by simply talking with the child. Ask them how having a phone makes them feel. It is also important to hit the hard and uncomfortable topics like pornography addiction and the dangers of giving strangers too much information.
Dealing with these events for your child’s safety
- Use special programs that monitor online activity
These help you see what sites your child has been visiting. It is a great way to protect them without necessarily hindering their freedom and is therefore best used with children in their mid to late teen years.
- Get protective software for your child’s phone
If you feel a little more protective then this is the better option as it actually limits the sites which your child can visit. These programs go the extra mile to protect your child from predators and other online dangers. It is perfect for young children and early teens.
- Create awareness where you can
It is important to alert parents to cyberbullying in your community. Some of their kids might be victims, perpetrators or silent witnesses. Another interesting recent study revealed that a shocking 95% of teenagers online have witnessed cyberbullying and ignored it. Getting other parents involved will help reduce this percentage for the sake of abused children everywhere.
- Talk to the child about the different risks
Children are left vulnerable to the dangers of phone use mainly because they are unaware of their presence. It is your job as the parent to ensure that they know exactly what could go wrong and how to avoid it.
With all this information, you should be able to start out right in the path to protecting your child from suspicious online activities. The most important thing is to be vigilant in order to notice those telltale signs that something is wrong.