Stick it to dangerous apps
An expert looks at protecting your kid from today’s technology
Since the beginning of time little children have been playing with sticks. You might think that with kids using technology more and more they play less and less with the real thing. But in this day and age, apps can be the new stick – just as fun, and quite possibly just as dangerous.
I have an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old living in my home – both are rambunctious boys. I can see my backyard from our dining table and there is a greenbelt of trees behind our home. From time to time, we get limbs in our yard and the boys will use them as pretend swords to thwart the evil – sometimes giant spiders or robots – from our backyard.
I love to watch them play and have fun, but I’m not watching them every single second. I’m usually reading something on my laptop and I glance up here and there to see what they’re up to. More often than not, they’re pausing to get the rules straight before they conquer that which would destroy us all. However, I have found myself jumping from my seat and running to the back patio door to tell them to stop! Why? Because I notice them doing something with their sticks that has a high potential to hurt one or both of them.
In and of itself a stick is not dangerous. A stick is a stick. You can poke in the mud with it, you can use it to imagine slaying dragons, or you could run with it out in front of you (the tip only inches above the ground, bobbing with every stride) and potentially impale yourself with said stick. Or, you could witness your 4-year-old swinging his stick wildly as the 8 year old, backing up to prevent being struck, stumbles over a toy wheelbarrow while the 4-year-old continues his assault. That’s what got my attention.
So, let’s talk about sticks … I mean apps. It’s the same conversation. Sticks come in all shapes and sizes. Some may be too big for my 4-year-old to handle; however, being a bit older, my 8-year-old may not have a problem with a slightly larger stick. Comparing this to apps on the tablets, my 4-year old does not understand some of the games my 8-year-old might play; but, he loves Reading Eggs®! But, since my 8-year-old is reading chapter books, Reading Eggs® (which helped him at one time) is now a “boring baby game.” For one, the stick is too small. For the other, the stick is just right.
As they grow older, they will want to delve into apps that challenge their maturity level and hold their attention. In the tween years, they will become more and more enthralled with social apps. On into the teen years, connecting with friends will more than likely become far more important than playing Cut the Rope® or Where’s My Water?®. It’s during these transitional periods that we’ll want to glance up from the kitchen table to take a quick peek into the virtual backyard. Knowing how to do this is half the battle.
Any app – even ones designed specifically for the facilitation of risky behavior – can be used in a way that is benign. All children are different and most are going to push the boundaries at some point or another. It’s our job as parents to guide them. In order to guide them, we need to be able to “glance up” to see what they are doing. Are they using social media apps? Are they playing games? What apps do they have loaded on the device? Are they chatting with strangers? What information are they giving out? I could keep adding questions. First, let’s talk about the most dangerous app of all.
Depending on their temperament, maturity level, risk taking, decision making skills, and overall attitude, the most dangerous app could be between your child’s ears. On the flip-side, it could also be the best security app available. Apps are not dangerous. Impaling yourself with apps is dangerous. Teaching your child good decision making skills and helping them to keep their compass as north as possible is the number one best way to prevent harm, period. In order to do that, you have to be able to “glance up” to ensure the compass needle is not falling.
There are two ways to secure a mobile device. One way is preventative security. Net Nanny® is a great app for enforcing parental controls for younger children. It prevents the errant Youtube video from introducing your child to inappropriate content as they follow the rabbit hole after searching for Spiderman. As they get older (and a bit wiser), preventative security measures lose their potency and can lead to a false sense of security for the parent. That’s why I recommend monitoring software.
There are several monitoring software packages available and, as with apps in the app stores, they are a moving target. iSpyoo® for iOS and Android (and other mobile phones) has received an “outstanding” editor’s rating on CNET.com. The review (which can be found on the CNET.com site and a search for iSpyoo) is for Android specifically; however, iSpyoo’s website boasts that “iSpyoo works on all mobile phones and networks from around the world.” Whichever monitoring software you choose, ensure it (1) cannot be detected by your child and (2) can send periodic alerts to your email address. A quick scan of the activity could either set your mind at ease or raise red flags. However, in order for this to work, you must maintain ownership of the device.
As a security professional with over 20 years of experience, I am 100 percent against giving smartphones, tablets, and other devices as gifts unless the rules are laid out appropriately. My rule is that, until you are on your own, you are borrowing MY device. I am the administrator and you are my child. That phone is on MY data plan and, while I did name it as your phone on the carrier’s website, I still pay the bills and I can cancel at any time. If you lay these rules out from the beginning, you could potentially run into far fewer problems down the road.
The bottom line is, yes, there are apps on the markets that give us concern. Some apps can be used for setting up a rendezvous with a stranger in a dark alley. If I were to tell you about specific apps today, I would miss the ones that will be coming out next week, month, or year. In all of my research and expertise, I still have not figured out how to definitively foretell the future. I can predict with a high degree of certainty, however, that there will be more apps coming. Keeping track of what your child does on their phones, tablets or computers will always be the best way to protect them. Just remember to bring your own stick to the game.
About the author
Jody S. Hawkins, Information Systems Security Officer, has been in technology for medical facilities since early 2000 and has been practicing for more than 20 years with his start in the United States Air Force. He is a part of Cook Children's Experts on Call Speakers Bureau. Hawkins specializes in privacy and technology safety and is a regular speaker at the National HIT/HIPAA Conference. He has been quoted and published in several national publications, including Health Information Management Magazine.
Hawkins' can speak on a variety of security topics facing our children & parents today, including:
- Social media
- Cyber bullying
- Safety online (Parents & Child)
- General home networking security
- Virtual Child (Parents)
- Internet Safety (Parents & Child)