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The Phone May Be Smart, The User, Not So Much.

October 30, 2014

Smart phones are ubiquitous in today’s society and are handed down to kids like a glass of water on a hot day.

The kids lap up their smart phone use, texting each other, tee-heeing, exchanging pics and finding handy access to Google for a quick explanation of anything they don’t already know.

Indeed with Google available as an extension of their hand, the reach of the child into the world of knowledge creates in the child a sense of unlimited intelligence. Now seemingly knowing everything, there is never a need for a youngster to consult an adult. In fact, with access to one’s peers 24/7, adults are apparently unnecessary for anything other than food, shelter and clothing. (Feeling used yet, mom and dad?)

While a portal to relationships and information, the smart phone isn’t discriminating. The information accessed isn’t screened by any particular standard, apart from perhaps loading advertorial content targeted by the phone’s capabilities to figure out the user’s purchasing preferences. Further, the smart phone while helping the child access information and others at lightning speed, also works in reverse allowing others to target the child at lightning speed and also non-discriminatory.

As quickly as thoughts can stream out from one child to another unfiltered, messages stream in from known and even unknown sources, also unfiltered.

Those thoughts that stream out can be those that in face to face situations, the child might otherwise filter and restrict. However with the immediacy of the instant texting and the distance provided by using the smart phone as a delivery device, normal social filters are shut down and at times, inappropriate messages are transmitted. In turn, this can lead to a flurry of similar messages forming a barrage or abuse bombs.

Interestingly, the lack of filter that permits the unrestricted transmission of messages also allows for the intrusive receiving of those same messages. With personal filters off, abuse bombs are sent, at times back and forth and with no defenses intact, emotional and psychological harm is wreaked. This is seen between persons known to each other. This is known as bullying. This creates psychological vulnerability. This leads to depression, anxiety and at times even death.

Now imagine your child’s availability to persons unknown to the child or perhaps even known, but with nefarious intent.

Your child as a target is made available by the very smart phone that was thought to be protective.

Seemingly harmless emails or texts by an elder predator begin innocuously, creating a sense of safety and familiarity to the child. There is a feeling of specialness created in the child for the attention of an older person taking interest. The secret and clandestine relationship continues and deepens. The communications escalate and the special relationship takes on a life of its own as the child is surreptitiously isolated from other friends and family. They are literally squeezed out by the volume of messages to and fro between the child and special admirer. Thereafter the child is ripe for exploitation. Be very afraid of your child’s communication with unknown contacts. Predators are often grooming several children at the same time just as when fishing, you may drop several lines in the water waiting to see where you get your first bite.

Offering a child a smart phone and warning them of the dangers and advising of appropriate use is akin to giving the four-year-old access to the gas stove yet telling them to be careful.

Just as the four-year-old doesn’t have the life experience to appreciate the dangers of the gas stove, neither does the young teen nor pre-teen have the life experience or cognitive capacity to truly appreciate the dangers of the smart phone, particularly as it relates to behavior designed to induct the child into an exploitative relationship. .

When might a teen be ready for use of a smart phone? When they can keep a job and pay for both the device and service plan themselves.

Holding down a job demonstrates some level of maturity and the mid to late adolescent teen is a bit past some of the more ego-centric thinking of the younger teen. Further, by making the purchase and carrying the cost themselves, they are likely to better appreciate the expense and be more responsible in terms of their care of the device.

The phone may be smart, however, the user not so much and mainly as a function of normal development.

If you really want your kids to remain safe, hold onto the smart phone and lend them your eye.

Be smarter than the phone.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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  1. Gary, thank you for posting this insightful, timely article that is important to all parents to read.
    For a related article, “Texting and Children,” see: It includes parenting guidelines.

  2. Kathleen Leach permalink

    I used to think sixteen until bell removed all the pay phones and a storekeeper refused to let my daughter use their phone. Now they get a pat as you go phone at the start of grade 9. Talk and text only.

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