A smartphone is probably one of the most coveted gifts for children aged 10 and over. Already before. The reasons they use to do this range from being able to interact with their classmates to locating them or completing assignments in the virtual classroom. But in many cases, parents agree to give this first mobile phone under pressure from other families who have already done it before, a reason that experts advise against taking into account when making this decision, as it implies an Internet connection and some risks. . “The approach of giving or not a cell phone does not focus on age, but on the purpose of giving them this technology and the level of maturity that we see in our son,” explains Cristina Gutiérrez, Cybersecurity Engineer for Citizens and Minors of the National Institute for Cybersecurity (INCIBE).
Before deciding to give a minor that first phone, family work must be done: a study to assess what the mobile phone will be used for, for how long, what applications will be downloaded and what social networks will be needed. And after the birth, the parents have to follow up to avoid danger. “It’s a learning process that takes time and commitment from parents, because the adolescent brain is not yet ready to understand certain risks,” says Sara Desirée Ruiz, social worker specializing in youth and author of the book The Day My Daughter Called Me. Fuchs (Almuzara -Editorial).
According to a study by the National Observatory for Technology and Society, which reports to the Secretary of State for Digitization and Artificial Intelligence, by 2021 seven out of ten minors between the ages of 10 and 15 would own a mobile phone. And 98 % of them use the internet . From that moment on, they are exposed to the risks that the connection entails. Gutierrez knows it well. They have direct contact with pre-adolescents who call INCIBE on 017, the free number to report dangerous information on the internet, and they confirm that more and more young people are getting their first mobile phone at the age of eight.
Gutiérrez explains some of these dangers. First, the disclosure of your personal information and that of your colleagues. According to the Spanish data protection authority, minors only get consent for their own data at the age of 14. Until then, they should not be allowed to open an account on a social network. “It’s important that we convey the need to respect this age,” warns Ruiz. “But we all know that’s not true,” he adds. Therefore, Gutiérrez advises accompanying them so that they understand the risks of this exposure. Something that Ruiz also agrees with, although she stresses that the responsibility should not only lie with the families, but also with the companies that have found these social networks that can be addictive because they play with the gratification mechanism found in this age builds.
Another risk of owning a mobile phone at such a young age is the inappropriate content that can be consumed: pornography, hate crimes, violent material, fake news… A study conducted by Save the Children in 2020 confirmed that the average age at which minors access pornographic material on the Internet is 12 years. All this information should be collected by parental control applications. “I prefer to call them safety because if we call them childproofing, they give way. But it is advisable to have a security application linked to the use of the mobile phone and gradually lift restrictions when they show that they are comfortable using the device,” stresses Ruiz.
Phishing, or email fraud, is another major problem that minors encounter. Especially those related to the topics that interest them. “Just as adults get messages saying, ‘You have a package to pick up,’ kids and teens have video game-inspired hooks and they often fall off,” Gutiérrez confirms. Add to this the theft of accounts on video game platforms and social networks, another risk as an Internet user.
The first cell phone
Ana María Fernández is the mother of Patricia (fictional name), 12 years old. They live in Madrid and gave their daughter her first mobile phone when she was in high school. “We were under pressure. We didn’t want to give it to him so early, but his classmates had it almost since he was 10 years old,” he says. They decided to wait as long as possible until they realized they couldn’t take it anymore. “She doesn’t have a social network other than WhatsApp, because even the teachers at the institute use it,” she admits, a practice confirmed by Nerea Marcos, professor of language and literature at the IES Rodanas in Épila (Zaragoza).
“From first to fourth year of ESO, it is common not to use it in class, but it is true that it is used for some exercises, but we notify parents through the classroom to bring it that day,” adds Added Marcos. She explains that many students in the first year of secondary school already have their own smartphones, although not all, and that she studies, for example, the syntax and computational linguistics of artificial intelligence through virtual assistants. “You shouldn’t necessarily ban them in class, but having them without logical activity is negative,” he stresses.
As recommended by the experts, before giving her daughter Fernández and her husband the first cell phone, they spoke to her about the responsibility of owning it and how she should use it. Patricia has limited time to surf the Internet, although “she doesn’t usually use it up,” assures her mother, who also prefers attending groups with her classmates as much as necessary. “We see terrible conflict and disrespect,” he admits.
Regarding the problem of checking minors’ cellphones and seeing what they write and post on their social networks, the experts interviewed ask not to do so, as it is an invasion of their privacy, which they are accused of by their parents can alienate. Although they do recommend monitoring and an important exercise in dialogue and agreement on what can be done. Gutiérrez also suggests signing a contract like the one that can be downloaded from the Internet Segura for Kids website, a portal of the National Institute of Cybersecurity. But Ruiz warns that this contract is useless without prior learning how to use the device by the parent and the minor.
Fernández admits that they didn’t sign that contract with their daughter, but that they talked a lot about the dangers. A previous work that they continue to do day by day so that coexistence with technology is best for everyone. “The experience must be positive, accompanying, orienting and then letting go of the rope,” summarizes Gutiérrez.
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