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Published On: Thu, Jun 11th, 2015

Are Parents Relying Too Much on Technology for Their Child’s Safety?

In 2014, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) reported that 466,949 missing children were listed in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC). These children were all under the age of 18. With these many unresolved cases, it’s understandable why more and more parents nowadays are looking for ways to keep tabs on their kids. These methods include using technology, such as installing security apps on children’s smartphones or surveillance cameras in their homes.

But are these technological methods actually effective in protecting children from predators? Or do they breed a false sense of security for parents?

Are Smartphone Apps for Children’s Security Effective?

Before we debate the merits of the use of these apps, let’s understand how they work.

There is a wide range of security apps for children currently out in the market. Some of these apps, such as NetNanny, focus on keeping watch on a child’s online activity, allowing parents to check their child’s email, social media accounts, text messages, etc. Others make use of GPS tracking to pinpoint their child’s whereabouts and may even offer an option to alert the parents when an emergency occurs. And there are some apps, such as TeenSafe and MamaBear, which offer a mix of these features.

These apps claim to help prevent disappearances by putting children under constant surveillance. For example, by giving parents access to check their children’s accounts, these apps allow parents to intercept messages from strangers wanting to meet up with their child.

However, this discounts the fact that a huge percentage of abductions are actually done by family members. For example, according to an article in The Observer, only 15 of the 8,003 children reported missing in New York City in 2013 were abductions by strangers.

This means that even if parents do keep track of their child’s communications, if their potential kidnapper is a family member, a parent may not immediately spot anything fishy.

Privacy and Practicality

There’s also the impact of surveillance on the parent-child relationship. As Barbara Greenberg, a family clinical psychologist says in an interview on USA Today, “It really gives the message, ‘I don’t trust you at all,’…It’s over-involvement.” In a way, this kind of surveillance can go against a child’s or teenager’s notions of privacy.

Other than this consideration, there’s also the question of being able to use a security app during an emergency to send an alert. Some apps need to be set up beforehand and should be connected to social media accounts to work properly.  A parent who may not be tech-savvy may have difficulty configuring the app to work.

photo/Future Children Project

photo/Future Children Project

Then there are other considerations: what if the child panics and is unable to activate the app? What if the app itself is cumbersome to use? What if the smartphone is lost or its battery has been emptied out? And what if there’s a complete lack of cellular coverage in the area?

As these questions show, it’s not always good to rely completely on a smartphone app to keep a child safe. Hence, short of simply installing these apps, what should parents do?

Practical Tips to Help Keep Children Safe

Darrin Giglio, Chief Investigator and CEO of North American Investigations, says that one of the best ways to protect your child is to teach them skills. The child should be able to use these skills by themselves—hence, they should be also confident enough to get out of a dangerous situation.

These skills and strategies include the following:

  • Situational awareness

Giglio shares that one must-learn skill is situational awareness, which can avert a situation or gain time to react to the situation as best as possible. With this skill, a child becomes aware of his/her surroundings, evaluate, and respond to any danger instinctively.

  • “Stranger Danger”

While this adage may be old, according to Giglio, it is still extremely important to teach your child how to identify risky scenarios that strangers may exploit. Children must remember that a stranger is always a stranger, no matter what they may ask or say. Teaching a child to run, yell, and never go anywhere with a stranger without a fight can save their lives. Lastly, a child should be taught that adults do not normally ask children for help; any stranger should be always looked upon as a threat in your child’s eyes.

  • Reporting

Teach your child to report any situation to a trusted person as soon as possible. NO secrets should ever be kept from their parents/guardians even if threats against them were made to instill fear.

To teach children these skills, Giglio advises parents to use information and practice games. A child may be taught this skill starting from a young age, to be just honed over time. Role-playing and repetition can also reinforce your child’s use of these skills, teaching them to react accordingly and giving them confidence.

Yes, the latest smartphone apps designed for parents can help ensure a child’s safety. However, they are no match for old-school diligence.

Guest Author: Gabby Roxas

On the DISPATCH: Headlines  Local  Opinion

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- Outside contributors to the Dispatch are always welcome to offer their unique voices, contradictory opinions or presentation of information not included on the site.

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