Cell phone prices are coming down. Perceived threats to children are going up. Many parents see cell phones as a safety measure for their kids…for peace of mind to help track their physical whereabouts. What’s the harm in buying little Aubrey a cell for her birthday?

Ironically, cell phones may cause more harm than good for kids when it comes to pornography.

A Hard Lesson

I know of one girl who received an i-Pod Touch (with an internet connection) for her eighth birthday. Her parents had just given her “the talk” and this girl was curious. So she turned to the internet and typed in “s-e-x” into the i-pod’s browser. Months later, her mom was devastated when she discovered that her young daughter had been regularly viewing hard core pornography on her i-pod. True story.

These good parents had no idea how accessible pornographic images and videos are, for free, over the internet. Cell phones have the same potential, especially the smart phones.

So here are three potential cautions to consider:

  • Kids’ brains are immature. The part which helps them use restraint, self-discipline and good judgment is years away from full maturity. It’s called the pre-frontal cortex and it won’t be fully developed until they are in their early twenties. Even if you warn your kids about porn, they may not have the maturity to handle the internet accessibility a cell phone provides.
  • Kids are very tech savvy. They are natives in the land of technology while their parents may be immigrants. In other words, kids can often outsmart their parents when it comes to cell phones. (Read more about this in my post Six Ways Savvy Kids Can Circumvent Your Internet Controls.)
  • Kids are curious and imitative. They are wired that way.  But when you add a revved-up curiosity with an immature brain, plus a facility with technology and the accessibility of porn on the internet, you get the potential for a perfect storm of addiction.

And it’s not just addiction. Kids who view porn get a very warped concept of sexual intimacy that may be very hard to change.

So what’s a parent to do?

If you decide to give your child a cell phone:

  1. Consider a basic pre-paid cell phone with no internet connection. This is for calling or texting only. Kids will still be open to cyber bullying and even sexting if the phone transmits pictures. Do your homework and find out if you can disable the phone’s ability to receive images.
  2. Talk to them about sexting. Ask them what they know about this term, and then explain what it is. If you’re giving your child a cell phone, you can’t afford to be squeamish. Make sure they understand that sexting between minors is a serious crime which can be prosecuted by police. Learn more about this conversation at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website.
  3. Find a phone that allows you to set parental controls that are password protected (and then make sure you keep the password hidden from your kids). You need to know what your kids are downloading, so check their phone periodically. (For more info, see this New York Times article.)
  4. Take a look at the App store. You may be surprised at the amount of porn that is for sale intermingled with everything else. Seriously, the app portal images for porn are more than I’d want my kids to see. Also, make sure you ask them to explain any and all apps they have. Some apps look benign (like calculators) but actually are secret, password protected files where kids can store all sorts of websites and images.
  5. Lay down the law about cell phone privileges and use. Some parents collect cell phones at night so kids are not up late texting. Other parents collect cell phones from friends who come to visit, giving them back when they leave. Talk to your kids about cell phone etiquette—when it’s appropriate to answer a call or view a text and when it’s not.
  6. Teach them about the brain dangers of pornography. Porn viewing can become an addiction which can ruin future marriages and careers. If you are giving them a handheld internet portal, teach them how porn can damage their brain. (See my list of posts under PornProof 101 for a primer on pornography addiction.)

Would you hand over the car keys to a 16 year old without Driver’s Ed training? No way! But too often parents don’t anticipate the dangers from a little cell phone.

If you’ve bought a cell phone for your child, how did you prepare them? Have you found any great resources that helped you?

I’d love to hear your stories, advice or questions! To post a comment, go to the top and click on the grey bubble to the right of the title. I look forward to hearing from you!

Kristen Jenson
Kristen A. Jenson is the founder of Protect Young Minds and author of Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids. Kristen enjoys speaking, writing and anything else that will help empower kids to reject pornography. Kristen earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, and a master’s degree in Organizational Communication. Kristen currently lives with her husband in Washington State, where she enjoys growing a vegetable garden, watching Masterpiece Theater, and taking long walks with friends who tolerate her incessant talking about you know what. Above all else, her husband and three children are her greatest treasures.