Mobile the Byron Review: Children and New Technology

Mobile phones and in particular smartphones, become extremely common throughout the world. As wells as many other electronic devices, such as laptops and tablets, they can collect personal data, often both audio and visual, and they have internet access.

Although most internet security software automatically downloads these updates on a regular basis, these devices might be vulnerable to hacking, as there are no safeguards or security standards for internet-connected objects. Mobile phones can provide security and contact for children and young people, but it is important to ensure phone safety as these devices leave them open to exploitation. While being online or using their mobile phones, they may be lured into giving personal information such as their name, age, address and telephone numbers which could be used for identity theft or fraud. Issues include cyber-bullying, unprotected use of social networking, access to unsuitable content on the Internet and phone theft.According to the Byron Review: Children and New Technology (2008), “the advent on the internet has had a massive impact on our society and our economy.” At the front of this new technology are children and young people. Some 99% of children aged 8-17 access the internet (Ofcom, 2008) and 90% of children aged 5-16 now have a computer at home (ChildWise, 2008). Children’s usage of the internet represents the huge diversity of the medium.

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As children mature, they begin to use the internet in increasingly sophisticated ways: 8- to 11-year-old are more likely to say they are going online for gaming purposes, whilst 12- to 15-year-old are using it as an educational tool as well as for downloading music, movies, videos and watching video clips. The oldest age group (16- to 17-year-old) are most likely to be sending email, visiting social networking sites, uploading photos and videos and either maintaining or contributing to ‘blogs’ or websites (Ofcom, 2008). The proportion of young users accessing the internet on their mobile phone is great and it is set to grow.Although the internet brings many benefits to children and families and offers many positive educational and social benefits to young people, being online poses a multitude of dangers and risks of its own. In fact, there is an increasing evidence concerning the risks that some children encounter online. Today most homes have the internet and even cafes and shops offer wi-fi free services, so people can access the internet from pretty much anywhere and with games consoles, mobile phones and a multitude of other devices having internet capabilities we no longer need to own a computer or a laptop to be able to access the world wide web.

Consequently, an increasing number of children and young people have access to internet and mobile phones: this may be beneficial but also may expose them to danger and significant risk, knowingly or unknowingly, when using the internet and other digital technologies. In fact, some young people may find themselves exposed to threats to their safety and well-being or involved in activities which are inappropriate or possibly illegal. Here are some examples of the risks and consequences of being online/mobile phone using:Cyber-bullying: It refers to bullying behaviour that takes place through electronic technologies such as sending threatening text messages, posting unpleasant things about people, and circulating unpleasant pictures or video clips of someone. Cyber-bullying can be particularly upsetting, embarrassing and damaging because it spreads more widely, with a vast degree of publicity; it can be carried out anonymously; it can contain damaging visual images and mean words; it is always available; it can infiltrate the victim’s privacy and the secure place of home; and personal information can be manipulated, visual images can be modified and then passed on to other users online. A child or a young person may find cruel messages or pictures about themselves and have their name stolen to spread ignoble lies or rumours. Techniques used by a cyber-bully involves setting up websites to target certain vulnerable individuals and inviting others to post hate comments about that person. This could be damaging to the child’s self-esteem and psychological well-being. Children who have been bullied at school could at one time come home and get away from their tormentors, but now with such technologies there is the unfortunate reality of their problems coming home with them in the form of texts, emails and abuse through social media and other websites.

Anyone can become a victim of cyber-bullying. In fact, cyber-bullying includes a wide range of unacceptable behaviour including harassment, threats or insults (racist bullying, homophobic bullying or bullying related to special educational needs or disabilities). Usually the cyber-bullying perpetrator does this online and not face to face. In fact, the key issue around cyber-bullying is the distance that technology permits between the perpetrator and the victim.

Communications online are affected by restricted sensory input: the interaction lacks the usual social cues of facial expression, voice intonation, etc. Moreover, language can convey unintended messages and emotions and is more open to incorrect interpretation (a person’s physical reaction to a situation). According to the Byron Review: Children and New Technology (2008), “cyberbullying is a problem, but bullying offline is a greater problem.” The National Bullying Survey (Bullying Online, 2006) found that 69% of children reported having been bullied, but only 7% were through emails, texts or instant messaging. However, with the increase of social networking sites’ popularity and user generated content, there is the potential for this to increase.Harmful sites: The internet gives access to unsuitable sites and materials like pornographic, hateful or violent in nature; that encourages activities that are dangerous or illegal, age inappropriate or biased. Some of this is potentially harmful or may encourage harmful behaviours in young people such as pro-suicide sites and hate sites. “Hate sites” clearly contain inappropriate material that certainly would be considered offensive by many people.

However, very little evidence exists about the impact of hate sites on people, emotionally or behaviourally. Concerns include whether they might act as “recruitment” tools (Chaudhry, 2000). In fact, just as in the real world, cliques and groups can form online and these groups may get involved in inappropriate, antisocial, or illegal behaviour while using digital technologies. The internet offers online virtual communities. Some of these are text-based such as forums and chatrooms, where participants discuss common problems. Unfortunately, amongst these communities, there are those devoted to eating disorders: these are the so-called “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” social sites that encourage and motivate young people to pursue their eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia). There are also concerns about the access to hate speech or other anti-social content (neo-Nazi groups, for example).

These social sites provide an opportunity for spreading false and hateful information one-to-many which are much harder to find in the offline world. In the recent past there have also been reported cases of suicide pacts (called “net suicide”), where vulnerable young people meet online and share the dreadful pact to commit suicide.Commercial sites: The internet has also increased children’s exposure to commercial content and one of the concerns about the internet in recent years has been the increase in children’s vulnerability to persuasion or exploitation. One important question is indeed how young people can filter genuine content from advertising. Commercial advertising is abundant on the internet and there are issues of the potential impact of this on children.

There are questions relating to children’s vulnerability to persuasion or exploitation not just from advertising but from content more generally. According to Eastin, Greenberg and Hofschire (2006), children tend to believe content on sites that include advertising. There are risks involved in children not being able to determine for themselves the quality of content. Surveys of children between the ages of 9-19 show that they may be confused by whether information is trustworthy (Livingstone and Bober, 2005). Evaluating commercial content online is a crucial skill that children will naturally develop, but they still need guidance from adults as they develop these skills.Danger from strangers: Some people use the internet to make contact with children and young people with the intention of developing a relationship which they can progress to sexual activity. According to the Byron Review: Children and New Technology (2008), recent evidence suggests that although children prefer to communicate with friends rather than strangers, one of the greatest risks related to contact on the internet is the so-called “stranger danger”: this is the possibility of threatening contact from unknown adults, particularly from sexual predators. The internet has without a doubt provided predators with new opportunities for contact with children and the risk may have increased with the advent of mobile platforms.

In fact, research around the world has shown that there is a significant number of young people that have been contacted by strangers online. Peter, Valkenburg and Schouten (2006) found that 12- to 14-year-old tend to talk to strangers online more than older teenagers. This agrees with what is/ know about younger children’s immaturities in their limited ability to understand the complexities of relationships with others or discriminate between acquaintances, friends of friends and strangers.

We know that online there is a particular risk of a practice called “grooming”: a word used to describe people befriending children in order to take advantage of them for sexual purposes. Groomers may go to social networks, blogs or chat rooms used by young people and pretend to be one of them. They might attempt to gain trust by using fake profile pictures, showing affection, kindness, attention so that the victim may be persuaded to share personal information, such as interests, hobbies, music, names, places they might go, etc. Once they have the child’s trust the groomer often drives the conversation towards their sexual experiences, even asking them to send sexual photographs or videos of themselves. Some may try to set up a meeting, or even blackmail children by threatening to share the pictures or videos with the child’s family and friends. Online groomers are not always strangers. In many situations they may already have met their victims through their family or social activities and use the internet to build a relationship with them.

Sometimes children don’t even realise they are being groomed and think that the person is their boyfriend or girlfriend. Incidents of children meeting people offline who they first met online, is still worryingly high despite an increased awareness among young people of the dangers. In fact, even though national surveys show that there may be an increasing awareness of the potential dangers of meeting strangers in person who are only known from online contact, there is still a high proportion of young people who do so. However, according to Livingstone (2003) the link between risks, incidents and actual harm seems insubstantial in relation to potential harm from strangers; making the point that the number of incidents of harm from strangers compared to the level of contact is low. As with other areas of the internet, research tells us descriptively about whether and how many children have contact with strangers online, but we know little about the nature of contact with strangers online or how children respond to it. Personal information: Young people post often personal information online without understanding the short and longer-term implications of this. Young teenagers allow intimate information (photos, addresses, telephone numbers, places they go) to be available to many casual acquaintances and strangers.

This includes the potential for identity theft and predators to seek out personal information of young people or for cyber-bullying. Moreover, personal information available online is now being used by employers and so may have implications for young people’s reputations and career prospects in later life. Health: Research suggests it’s unlikely that mobile phones increase the risk of health problems. However, there is still some uncertainty about the potential for risks from long-term use over decades, and research on this is still ongoing. Mobile phones transmit radio waves in all directions to find the nearest base station. Radio waves are absorbed into the body tissues as energy, which adds to the energy being produced by body’s metabolism. Concerns have been raised that exposure to radio wave radiation might cause various health problems, ranging from cancer and infertility to other non-specific symptoms.

However, the only known effect of radio waves on the human body is a very small rise in temperature of up to 0.2C (Source: NHS). This is comparable to natural increases in temperature, such as during exercise, and shouldn’t pose a known risk to health.A study in 2006 and the largest study to date, released in 2011, showed no link between long-term use of mobile phones and tumors of the brain or central nervous system. However, long-term dangers, especially among children, are still unknown and if there are health risks from the use of mobile phones, children might surely be more vulnerable than adults because their bodies and nervous systems are still developing.


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