Cell Phone Safety
Mounting Minutes ($$$)
Since consumers must be 18 in order to purchase a cell phone contract in the United States, most parents are buying the phones their children carry. This is good news because parents can choose a plan that fits how the cell phone will be used and can review monthly cell phone bills which typically includes a log itemizing phone activity. However, problems still exist. For one, children can quickly go over their allotted minutes for the month which can leave their parents with bills that can easily approach hundreds of dollars for the month. One thing that helps is the availability of cell phone plans that include unlimited minutes during certain hours or between certain cell phone carriers. Choosing a plan with unlimited minutes can ease the risk of mounting monthly phone charges although does not solve the problem with understanding what kids do with those unlimited minutes. Cell phone features such as text messaging and Web browsing are increasingly included in bundles with extra weekend and night minutes, in essence, giving children unlimited and unsupervised access to each other and to the Internet. Thus, parents who have a supervision system that works for computers at home may unknowingly give their children a work-around for getting into trouble outside of the home in a way that is even more convenient to the child.
Cell Phones and Gaming
According to Sullivan (2004)1, when cellular phone games were simple, such as the knockoffs of the Atari-era "Breakout," there wasn't much to worry about. But newer phones with color displays and higher processing power create a landscape that might make some parents worried about what their kids are playing on the bus home from school. Games and videos with sex and violence are now a technological possibility -even if the screens are still small, and the characters pixilated. And then there's the more subtle messages sent by some games as shown in this game’s description:
"Prince of Persia," by Gameloft, urges players to rescue a kidnapped harem of women. "The Sultan’s wives have been kidnapped by the Vizier in order to carry out experiments on abstinence. The Sultan’s real mad! He no longer knows how to express his desires. Seven female prisoners – and only you can set them free and bring them back to life!"
Complicating matters further is the fact that game ratings can't be used on cell phones -- the technology does not currently allow it. Console and computer games have ratings on the outside of the package, so parents at least know what they are getting into when they make a purchase. Since cell phone downloads offer no method for displaying ratings before purchase, there is no way to enforce a rating system. To be fair, cell phone companies seem to be doing a pretty good job of regulating themselves and preventing putting inappropriate games in the hands of children via their cell phones. How long, however, can they resist this incredibly lucrative market? When will profit grease the slippery slope of providing increasingly more violent and sexually charged games? Even now, cell phone games have changed from old style and innocuous arcade games such as Tetris to games with more elaborate (and questionable) plots. For instance, one cell phone game is described as the following: Play as Tanner, undercover cop and action hero, and bring down a car theft ring on the city streets of Miami, Istanbul and Nice. DRIV3R is packed with driving and out-of-car missions that keep the action fresh and exciting, including chases, timed racing, combat and much more! DRIV3R’s explosive action and incredible depth will keep your pulse racing in high gear! Another game, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six® 3, for example, may entice children with the following description:
You lead your team on missions to the four corners of the world. Once you’ve survived the terrorists’ ambush in a snowbound Swiss village, you’ll have to flush them out of a luxurious villa in Curaçao and confront them in a Venezuelan commercial port. Tactics and action are at the heart of the explosive mixture found in Rainbow Six® 3. You’ll have to make the right decisions at the right time if you want to stay alive and save the hostages in a cowardly kidnap plot. With the intuitive interface, it’s easy to position your team and launch a deadly surprise attack! Choose from a range of orders to give your squad to neutralize the terrorist threat: throw flashbang or frag grenades, secure a position, defuse bombs or eliminate enemy snipers using an original game mode, and more! But beware, your enemies are highly trained and lethal traps are waiting you. (See http://www.zingy.com/jgLabels.php)
This game is fashioned after the PC version of the same title, which, incidentally, is rated "M" for mature.
Cell Phones and Pornography
Cell-phone pornography (also known as mobile pornography or mo-po for short) is a fast-growing business that analysts expect will generate about $2 billion in global revenue by 2009. Already, U.S. sales of erotica or porn distributed via cell phones were estimated at about $30 million in 2005 (Cell phone sex, 2006)2. The least restrictive site I found on the Internet (which I won’t mention lest I advertise for them) provides visitor with a warning: "If you are under 18 years of age, or if it is illegal to view adult material in your community, please do not click this link. [My comment: Okay, whether you’re a kid or adult ... is this not an invitation to click?] We can't be held responsible for your actions. We are not acting in any way to send you this information; you are choosing to received it! Continuing further means that you understand and accept responsibility for your own actions, thus releasing the creators of this web page and our service provider from all liability. All persons depicted herein were at least 18 years of age at the time of the photography."
That’s it. No other means of age verification. All the child has to do is agree to the terms of condition:
You hereby acknowledge and represent that you know and understand that the materials presented at, and/or downloadable from, the website include explicit visual, audio, and/or textual depictions of nudity and sexual activities, including without limitation, heterosexual, bi-sexual, homosexual, and transsexual activities of an explicit sexual nature; that you are familiar with materials of this kind; that you are not offended by such materials; and that by agreeing to these terms and conditions you are warranting to the company that you are intentionally and knowingly seeking access to such explicit sexual materials for your own personal viewing. By creating a free account, you hereby agree to receive free video offers via e-mail. To stay on our e-mail list, there is no need to do anything. If you do not wish to be contacted by us via e-mail, please click on the unsubscribe link located in the footer of the e-mail and you will be removed from our list. You hereby further affirm and warrant that you are currently over the age of eighteen (18) years (twenty one (21) in places where eighteen (18) years is not the age of majority) and are capable of lawfully entering into and executing the terms of this agreement.
Actually, this text only comes up if the visitor clicks on the appropriate link. A visitor could simply just check off that he or she has read these terms without ever really reading them. Notice that according to the terms, the user also agrees to receive video offers via e-mail which, my guess is, will be difficult to stop. Some teens may set up a "dummy" e-mail account with one of the free online e-mail services that they check and clear (delete all the emails without reading them) every so often for this very purpose. Basically, anyone with a cell phone can automatically download a new porn video clip every day for free.
Video Recording Trouble
Indeed, cell phones (and other handheld devices) have become the Swiss Army Knives of the digital generation. They let users do everything from take digital photos and listen to music to play games and surf the Web. And now, better than ever before, shoot video. While the quality of the video doesn't come close to what a regular digital video recorder can do, cell phones allow users to record short, anytime, anywhere video clips that can be sent instantly to others as a video phone message or an e-mail attachment. As long as you have your phone with you, you are ready to capture tomorrow’s "Funniest Home Video" or segment on Real TV. Video clips can also quite easily be posted on the Web, for free, and sometimes for sale. For instance, on TextAmerica.com (a mobile blog or moblog), you can find numerous video clips, usually 10 to 15 seconds in length, showing jerky video snapshots of everything from ordinary life to the bizarre caught "on tape." Hundreds of these types of places where kids (and others) can post their work exist. One of the most well known, Google, maintains an "open online video marketplace, where you can search for, watch and even buy an ever-growing collection of TV shows, movies, music videos, documentaries, personal productions and more." They take all kinds of videos (after it passes an unpublished approval process), including those created via cell phone.
For the most part, I suspect that our children, use photo and video capabilities of cell phones to temporarily capture fun, silly, impromptu moments. Other quick thinking kids may even capture news in the making, sometimes incidents in which they are involved. One kid, for example, recorded his bus driver's profanity-laced tirade during an uproar on a school bus (Breitenstein, 2006)3. According to the newspaper report, a fourteen year old boy commented that "... his driver often pulled over when students became unruly, but went ‘nuts’ Wednesday afternoon. So he grabbed his cell phone and hit record, capturing about a minute of audio as the driver yelled and cussed at students." Some kids may think it funny to use their cell phones to capture inappropriate images or video. Because cell phones have become so small and indiscreet, they can be used without great risk of detection. For instance, you may have heard of upskirting or downblousing. These terms are used to describe how some people take secret pictures or video of others, in various states of undress, or under their dress, with their camera phones (and then often times uploading the pictures or video to the Internet). Put the term "upskirt" in any photo or video hosting service and you’ll see what I mean (e.g., try http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=upskirt or http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=upskirt&hl=en). One kid was arrested after he and another high school student videoed themselves in a sex act on one of their camera phones, and the boy shared it with his friends. Copies of the video found their way to many of the adult shops in the community, and from there someone got the bright idea to put it online for auction. 4
Win-Win Cell Phone Solutions
How can parents enjoy the benefits of staying connected with their children while also diminishing the risks that arise when cell phones and children mix? Well, for one, I hope that you have gotten the message throughout this book that, as a parent or care taker, it is important to stay focused, be assertive, and maintain your ground. It may very well be that the answer to owning a personal cell phone is simply, "no." You may determine that in the event of an emergency, your child will already have enough access to you and to emergency personnel by virtue of all the communication possibilities around them. In stores, malls, schools, etc., there are plenty of ways to immediately communicate. I’m sure you have noticed that no matter what the emergency (e.g., school crisis, car accident, etc.), the level of response for school and emergency personnel is amazing. Helpers (and the media) are on the scene within minutes. You will be notified or become aware of any problems very quickly. In special circumstances such as going out to a party, football game, or field trip, your child can always just borrow yours for a day or two.
If you decide that, for whatever reason, your child should have a cell phone handy, you might consider getting one that is programmable and includes parental controls. This means that you can program the phone to only accept certain calls from you and your family members, for instance. And, these phones typically have presets for ambulance, fire, and police. Finally, many of these phones designed for children include GPS locator services. Here are a few examples:
- Sullivan, B. (2004). Cell phones and kids: Do they mix? Games, other new features give parents more to think about. MSNBC. Retrieved February 6, 2006. Available online from http://msnbc.msn.com/id/5671445
- Breitenstein, D. (Originally posted on January 26, 2006). Incident on bus sparks probe Student: Driver recorded on cell phone. Retrieved February 6, 2006. Available online from
- Source: http://www.theinternetpatrol.com/ceo-of-online-auction-company-arrested-for-home-porn-listed-on-site
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