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Is Your Child Being Abused via Cell Phone?

By Susan Dunn

New technology brings new ways to stay in touch and guard your child's safety but it also brings new ways to steal, cheat, bully and act irresponsibly.

1. Bullying via camera cell phones and the Internet is an international problem.

A January 2004 article in Canada's Globe and Mail says cyber bullying is already "common" in North America, and gives examples from Europe, the UK and Japan, as they anticipate the problems to come from the huge number of Internet-connected camera cell phones given to teens and preteens over the holidays.

The London Free Press subtitled an article, "Educators describe cell phones as the fastest-growing method of tormenting children." One in six workers in the UK reports having been bullied via e-mail.

2. Misuse starts younger than you can imagine.

BBC News reports that one in nine 5-9 year olds has a mobile phone and predicts this will rise to 20% by 2006, making this the fastest growing group of mobile phone users.

A British survey found that more than a third of primary school children with mobile phones have received name-calling text messages, and 10% have received serious levels of threats which could be classified as "bullying".

3. Preteens and teens use cell phone cameras to photograph peers and humiliate them over the Internet.

For instance, photographing a student naked in the locker room and then sending it into cyberspace. Text messages are also being used for harassment, and for cheating on exams.

4. The ability to distribute photos on the Internet adds a new level of threat

Using cameras for surreptitious photographs is not new, according to Douglas Thomas, associate professor of communication at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who says a camera that fits in the button of a shirt and costs only $35 has been available for years. What's new is the cyber possibilities. [Christian Science Monitor, fall 2003]

5. Teach your children that with privilege comes responsibility.

One middle-schooler given her grandmother's hand-me-down cell phone for two months quickly racked up a bill over $1,500.

6. Legislation is starting about the privacy aspects of such photography, beginning with restrictions on federally-owned lands.

The private sector is moving as well. Because of misuse (and not isolated incidents), the YMCA in the USA is advising its hundreds of independent gyms nationwide to ban camera cell phones on the premises. The YMCA of Australia has already done this.

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7. Don't count on social norms. Be proactive.

Professor Thomas thinks social norms will develop, but personally I'm not counting on it. If so, people would not be getting ruder every day with their cell phones, and bullying would not exist in schools and offices. In the meantime, educate your child on responsible cell phone, camera and computer use and model good behavior yourself.

8. Camera cell phones can be used for identity theft.

Teens need to be aware when paying by credit card (as do you). Anyone standing near you with a cell phone in their hand can take a picture of your credit card and get all the vital information from it. 9. Establish rules with your child or teenager and enforce them.

Don't allow your child to have a computer in their bedroom, teach them respect for others, and educate them in the use of technology (just as you do bikes, microwaves, electric knives, gas grills, guns and cars). Go over what bullying is and make direct inquiries of your child. Here is a list of symptoms of both bullied and bully. It's considered the preferred bullying method of girls, BTW.

10. Get informed and speak up.

One danger is that your child may know more about these tech toys than you do. Learn their capabilities and how to monitor. For instance, you can check on cheating and bullying by clicking into the phone's text messaging history. Teach your child to speak up when bullying occurs (and do so yourself at work). 85% of all bullying occurs when there is only a peer present.

Work with school officials re: your child. Ray Hughes, violence prevention co-ordinator with the Thames Valley District School Board says a class or seat change can help the bullied, and bullies need consistent, non-violent consequences for their actions both at home and at school. Work to establish Emotional Intelligence programs at school and at work that teache respect and "social norms".

© Susan Dunn
Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach, offers positive psychology coaching and Internet courses in emotional intelligence. Susan is the author or ebooks on emotional intelligence ( and is widely published and syndicated on the Internet. She speaks regularly for cruise lines and trains EQ coaches.


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