OHIO COUNTY, W.Va. — The average age when kids get cell phones is just over 10 years old. But how dangerous can it be to put access to that much information into a child's hands?
“I've heard the analogy,” parent Aaron Huffman said. “You're handing a child a loaded gun. It's literally loaded with anything they want to find; it's there. And you're just going to tell them to be careful?"
Setting boundaries around technology has become a major part of being a parent in this day and age. Huffman is a father of three. The oldest -- his 7th grade son -- just recently got a cell phone.
Huffman and his wife have taken steps to make sure they always know what's going on.
“They have that Verizon family plan and it's pretty thorough,” he said. “You can check on their location, you can see what they done. But even beyond apps, my wife will check his phone sometimes, just to check it.”
That's becoming a trend for parents raising kids in 2018.
As younger and younger kids get access to phones, tablets and just the internet in general, Ohio County Sheriff Tom Howard says it's important to know exactly what they're looking at and who they're talking to.
“As law enforcement and as a parent, I will say that you have to constantly, with the social media stuff that goes on, you have several people out there sending stuff. It's very important to keep up on children's social media. You have to keep up on it, you check what they have on their social media, see what's being said between friends.”
There are plenty of things that can be downloaded on to kids’ phones and tablets. Some of the most popular apps include YouTube and a plethora of gaming apps.
“Whatever it is, content-wise, that you want to learn, you can find it on an app like YouTube,” said JoJo Shay, innovation coordinator, Ohio County Schools.
“Also, gaming is big. They love gaming right? It's competition, you can collaborate with your friends, you can play a game against somebody from around the world.”
But with that form of fun and communication can also come many dangers. Anyone can pose as someone else when hidden behind a screen, and bullying through social media has also become a big problem.
Part of the issues just stem from youth, and a lack of awareness when it comes to making decisions.
“Teenagers, their brains aren't really developed yet,” Shay said. “Their decision-making processes aren't all there. Sometimes they don't think about the consequences until after something happens.”
So, parents have to be even more aware of what their kids are doing while online. And actually, there's a handful of apps for that.
Programs like uKnowKids and mSpy can monitor kids’ location, internet and social media activity.
You can see who they have been texting and what was said. They show you what apps are being used and how long kids have been using them.
It can also show location and the last time the phone was used.
Most have to be paid for, but for many parents, the price is worth it.
“I hate to say that I want to know where my child is at every second, but I kind of do. I kind of do want to know what they're doing, what they're saying,” Huffman said.
And while apps can monitor what kids are doing when they aren't face to face with others, everyone we talked to agreed that sometimes, parents have to go face-to-face when it comes to talking about what's happening on screens.
“I think it's really important in that regard to start conversations very early. Even before a child ever gets a phone,” Shay said.
“You gotta keep that physical, personal contact with your children,” Howard said. “It's going to keep you involved in their lives. Find out. My children know, where you going, who you talking to, who's that friend? I'm always checking in.”
If you are interested in checking out apps that can monitor you child's cell phone activity, click here.