Why Generation Y needs a smartphone intervention

Summary:Should mobile device management be strictly for enterprises? Perhaps we should consider it as an enabling technology for parents so they can protect their children.

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Based on some of my most recent writings, one might think that I'm blaming all the ills of society on the smartphone.

I'm not going to sugar coat this. I think the over-use of these devices is degrading the quality of our interpersonal relationships and is threatening to retard our collective developmental skills.

Yes, they can be powerful tools that enable us to do some very positive things when applied judiciously, particularly when used for information retrieval, business and personal communications, personal organization, and time management, but not everyone has the discipline to use them strictly as a tool. Few of us use them strictly as such. I certainly do not.

The devices are most certainly addictive, and we may not fully understand their true impact on our way of life for a generation, when the very youngest of our general population begins to enter the workforce and we are able to get some real metrics on just how well they've been educated, as well as the perceived value of their acquired skill sets.

Those of us who are adults can and probably should try to take steps to control our behavior in the use of these devices. I for one have already started to do so, and I struggle with it daily.

But adults are fully capable of making conscious choices and taking responsibility for them. Their personalities and minds are "fully formed", so to speak, and their actions are judged accordingly by other adults.

Today's kids, despite the level of sophistication we might wish to ascribe to them , still have room to develop and they still do not fully understand the consequences of their actions. Their early exposure to smartphones, mobile technology, and all the trappings that go along with them put them most at risk.

I am not a parent. But I truly feel it is the responsibility of the head(s) of the household to make conscious decisions about which technologies and how much of it their kids should be exposed to in order to protect them as well as to foster their development in a positive way and keep them engaged in healthy social situations.

The internet and social networks are a scary place. I alluded to some of this in my earlier writings regarding smartphones and social media that I've linked to above. However, it was not until this last week that I truly learned just how scary and how dangerous it can be for younger people.

It's my personal opinion that nobody under the age of 18 should be permitted to own a smartphone, at least in their current implementation until fully emancipated adulthood.

Indeed, every generation has its challenges and every generation also has its critics. When I was coming of age, my parents as well as their parents said my generation was lazy, that we played too many video games or watched too much TV, that our music was horrible and had no cultural value and was destroying the fabric of society or what have you. I had my own personal challenges, to be sure.

Despite all of this, I turned out fairly normal.I have a good job, I'm a home owner, and I've been happily married for 18 years. But back then, it was much, much easier for my parents to protect me and to set a good example.

Yes, we had bullies and there were cliques and I got into fights. Yes, there was always the danger of drugs, although not the kind of stuff being passed around today. Yes, as teenagers, we had access to pornography, although it was arguably milder and it had to be procured via illicit channels. Yes, there was teenage sex.

Yes, we thought our parents were dumber than we were and oblivious to our goings-on.

However, nothing, and I mean nothing, prepared me for what I read in Vanity Fair this week by Nancy Jo Sales regarding the current teenage sex culture driven by internet pornography and smartphone-induced peer pressure on social networks.

And while indeed disturbing, Business Insider's revelation of teen emoji-speak replacing traditional forms of communication was utterly pale by comparison.

What is a parent to do? Well, I think it's high time we intervened. We must finally draw a line in the sand. And I feel the technology companies that provide the devices, software, and services need to step up their game to empower the parent to keep their children from harm's way.

Certainly, parents can choose not to give their children smartphones at all, or choose an age where they feel their kids can take actual responsibility for their use. It's my personal opinion that nobody under the age of 18 should be permitted to own a smartphone, at least in their current implementation until fully emancipated adulthood.

Every mom and dad should have the power to be their own NSA and run their own PRISM program as far as their children are concerned.

That may sound awfully draconian, and it may submit the current generation of children to being social outcasts in their own peer groups, but that is what I believe is the safest way to go.

The only way that my mind could be changed about this is if parents could be equipped with the very same mobile device management (MDM) technology that we seek to equip our enterprises with, and to provide them with the same kind of "big brother" tool sets, albeit in miniature, that everyone is now accusing the NSA and the US government of violating our rights with.

Sound extreme? Let me put it this way: I don't believe children and teens have rights per se, because they aren't yet adults. They are afforded privileges by their parents, who nurture them, provide them with a home, clothe and feed them, and pay the bills. They also have a right to be protected by law. Period.

Just like enterprises can and should dictate with BYOD policies which apps and services can be installed on devices used on their networks, parents should be able to control which applications and services can be installed on their children's mobile devices, and when as well as how they can be used.

Parents or legal guardians should be able to observe the full data feeds of what their children post and receive via Facebook, text, email, and any other application or service used on their devices. It is a parent's right to "violate" their child's notion of "privacy".

Every mom and dad should have the power to be their own NSA and run their own PRISM program as far as their children are concerned.

They should be able to do this at any time and on any network with strict granular levels of control. This includes content filtering, as well as alert notifications for content and events that exceed desired thresholds.

If you don't want your kids to have access to certain types of sites or apps from their smartphones at certain times of day or using any other criterion, you should be able to log into a management portal provided by your carrier or your services provider to be able to easily do that with a wizard or a few button clicks.

[Update: Simon Crosby, CTO of Bromium, suggests Cisco Meraki, which is a cloud-based service that is free for non-commercial use.]

Parents should also be able to override, moderate, queue, or undo whatever their children do to the extent that the application or service supports it with their native APIs.

And, yes, I'm talking about you, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, G+, and Twitter.

And just as we submit children in our schools to "sex ed" to inform them about what the consequences of their actions are should they engage in such activities without parental knowledge and without taking adequate precautions, I'm also of the opinion that our educational system should develop course-ware that provides social networking education informing them about what happens when they make bad choices online.

Today, these tool sets do not exist. But parents should demand them this instant.

Should parents be empowered to control how their children use mobile technology and social networking? Talk back and let me know.

Topics: Smartphones, Education, Mobility, Security

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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