In this day and age, almost every aspect of our lives has been digitised. Much of this has been to make life easier and adapt to the world’s ever-changing demands. But with that also comes a lot of risks. Children’s safety online, for instance, is one of the biggest concerns we’ve seen over the past decade, especially with the growing reports of child abuse and bullying that occurs on social media. This is where Opel Mobile comes in with their new SmartKids Phone, which is Australia’s first ‘ultra safe’ smartphone for children.
As teenagers and adults now spend a bulk amount of time on smartphones, naturally, this would trickle down to children, too. In fact, just under half (46 per cent) of Aussie kids aged 6-13 are now using a mobile phone. Giving children access to the vast capabilities of smartphones brings about a lot of questions around safety and their exposure to screens. It’s at this juncture that Opel Mobile has sought to create a smartphone targeted at younger children to stay safe online.
The point of the SmartKids Phone is that it’s ‘used by kids and designed by parents,’ meaning that it’s a safer way for kids to remain connected to friends and to the world around them whilst still giving parents some form of comfort.
This concept of parents monitoring their child’s internet and screentime habits is hotly debated but before we talk a bit more about the concept of the phone itself, let’s dive into the specs of it first.
The Opal Mobile SmartKids Phone specs
The Opel Mobile SmartKids Phone is pretty much what you’d expect a child’s phone to be. It doesn’t have a camera and includes security features like parental control over downloading apps and restricting certain numbers from making calls. There’s also a GPS location tracker with location alerts and an emergency button.
Other features of the phone include screentime control, app blockages and regular activity reports of the usage and history of the phone.
There’s also the ability to create virtual safe zones. Basically, parents can set up geo-fences and be notified when the device leaves or enters a zone. Parents will also be notified when the phone hasn’t left or entered the safe zone by a certain time.
Addressing concerns about data and privacy, Opel Mobile said the SmartKids Phone’s data is stored privately in Australia. The phone will also work on any Australian or New Zealand 4G network as a data connection is required.
The parental controls work through the Opel Mobile Guardian App which then connects to the phone where parents can set up whatever controls they would like.
The phone is what many people would call a brick, but what else do kids need from a phone?
The potential benefits of a phone for kids
Speaking about the phone, Paul English, executive general manager at Opel Mobile said that after conducting some research, they found that there were three major parental concerns about children having a smartphone. The three issues were the sharing of personal information online (including inappropriate images), screen time and using unsuitable apps.
“Our new Opel Mobile SmartKids Phone addresses all these concerns and includes many other security features, making it the safest possible first phone for young children while still giving them freedom,” added English.
Whilst a lot of this stuff does dip into the territory of hyper surveillance online and parents having a lot of control over their kids, I can see a lot of positives coming out of a phone like this.
For reference, I grew up alongside the meteorite rise of the Apple iPhone, with the first one being released when I was 6 years old. I soon had iPod Shuffles, Nano’s and then eventually phones. Although I was never allowed to have a phone until I started high school and was catching the bus to and from.
But, as someone who was spending a lot of time on the vastly unknown internet (at the time) as a kid, I probably would have benefitted from something like this phone when I was in primary school. I ended up in some pretty dark and scary places that I shouldn’t have been but because there was still so little known 10 years ago about social media, the internet and harmful people on it, I had no idea what I was doing (or who I was talking to, for that matter).
Whilst there is nothing more annoying than having a parent monitor your internet usage or asking what you’re doing on the internet, a phone like this can serve as a good introduction to technology for children who need to travel to and from school or want to go out with friends without parents around.
The SmartKids Phone can help teach children the responsibility of having access to technology and the potential risks that are involved in having a smartphone. It’s near impossible to prevent kids from having access to smartphones as they grow up, so giving them something that parents still have some control over can help foster really important conversations about online safety and what to do if a child finds themselves in a bit of trouble or in an uncomfortable situation.
It’s also important that we don’t vilify children or the internet. Kids are curious beings and if given access, they are going to go exploring. The same goes for the internet. There are so many wonderful and positive spaces on the internet that can have a beneficial impact on children. It’s the groups of people who use the internet to do bad things who are the ones who should be vilified, not the platforms they use to do so.
It can be frustrating at times listening to politicians who don’t actually understand how the internet works at all and just want to have blanket bans over everything in the guise of protecting children. But Opel Mobile isn’t necessarily limiting children’s use of technology nor is it telling them they can’t be on the internet. It’s just giving parents the ability to give their children some responsibility and freedom whilst still looking out for them.
If you’re comfortable with it, you’re more than welcome to give your child another smartphone that has all the bells and whistles on it but Opel Mobile has at least provided an option for parents who want their child to have a phone but still want to know that they are safe.
When the child starts high school, it’s probably best to transition them into the world of smartphones such as iPhones, Google Pixels or Samsungs. But while they are younger, they don’t need the whole kit and caboodle.
In saying all this, growing up as a queer child made me have to google a lot of things to make sense of how I was feeling inside. Not being taught this information by my parents or seeing it anywhere around me, the internet became a haven of freedom, exploration and information I’d never had access to before.
Obviously, having controls where my parents could see whatever I was googling would have been pretty terrifying to me as a kid. I would’ve hated being ‘outed’ by my Google search history. This fear would be even more intense for queer children in unsupportive families.
However, in perhaps complete naivety, I just hope that if a parent does see that their child is trying to research more about the feelings they have or exploring different parts of themselves, they use that knowledge to have a conversation with their child. The parents could even grant permission to informative, queer-friendly websites like Minus18 or Beyond Blue. This way, the child is still getting the access they need and want to explore, but in a much more supportive and safe environment than what I was exposed to as a child.
To me, this phone doesn’t take children away from technology or the internet, it’s just attempting to make it a little bit safer for them while they are still figuring out the world around them.
Where to buy the Opel Mobile SmartKids Phone
The Opel Mobile SmartKids Phone retails for RRP $249 with zero subscription fees. It’s available from August exclusively in JB Hi-Fi and the Good Guys, you can also download the free Opel Mobile Guardian App from Apple or Google Play stores.
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