Adapted from an online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I was recently sitting on my stoop with friends when a 4-year-old who lives nearby came over. She asked to see one of our phones, and my friend gave hers to her. Shortly thereafter, we noticed she had opened YouTube and navigated to videos of people harming animals.
Obviously my friend had never looked at such videos, so the 4-year-old navigated there totally on her own. I am very troubled by this, but it’s not clear to me that informing her caregivers — her grandfather and some other relatives seem to split the parenting — would help here and might actually hurt. Informing child services seems dramatic and would surely make the situation worse. What do you think?
Troubled: I think, why did your friend give someone else’s 4-year-old her phone?
Dear Carolyn:Thanks for the extremely unhelpful non-advice! We see this girl in front of her house all the time playing on a phone, so I don’t really think it was a huge faux pas to give her a phone for five minutes, even though neither my friend nor I let our own kids play with cellphones. But also not really the point of my question.
— Troubled again
Troubled again: It is the point, though. And it was a huge faux pas. This child is 4! The adults are responsible. All of them involved — not just those . . . other ones [waves arm to the side] over there.
There is an entire sewer pipe of information on every phone, just a few minutes of swipes and typos away. A kid can find awful things completely by accident on an unsecured phone, and often on ones people have tried to childproof. So, instead of chasing down what may or may not be a problem with this child and her home life, please opt out of being part of her problems by not remaining passive when any adults hand her (or any child not their own) a phone unless there’s a specific purpose and you’re directly supervising.
Breathe, Carolyn, breathe.
If you have other reasons to question her safety besides this one incident, and/or if you routinely see her with unsupervised access to the sewer pipe and aren’t comfortable intervening on her behalf to stop it, then call Childhelp, 1-800-4-A-CHILD. It’s a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing child abuse, so the staff can tell you whether to be concerned and what the next steps might be.
Re: Videos: If anything, you and your friend need to apologize to the girl’s family for allowing her to view those disturbing videos. You know, before her caregivers ask her where the heck she learned about these things and she name-drops you.
Re: Phone:The suggestion to apologize is brilliant. “I’m so sorry, my friend lent kiddo her phone, and she seemed to have found videos of people hurting animals.” H. . . ow the caretakers respond to that will tell you a lot about how worried you need to be.
Anonymous: It really is. Elegant and effective, thanks.