Cell phones present unique challenges for parents. In a wired
world, they seem essential for keeping kids safe and connected. But
without supervision, even the best-behaved kids can get into
At the very least, cell phones allow kids to make and remake
plans so fast that parents can't keep up. More seriously, they
allow kids to elude bedtime, drive while distracted and sidestep
family rules about entertainment involving pornography and
violence. At their worst, cell phones make it much easier to
distribute nude photos or violent video clips, cheat on tests,
trash friends and locate parties where drugs and alcohol are
In response to problems like these, all major phone companies
offer parental control options-sometimes for an additional fee of
about $5 a month. (To find out what your cell phone company offers,
go to its Web site and type in "parental controls.")
Here are questions you'll want to ask:
Why? Now that babies have their own apps such
as ipacifier (Ipacifier.com), it's no wonder kids want cell phones.
Parents have to decide when and whether a child can handle the
In most households, a cell phone starts to feel like a necessity
around middle school. Before putting a phone in a pre-teen's hands,
be sure he or she understands rules about acceptable use. If a
child uses a phone to harass someone, cheat, distribute sexual
photographs or break other household rules, phone privileges are
revoked. No discussion.
Who? Just because a child has a cell phone
doesn't mean he or she should talk or text with everyone who calls.
Take advantage of parental controls that allow you to block and
approve numbers. Starting younger children with a short, approved
list limits their exposure to bullies, scammers and spammers.
When? Parental controls allow you to decide
when your child is able to call or text. If your child's school has
a no-cell phone policy, help them enforce it by making the phone
inactive during school hours. In some cases, the only way to be
sure a child gets a full night's sleep is to turn off the phone at
bedtime. Be sure the phone can still be used to call 911 when these
controls are in place.
Where? Most phones now include GPS technology
that allows parents to "track" their kids and to create dead zones
where the phone can't be used. Many experts feel this level of
surveillance is counter-productive-unless a child repeatedly breaks
your rules. Parents should be more concerned about new apps
like Foursquare that allow kids to broadcast their whereabouts to
friends and potentially to predators.
What for? Depending upon the phone, kids can
download everything from ring tones and games to music and TV
shows. Discuss what's acceptable and who will pay. For younger
children, install content filters.
Most parents will find the tools they need to keep track of cell
phone use through their cell phone carrier. If your child needs
extra protection, or you don't want to pay a monthly fee, consider
free-standing software. Mykidissafe (mykidissafe.com) offers a very
comprehensive toolkit and Smobile software
(www.smobilesystems.com/parental-controls) includes virus
protection as well as parental controls.
Before activating any of these options, talk to your child about
what you're doing and why. Kids will probably object to cell phone
supervision just as they've always objected to curfews and
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