Managing Cell Phone Use by Children

By: Christine Peppler

Those with family cell phone plans know the concerns. Kids who text or talk so much they break the family budget. Kids who aren't aware of the dangers of spyware, predators, and spammers. Now with video phones that allow viewing of video and photos that could potentially be inappropriate and web enabled phones that provide access to any content on the web, kids can easily be exposed to content parents might otherwise restrict.

For Young Children
There are options of course. For very young children there are the designed-for-kids phones like Firefly and Tic Talk which inherently restrict who they can and cannot call and reject calls from numbers not in the phonebook programmed by parents. Certainly such phones are also not web enabled or video capable. The risk of exposure to inappropriate content is virtually eliminated.

Options as Kids Mature
Disney mobile cell phone plans also offer parents control over who their children call and how long they talk. Beyond this, the Disney phones offer a GPS locator feature providing additional peace of mind. These phones are designed to appear more like a traditional cell phone than the kid focused Firefly and are therefore preferable for many kids over age 7.

For those not wanting to subscribe to a Disney plan there are other options. One product, RADAR, made available by mymobilewatchdog.com allows parents to develop an approved contact list, monitor calls, emails, text and instant messages, and even alerts parents to suspicious activity. The software, for instance, can alert adults to spyware that might be tracking an unsuspecting user. Another option is "Mobile Guardian" offered by Boston Communications Group (bcgi.net) which allows parents to restrict when and who kids can call, times they can call, and the amount of time they can talk. If desired, parents can also block certain number and view a history of calls.

Software solutions that can be used on any data enabled phone will certainly make managing the cell phone habits of teens easier for parents. For some parents, the need to implement some of the same safeguards used on the home PC or laptop used by their tweens and teens will be equally important for their cell phone. RuleSpace is a company that is developing content filtering software for cell phones. Such software can read websites and filter out those deemed inappropriate. It is anticipated that such filtering software will be adopted by manufacturers/wireless providers within the next couple of years.

Options by Cellular Providers and Manufacturers
Some cellular providers are already beginning to offer add-on services to allow more parental control in restricting expenses. AT&T now offers a service called Smart Limits which can place an hour limit on talk time, allowances on text messaging and downloads, and call blocking. Calls to and from parents or 911 are not part of the restrictions of the plan.
In addition to these limitations, the AT&T service can also implement website filters to restrict access to objectionable content. At this time however, this feature is not available for the iPhone browser and cannot monitor activity when a Wi-Fi connection is used

T-Mobile offers KidsConnect which gives parents the ability to cap spending primarily. It limits the monthly bill to $19.99 while allowing unlimited calling to and from parents but caps text, instant, and multimedia messages. A WAP interface is also included to prevent kids from downloading extra services but doesn't yet other filtering features.

Manufacturers are also beginning to address more security issues on their phones and providing features to assist anxious parents. For instance, Sanyo introduced the SCP-2400 in 2006 which provides a number of protective features. Parents can manage not only who a child can place and receive calls from, but also allows locking of some services to avoid data charges that aren't part of their family cell phone plan. This cell phone boasts GPS locating capabilities as well.

Certainly, some of these options provide the best controls for limiting spending by kids who haven't yet demonstrated the ability to operate within a budget. For these instances, stricter controls can be set and then relaxed as an adolescent makes more mature decisions. Other options are more crucial in assuring the safety of kids who might be vulnerable as cell phones become more connected to the internet. Although security options will continue to improve, there are some current options which are worthy of consideration.

Cell Phones
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