For parents, cell phones are technological blessings and burdens.
They're great for emergencies or as a way to stay connected to a child. But as many learn quickly, some children abuse the privileges of the wireless world by browsing inappropriate Web sites, sending out too many texts or talking on the phone too much, all of which may run up a family cell phone bill.
And these devices come with their own dangers, opening the door to strangers or other bad influences.
But before you dump your child's cell phone altogether, consider the many ways parents can take more control.
Contact your carrier
A good place to start is by asking your phone carrier about free (and low-cost) safety, monitoring and content blocking features. A variety of Web sites help parents transparently monitor various activities, including the people your child calls, when and how often, as well as recording the texts he or she sends out and receives.
AT&T recently added a feature to its menu of wireless parental controls allowing parents to put more parameters around a child's Internet access by cell. Parents who are customers can set a monetary or a megabyte limit for mobile Web browsing. They can also set time-of-day restrictions on mobile Web use. (No more calls after 10 p.m., for instance.)
The feature is an addition to the AT&T Smart Limits for Wireless plan, which costs $5 a month per line and also lets parents establish boundaries around texting, instant messaging, outbound calling and downloading (games, music, ringtones, etc.) for phones covered on their account. Mom and dad may even set mobile "allowances" for the month, increasing it for the son who gets an A on a big math test and decreasing it for the daughter who ignored curfew.
Like other carriers, AT&T also offers wireless parental controls that don't cost a dime.
Parents simply need learn to use the basic "on/off" controls that can be set directly from the handset and allow someone to restrict the purchase of content and subscriptions (of inappropriate or mature sites for example) and limit the types of content (Web sites, chat room, message boards, etc.) your child can view on a device. The controls are set up via passwords chosen by a parent.
Flexibility is the key difference between manual controls and paid-for features like AT&T's Smart Limits, as well as the level of control parents can exercise upon child's cell phone use. For instance, Smart Limits gives parents the flexibility of allowing a child to download ringtones while also limiting the number of downloads per month. The manual approach is more of a "yes" or "no" solution to purchase blocking and content filtering.
Use the Web
Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T also offer parental controls for Web use. The controls are generally available to customers with high speed Internet or dial-up service.
Visit att.com, verizon.com and t-mobile.com to learn about a variety of features provided free, including tutorials and information on setting Internet surfing limits, online safety initiatives, online phishing threats, Wi-Fi security tips, as well as Internet safety tips for parents and children.
And while you're on the Web, check out MyMobileWatchdog.com. For $10 a month, parents can be automatically alerted should their child receive unapproved e-mail, text messages or phone calls from anyone you choose.
And to combat the threat of child predators who are known to befriend victims over time with repeated contacts, MyMobileWatchdog.com provides customers with complete text messages and photos sent and received from your child's phone, as well as the phone numbers the messages came from. Parents are able to view all of the information at any time online.
Daniel Vasquez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
, or 954-356-4219, or 561-243-6600, Ext. 4219.