Kids and cell phones: What you need to know
"All the cool kids have cell phones, mom!" Getting a cell phone for your child is a huge step. We're here to help you weigh the pros and cons, and decide if your kid is ready or not.
Every parent wants a way to stay in touch with their kids all the time. Cell phones sound like an easy way to solve that problem, but there are some risks involved.
Did you know… ?
- According to the Cyberbullying Research Center (CRC), 25 percent of kids have been harassed or bullied with cell phone calls or texts.
- Only about half of the students who are cyberbullied tell their parents, also according to the CRC.
- 60 percent of kids have sent texts during classroom hours.
- 15 percent of kids have received a sexting message from someone they know.
Without parental guidance, kids can easily misuse cell phones, says Natalie Terashima of Code 9 Mobile. They may become inadvertent cyberbullies or victims of dangerous and disruptive mobile activity. On the other hand, a cell phone is an excellent way to stay in touch with your child no matter where he goes.
Does your child really need a cell phone?
According to the experts at Trend Micro Internet Safety for Kids, you should consider these important factors when determining if your child needs a cell phone or smartphone:
- Determine how, when, where and with whom they'll use it.
- If this is your child's first phone, consider limiting calls to parents only. Some phones are designed to call only select numbers.
- For older kids who need more freedom, consider whether you'll allow them to make/receive calls to/from anyone they want.
What about Internet? Texting? Cameras?
Do your kids absolutely need costly Internet access or text messaging? They'll tell you they do, but the decision is yours, and it's not an easy one to make.
These devices may make life easier and more fun for your kids, but they may also expose your child to content he's not ready for. Consider phones that exclude or limit these options. For kids who are allowed Internet access on their phone, consider adding a filtering service to block inappropriate content.
Phones with cameras are fun, but they do present risks. Let your children know they should never take photos they'd be embarrassed to show parents, teachers and others. And if your child is on the receiving end of such an image, he should tell a parent right away.
Check-in and security apps
Family tracking apps are an easy tool for families looking to stay connected.
- Life360 is perfect for families with smartphones. With one click, kids can check in to notify parents of their location. There's also a panic alert that a child can push in the event of an emergency — parents will know exactly where their kids are.
- Apps such as Code9 Mobile monitor kids' mobile usage and provide alerts to parents when rules are broken. Code9 features GPS location tracking, curfews for texting, text filtering and reports of suspicious activities.
- BullGuard is a mobile security app with a parental control feature that offers call blocking, message/photo monitoring, antitheft applications and location tracking.
Pick the right plan
Once you've made the decision to give your child a cell phone, you need to select a plan that works for your child and your family. Look for a provider that offers flexible family plans, and ask about insurance and replacement costs.
Net10 is one cellular service provider that gives you the coverage you need without the big cost increase you expect from adding a new device. They offer nationwide coverage, a wide selection of basic phones and smartphones, easy-to-understand family plans and plans that are pay-as-you-go or monthly.
What your kid wants you to know
Matt Taylor, age 16, offers his two cents about what parents need to know about cell phones:
Privacy. Parents need to keep lines of communication open with their children. Don't spy on us or go through our phones.
Bullying. Cell phone bullying is like traditional bullying. Victims keep quiet — not because they're worried about retaliation by the bully, but because they don't want you to take away their phone! Talk to your child in advance so he knows that if he comes to you with a problem, you won't automatically confiscate his technology.
Sexting. Be realistic: If teenagers want to send naked photos, they will. Make sure they understand the legal trouble they could get into under child pornography laws. And make it very clear that the recipient can forward the photo to anyone, who in turn can forward it to anyone, and so on.
One unexpected benefit
Parents should know that a cell phone in the hands of their child is one of the greatest leveraging tools ever invented, says technology blogger Budly Freund. If your child is blowing off chores to text friends, simply send a text of your own:
Take out the dog now or I will turn your phone into a paperweight.
Mission accomplished… and you didn't even have to raise your voice!