Parenting controls for cell phone safety

Oct 10, 2012 at 4:53 a.m. ET

School is back in session and the kids are going to be screaming for new cell phones soon (if they're not already). Do you know your options for parental controls on cell phones?

mom and daughter talking on cellphone

A cell phone is a handy device for a kid to have, but it's a little scary for a mom, too. Handing over a cell phone means handing over a lot of freedom where their communication is concerned, and that can lead to trouble. Fortunately for parents, there are lots of parental controls for cell phones that let you keep tabs on what your child is and isn't doing with their cell phone.

The types of controls available to you depend on your cellular carrier and the phones you select. Some phones let the parental controls be set up right from the device using pass codes, while others handle it remotely through the account.

Three main types of parental controls

Usage controls

Usage controls put you in total control over how your child uses their phone. Through these types of parental controls, you can control who your child talks to, either by blocking calls to and from certain numbers, or by creating calls lists of approved numbers that can be dialed or received through the phone. This means that you not only control who they call, but who calls them. You can also regulate the number of calls and texts that go in and out.

Another super-handy feature of usage controls is the ability to disable the phone during certain blocks of time, like during school hours or from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Some programs, such as Sprint Guardian, let you set your child's phone so that they cannot text or make calls while driving. Your kid may not love that feature, but it's an easy way to make sure they're as safe as possible.

Content filters

Content filters are aimed at parents of kids with smartphones. These allow you to set filters for the kinds of content your child can access with their phone, mainly through apps and the phone's web browser. It's not foolproof, though, since the filters do not apply to texts or emails.

Location monitoring

What parent doesn't want to know where their kids are 24/7? Using location monitoring through the GPS on your child's cell phone, you can. Depending on the plan you have or the app you use, you can receive location alerts at predetermined times, or just look them up whenever you want. Some programs even allow you to receive an alert when your child leaves a predetermined boundary.

Quick Tip

When you give your child their first cell phone, make a rule that you can look through it three times a week, without warning. This way, they won't be surprised or feel invaded, but you can see what they're doing.

More reading

Kids and cell phones: What you need to know
Lessons all teens should know about texting
Warning signs of cell phone misuse