Now that it’s back-to-school time, many parents make the decision to arm their kids with cell phones. Parents generally say they do so for safety reasons; they want to be able to reach the child anytime. Cost is also a factor. Cell phone industry experts say phones and family plans are both becoming more affordable. Also, as adults swap out their old devices for newer smart phones, it is easier to pass down a used phone.
But for children, it is all about social life. A Pew study found that half of 12- to 17-year-olds sent at least 50 text messages a day and texted their friends more than they talked to them on the phone or even face to face.
Of course, owning a cell phone comes with possible outside threats. Here are 10 tips from SafetyWeb (www.safetyweb.com) to help keep your kid safe while using a cell phone:
1. Get Educated and Prepared. Talk to your kids about the dangers and consequences associated with inappropriate cell phone use. Discuss topics including sexting and texting while driving. Make sure you get caught up on the lingo of popular acronyms and initialisms. Ask your kids to save any abusive or problem messages to show an adult.
2. Select Appropriate Phone Features. If your child is under 10, they probably don’t need a phone with unlimited social networking or email capabilities. Likewise, the actual phone itself doesn’t need built-in features like a web browser or video messaging. For a young child, look for basic phones. Review all pre-programmed apps and phone capabilities beforehand.
3. Use Parental Controls. If your child’s cell phone has access to the internet, find out if your service provider offers some sort of parental control feature to which you can subscribe.
4. Limit Usage. Designate time slots for talking — perhaps after homework and chores are completed, or before dinner. Don’t let constant calls interrupt family time. It’s easy for a chatty teen to cuddle up to a phone at bedtime, so check periodically.
5. Consider Monitoring Services. Perhaps your child is older, but you’re still not comfortable with him or her texting and emailing unmonitored. SafetyWeb provides parents with comprehensive alerts and reports on their child’s cell phone calls and text message activity. This allows you to keep track of when they are using the phone (during school hours or late at night), and who they are communicating with most frequently.
6. Wait – Before Answering. Instruct your child not to answer calls or text messages from numbers they don’t recognize. If it is important, the caller will leave a message and then he can decide how to respond. Explain how to block calls from unwanted numbers.
7. Pre-program numbers. To help keep your kids safe, make sure their cell phones have all important phone numbers preprogrammed into it so they can always get a hold of someone if they’re in trouble.
8. Stay Organized. Always keep your child’s cell phone charger in the same place. It’s best to find a central location — like maybe the kitchen counter, or a table by the door. Mark the end of the monthly billing cycle on a calendar to remind her how long those dwindling minutes have to last.
9. Practice Privacy. Tell your teen to use caution when giving out a phone number. Make sure they don’t publicize their number on the Internet or social sites like Facebook.
10. Be Careful of Download Overload. Fun ringtones, games, and backgrounds – oh my! But, be careful. These such features can come with potential bugs or hidden fees.