By Nora Heston Tarte
Q: My 15-year-old son is out of control with his cell phone. Is there a way for me to control who he calls, when he uses it and his social media use?
A: In a time when teens having cell phones is the norm, it can be difficult to limit use. Many teens see their phones as a lifeline. However, it is also a temptation, a constant opportunity to text, call, post to social media, tweet and email friends. At the same time, giving your teen a cell phone offers a certain level of convenience and comfort.
Cell phone companies have created programs with the sole purpose of limiting cell phone use either by shutting off capabilities during specific time periods, limiting ingoing and outgoing numbers, and even placing parental controls on what your child can, and can’t, do with their mobile phone. Some of these features are free depending on your provider, but others cost a little extra for the added protection.
For example, AT&T and Verizon have features available called SmartLimits and Family Safeguards & Controls, respectively. These programs allow contract holders to control capabilities for all phones on their plans. Parents can use the features to set limits on the number of texts that can be sent, the amount of data that can be used, and the purchases that can be made.
Another helpful feature is the ability to turn off phone capabilities during specific hours, say during school hours, homework time or after 10 p.m.
If you are more concerned with who your child is contacting, or if you want their cell phone to be used for emergencies only, you can set up a list of approved callers and only the phone numbers you choose will be able to call or text your child’s phone, and visa versa.
Most programs also allow you to receive alerts of activity as well as view daily and weekly reports for each phone line. Use this feature as a tool to show your child you trust them, but that you mean business. Consider discussing limits for cell phone use and assure them if they break the rules, you will know. This allows for a certain level of trust between you and your child and still makes their phone available to them in case of an emergency.
Major cell phone companies typically offer parental controls, which allow parents to block specific websites and questionable content. In some cases, data can even be chosen based on its recommended age limits. For example, if your child is more preoccupied with trending tweets than trigonometry, simply place a block on the website, and app, and voila! Your child will be able to tweet no more.
In addition to programs offered by cell phone companies, many apps were developed for the sole purpose of controlling cell phone use. For example, an app called My Mobile Watchdog not only provides notifications of your child’s unauthorized activities, it also allows many of the same capabilities as cell phone company programs such as time limits, app and website blocks and GPS location tracking. You can even require all new contacts to have your approval.
You may feel like technology is taking away your ability to parent your child, but it’s also allowing you the capability to take back some control. Between offerings from your mobile phone company and outside applications, you should be able to find a system that works for your family.