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The following is the second of three parts from Technology Safety Through the Eyes of Faith, www.faithandsafety.org, a resource guide brought to you by a collaboration between the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and an attempt to give you some simple, straightforward advice and tools on how to navigate this digital world with your family. PART ONE.
When Should I Get My Child a Cell Phone?
In case you are wondering, there is no “best age” for when a child should get a cell phone. That is ultimately a parenting decision and depends upon each family’s particular needs and circumstances. Common Sense Media has put together the following questions to help you work through that tough parenting decision. If you can answer “yes” to most of these questions, then it just may be time to consider getting a cell phone for your child:
- Are your kids independent?
- Do your children need to be in touch for safety reasons?
- Would having easy access to friends benefit them for social reasons?
- Do you think they’ll use a cell phone responsibly – for example, not texting during class or disturbing others with their phone conversations?
- Can they adhere to limits you set for minutes talked and apps downloaded?
- Will they use the text, photo, and video functions responsibly and not to embarrass or harass others?
Approximately 95% of parents who buy their kids a cell phone do so primarily for reasons of safety and to keep in touch with their kids better and for safety. Our guess is that you probably fall into that same 95%.
Even though kids are getting cell phones at younger and younger ages, parents generally don’t do a good job of setting usage guidelines or discussing important topics like privacy, inappropriate texting and photo sharing, and safety basics. If you are getting your child a cell phone for communication and safety, then make sure that it is spelled out clearly and that you also understand the additional power you are putting into the hands of your child.
Don’t be fooled: cell phones are not simply mobile telephones. Today, these devices are extremely powerful, mobile computers with access to the Internet and lots of content. So remember, anytime you give your child a mobile phone, you are giving them a mobile computer. We suggest you develop your parenting strategy with that in mind.
Because you’re reading this guide we know that you want to act responsibly. We’ve assembled a parental checklist below to help you when buying a cell phone for your children.
Parental Checklist for buying a cell phone
When you decide it is time to purchase a cell phone for your child, knowledge is power. Don’t be afraid. Ask questions—lots of them. It’s important for you to know exactly what you are buying so that you can make an informed decision. Only then will you know what to discuss with your child. Here is a suggested list of questions to ask at the store:
- What capabilities does the mobile phone have? Find out if the device can access the Internet, send email, take pictures or videos, and download music, movies or apps.
- Can any of the mobile phone’s capabilities be selectively disabled or turned off? Can you disable the camera, Internet access, YouTube, or other features? Can you set ratings for music and movie access?
- What is included in the cell phone plan? Find out if text messaging, email, Internet access, and app store access are included. Find out what additional features may be activated at a later time from the device without your explicit authorization. Likewise, find out what features have a limit. If you go over that limit, what will you end up paying?
- Are there parental controls and restrictions available for this device? What does your cell phone provider offer for selectively restricting calling, texting, time of day usage, and other features for the device? How can you selectively turn on those restrictions? How can you view reports? If you enable any filters or controls, how can you prevent them from being circumvented? Will the store help you setup any parental controls and teach you how to keep them effective going forward?
- Does the phone have a GPS (also called location services)? If so, are those location services enabled by default? Do they tag photos with the time and place where they were taken? Can you use the location services securely to find the location of the phone in an emergency?
Making the decision to give your child a phone is not an easy one. However, when you do finally make that decision as a family, we urge you to have an open and honest dialogue that begins before your buy the cell phone and continues frequently after you’ve made the purchase.
Carrier-Provided Parental Controls for Cell phones
You may not know it, but all major US cell phone carriers provide parental controls for cell phones. However, you must manually enable parental controls. They are not automatically activated for any cell phone that you give to a child and the controls don’t necessarily work on all cell phones.
Parental control options are activated through your carrier’s web site. Unfortunately not all services are equal. Some carriers’ parental features are better than others. If you cannot see how to activate parental controls through your carrier’s web site, simply contact your carrier’s support for instructions specific to your service. Depending on your provider, there may be a monthly cost for the parental control service.
Here is a list of links to the major mobile phone carrier’s parental control solutions:
AT&T Smart Controls: www.att.net/smartcontrols-WirelessParentalControls
T-Mobile Safety and Security: family.t-mobile.com/safety-and-security
Sprint Safety, Security, and Controls: shop.sprint.com/mysprint/services_solutions/
Verizon Safeguards: wbillpay.verizonwireless.com/vzw/nos/safeguards/safeguardLandingPage.action For online tutorials for Verizon control options, see: responsibility.verizon.com/online-safety
 http://www.smartphoneparenting.com/survey.html July 2011 Parenting.com and Verizon Wireless survey
SOURCE Cell Phones and Kids
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