On my recent business trip I met a lot of other parents juggling work/family life, and I gained some really interesting insight into how they manage it all. I've worried a bit about how we'll transition from life with little kids to the more intensely-scheduled elementary activities. One night, a friend was furiously tapping away at her cell phone during dinner, trying to deal with home responsibilities from afar.
“I'm making sure my son is getting his homework done.”
“Your son has a cell phone?” I balked. He couldn't have been older than 10 or 11. “That sounds like my worst nightmare. What if he gets cyber-bullied or winds up on inappropriate websites or calls freaking THAILAND on your dime?!”
She laughed and explained that while his first cell phone was a really big deal, it made communication easier – a sentiment I've heard echoed from dozens of other parents.
My kids have already taken a keen interest in mobile communication – asking to call Oma and Opa, take selfies and download apps featuring their favorite characters – so I really shouldn't be in denial about the early adoption of technology into their lives. I know it's inevitable, and I've already started mentally preparing for how I'll handle my kid's first cell phone: with an intense set of meticulously-outlined rules and ongoing monitoring.
- Time. No phone use during school, extracurricular activities, homework and family time, or past bed time.
- Use limitations. Set a maximum number of minutes spent talking or text messages sent daily.
- Applications. No in-app purchases or downloading inappropriate apps such as those that include dating features, nudity, gambling or violence.
- Photos. Nothing revealing over overly-personal such as photos with people who are not fully-clothed or photos that may embarrass friends and family members.
- Privacy. No sharing personal details such as private address, credit card or social security numbers, travel plans, etc. No forwarding messages or photos without permission. Don't respond to numbers you don't recognize.
- Cyberbullying. No harassing or generally being mean to other people. Immediately report to parents if any unwanted messages are received.
- Phone care. Know where your phone is at all times, and keep it charged.
- Web use. No visiting of inappropriate sites such as those that include dating features, nudity, gambling or violence.
I've seen a lot of “first cell phone contracts” and similar guidelines like this for parents, but the real question to me is enforcement. Without physically taking the phone away from children at a certain time each day to limit use and check in on activity, there hasn't been a good solution for parents to monitor the use of a child's first cell phone. And it's not like parents need one more thing on our daily to-do list, amiright?
We just partnered up with a company here in California called WebSafety that provides the perfect solution. Their newly-released app works on any Android device and, for a monthly fee of $3.99 for one phone or $11.99 for four children's devices (with annual discounts available), it offers monitoring of child's phones with custom-configured reporting to parents. So you can see in an online dashboard or receive notifications about what your kid has been up to with their first phone in terms of apps, text messages, websites, social networks, timing and location.
WebSafety uses a curated list of flagged content for specialized alerts, while also offering parents the option to add further restrictions such as blocked sites and time restrictions that disable the device – allowing children to make calls in case of emergency but setting up a nag screen to remind them that use is restricted and parents will be notified. I love that the time restriction doesn't completely take control away from children, but serves as a reminder of the guidelines parents have told them about. It's all about bringing that conversation back to the parents. Communication is key. For more in-depth examples of how the app works, you can check WebSafety out on Twitter or Facebook.
So while this is all fun and games right now, I feel comfortable knowing that I can keep a handle on it as they grow – someday! – into their first cell phone.
Has your child received his or her first cell phone yet? How do you monitor its use?