Training Wheels for New Phone Users

Tech Talk 005

If your child is one of the lucky kids who will be getting a new cellphone or smartphone during the holidays, now is the time to think about rules that should go along with it. Having a phone is a privilege and, like all privileges, this comes with responsibilities.

Family contracts that outline those responsibilities are available from several reliable sources including Connect Safely, and Sprint. Even if you don’t feel the need to sign a formal contract with your child, these documents cover important talking points.

Being clear about expectations is step one, but many children also benefit from a little extra structure. Fortunately, parents have access to a wide range of technical tools that will help children remember and respect their rules. This checklist provides an overview of available cellphone and smartphone protections.

Curb phone calls. For very young children, it’s often a good idea to establish an approved list of phone numbers so your child can make and receive calls only from those people. For older kids, you may still want software that shows traffic on the phone. Remember: Specific numbers can always be blocked if your child is being harassed or unduly influenced by peers or strangers.

Control texts. Depending on your family’s plan and your child’s self-control, you may want controls that limit the number of texts your child can send and/or receive. Some controls also allow parents to monitor texts for risky content. There’s even an Android app, Ignore No More, that lets you lock the phone if you don’t get a prompt response to your text messages.

Monitor websites. A smartphone allows a child unrestricted access to the Internet, so consider filters that block pornography, gambling and other mature content.

Supervise social media. A cellphone or smartphone makes it all too easy to share impulsive messages, photos and videos. You can arrange to be notified whenever your child posts or is tagged on social media. Or, you can set up controls that alert you only if your child uses unacceptable language, is involved in bullying or exchanges inappropriate photos.

Manage time. If the phone seems to be taking over your child’s life, most carriers offer a timer that will allow you to establish intervals when the phone simply doesn’t work because your child should be sleeping or paying attention in class.

Track location. If your child struggles to keep track of personal items, you may want to download an app that will locate the phone if it’s lost. Some parents also use GPS to confirm that kids are where they are supposed to be.

Limit downloads. Kids with smartphones will want to explore the wonderful world of apps. Some simply aren’t suitable for children. Some cost money that will show up on your phone bill. Some introduce malware onto the host phone. If you have any doubts about your child’s judgment, look for software that will alert you when your child tries to download a ringtone, game or social media app.

Disable while driving. If your child is old enough to drive, consider using a feature that disables the phone whenever it’s moving at the speed of a car.

Most families find they can protect their children adequately with services provided by phone companies, supplemented perhaps by free apps like MamaBear. If you decide to invest in more comprehensive software, detailed reviews of 10 options are available at

Carolyn Jabs raised three computer savvy kids, including one with special needs. She is working on a book about constructive responses to conflict. Visit to read more of her columns.

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