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Between traditional media, the internet, and cell phones; the challenges of parenting in the 21st century have become something more than those faced by our parents and grandparents. Every generation worries about unsavory influences affecting the next generation, but never has the next generation had access to so much information at such a young age. It is only fitting that we’ve dubbed this the information age.
Thankfully for parents, the same technology that has presented new challenges to parenting has also created solutions. Cell phones are a prime example. Sexting has become something of a media catchphrase. It means sending scandalous messages and/or pictures; and it is something that is rampant in teen culture. Recent surveys show that nearly half of 10-12 year olds have phones, and the number rises dramatically as children enter their teen years.
The rational for getting a teen a phone is sound. It allows them to stay in touch with parents, gives them a way to communicate with their peers, and it can be a lifeline in case of emergency. However the risks associated with cell phones are also very real. Not only is texting while driving dangerous (and an activity most teen drivers admit to engaging in) but texting in general can give the illusion of a private conversation that is anything but. It’s a simple matter to forward a message or picture to everyone in your phone book, and suddenly what was meant to be private is now public knowledge.
Some phone controls are built into specific phone models. For instance, the Firefly and LG Migo are phones specifically designed for young children. While they may work for a child of 8 or 10, it’s unlikely that your 14 year old will think it’s cool to head to school with one of these phones. One of the advantages of these phones is the limited feature availability. They don’t have text and internet capabilities, so you don’t have to worry about your child running up your bill that way.
Another method of control is provided by service providers. AT&T has two forms of parental controls, one is included with service, the other one costs a nominal monthly fee. Verizon wireless also offers a wide range of parental controls for users, as does Sprint.
These parental controls can do several things. They can limit when a phone can text, meaning that you can set time limits, or even shut the phone off if it is moving at a certain speed to prevent texting or using the phone while driving. They can also flag messages with certain words in them for your review, or even let you read all the messages the phone sends and receives. They allow you to set up a list of blocked numbers to prevent unwanted people from contacting your child. They can limit or even disable web browsing, as well as application purchase. Those can be a lifesaver for a parent trying to stay in budget. They can even scan incoming and outgoing pictures for questionable content.