How Tech Experts Monitor Their Teens on Social Media

The Wall Street Journal

How can parents keep up with smartphones? Tech executives take various approaches to managing their children’s social-media use

While investor protests about smartphones’ harmful social effects began making headlines only recently, Silicon Valley parents have struggled with the issue for a long time.

Tech executives with children share many of the same concerns other parents have about tweens’ and teens’ social-media use—that it will disrupt sleep, homework or face-to-face socializing, or expose their children to bullies or predators.

Those who are experts on the internet and information security also wonder: What hidden security threats lurk in the latest social-media app? Which of many possible paths might hackers take to invade their children’s privacy?

The routes tech-savvy executives choose to protect their tweens and teens online vary, from close monitoring to guiding them in managing the hazards themselves.

Teaching Decision-Making

Steven Aldrich foresees his 16-year-old son Jackson constantly surrounded by apps and devices designed to grab his attention.

Mr. Aldrich, chief product officer at GoDaddy Inc., a Scottsdale, Ariz., provider of internet domains and websites to businesses, and his wife, Allison, shun the parental-control apps and filters with which some parents control their children’s internet and social-media use. “No amount of monitoring is going to teach responsibility or judgment,” Mr. Aldrich says. “The kids have to learn to live in a world where that’s the reality.” Instead, he and his wife “focus on, how do we create an environment where Jackson has the chance to learn judgment, by participating in setting limits and creating boundaries for himself.”

Steven Aldrich, GoDaddy's chief product officer, says ‘No amount of monitoring is going to teach responsibility or judgment.’
Steven Aldrich, GoDaddy’s chief product officer, says ‘No amount of monitoring is going to teach responsibility or judgment.’ PHOTO: GODADDY

They started early, letting Jackson decide as a child, with parental coaching, how much candy to eat from the pantry. This has evolved to teaching him to finish a homework assignment before checking social media. Mrs. Aldrich sometimes asks Jackson to let her know when he takes breaks from homework, Jackson says, making him aware of whether he’s diverting his attention too often.

They’re helping him learn time management, such as scheduling homework, sports practice, dinner and sleep in advance so that social media doesn’t crowd them out. “We’ve seen it start to pay off in how he prepares for tests or projects,” Mr. Aldrich says.

He and his wife also encourage Jackson to think about everything he posts as part of his permanent personal brand, Mr. Aldrich says, asking him: “Think about what you might have chosen if you’d gotten a tattoo when you were 3? What if you got a Barney tattoo, and now you’re in middle school? Would you want to be walking around with a Barney tattoo?’”

They’ve used examples from Snapchat of mistakes other teens made in oversharing, and asked Jackson to imagine how the sender felt afterward.

Jackson, who uses Snapchat and Instagram and also has a YouTube channel of his own about videogames and soccer, says he has learned to ask himself before posting anything to consider how it might affect his image. “Would I want the principal, a future employer, my teachers to see this?” he says. “Once you post something, it will be out there forever.”

Keeping a Watchful Eye

The powerful allure social media holds for teens has led Michelle Dennedy to take a hands-on approach to monitoring its use by her two daughters, 11 and 16. “Once you hand that phone to your child, that is the beginning of a million micro-decisions for you as a parent, and for the child,” says Ms. Dennedy, chief privacy officer at Cisco Systems Inc., the San Jose, Calif., networking company.

 

She checks privacy settings every six months on all the apps she and her daughters use on their smartphones. If social media distracts them from homework, “the Wi-Fi goes off and the books come out,” Ms. Dennedy says.

She teaches them how marketers use free apps to get personal information. “Do you know the difference between free and paid music?” she recently asked her younger daughter. “What do you think an advertiser would want to know about 11-year-old kids?”

She refrains from making judgments about teens’ social-media habits. “Apparently if you don’t respond with a selfie fast enough, people get upset. I respect their culture. I can’t just say, ‘That’s dumb, these people are ridiculous,’ and walk away,” Ms. Dennedy says. Instead, she asks, “What is this doing to your self-esteem?’ And I have to be quiet and listen. It’s an ongoing struggle.”

She also requires her daughters to get permission before downloading apps. “Sometimes they’ll send me an app that is just ridiculous. My older daughter asked for a celebrity app, with a lot of pictures of body parts,” Ms. Dennedy says. “ I asked her, ‘Write me a memo about what this will do to improve your life, and then we’ll have a conversation.’ She wrote the memo, tongue-in-cheek, with a lot of eye-rolling, saying, ‘I like the Kardashians because they annoy my mom.’ She still didn’t get the app.”

Michelle Dennedy, chief privacy officer at Cisco Systems, checks privacy settings every six months on the apps she and her daughters use on their smartphones.
Michelle Dennedy, chief privacy officer at Cisco Systems, checks privacy settings every six months on the apps she and her daughters use on their smartphones. PHOTO: CISCO

She steps in when social media ignites too much teen drama. “One problem for my older daughter a couple of years ago was when friends were using FaceTime while doing homework,” she says. “Walking into her room, I’d see another student talking about how stressed out she was, how hopeless it was, how awful parents were to force them to get good grades.

“I had a long conversation with my daughter later: I know you want to help your friends, but some of these students may need professional help. And I ask her, is this helping you get the grades you could get and want to get?”

She encouraged her daughter to talk with her friend and tell her: “I’m worried that this conversation isn’t productive. What can we do about this?” Or, “My weirdo mother is going to call your weirdo mother. Maybe we should stop.” Ms. Dennedy does sometimes call other parents in such situations. “That can be an awkward conversation, but it’s one you have to try to have.”

Monitoring Closely

Eight-year-old Jack Arkin’s online activity so far is limited to watching children’s videos on YouTube and sending email. But his father, Brad, who is chief security officer for Adobe, the San Jose, Calif., cloud-software company, has already begun shaping his attitude toward social media.

Adobe’s chief security officer Brad Arkin says, ‘I try to teach my kids to understand the tech concepts behind what they’re doing.’
Adobe’s chief security officer Brad Arkin says, ‘I try to teach my kids to understand the tech concepts behind what they’re doing.’ PHOTO:ADOBE

Mr. Arkin and his wife, Carolyn, closely monitor everything Jack does online. They restrict screen time for Jack to 30 to 60 minutes on most days. They read Jack’s emails over his shoulder and stream his children’s videos on the family TV, setting YouTube on restricted mode and keeping an eye on content. “He gets zero privacy and zero expectations of privacy,” Mr. Arkin says.

Jack will probably get his first phone next year, but it will be an old-fashioned flip phone, so he and his parents can call or send texts while he’s walking to and from school.

Mr. Arkin doesn’t plan to rely on parental controls when Jack, and his two younger brothers, ages 6 and 3, eventually get smartphones. “At my day job as a security guy, I know that software controls can be circumvented by determined adversaries,” he says. Instead, “I try to teach my kids to understand the tech concepts behind what they’re doing.”

That includes the hidden hazards of social media: “If you post a photo, people can figure out where the picture was taken, and at what time,” Mr. Arkin tells his son. “When you think about posting something, the questions are, ‘What do you hope to achieve by publishing it? Why does this need to be viewable to the world?’”

“I’m doing my best,” Mr. Arkin says, “to make my kids savvy but not over-fearful.”

Write to Sue Shellenbarger at sue.shellenbarger@wsj.com

How to Manage Media in Families

Photo

CreditMary Ann Smith

Parents have a love-hate relationship with firsts. Some they like: the first smile, the first steps, the first sleeping through the night. Others they dread: the first flu, the first tantrum, the first broken bone. As children get older, the firsts become more nuanced, generating both joy in our children’s independence and fear of their slipping away: the first summer away, the first date, the first driver’s license.

But few firsts generate more ambivalence than the first cellphone.

On one hand, many parents welcome this milestone. Now they can keep track of their children when they’re out and notify the children if they’re running late. Also, parents gain leverage. One mother told me, “I’ve found the phone has given me newfound power as a parent, because I can take it away!”

On the other hand, children tend to disappear through the looking glass when they get their first phone. They become vulnerable to the dark side of the Internet, and once comfortable routines get upended. “We used to be a family before they got phones,” one father complained. “Now we’re never together.”

(This challenge has taken on new urgency in New York this month as children can now carry cellphones to city schools after Mayor Bill de Blasio lifted a ban that had been enforced by the Bloomberg administration.)

How should parents handle this transition? Some discuss freedom and responsibility, hand over the device, then respond as situations arise. But others try to do more, laying down a set of rules.

The Obamas, for example, said they did not give their daughters cellphones until they were 12, barred their use during weekdays, kept the girls off Facebook until 17 and gave them what the first lady deemed “days of lectures” on the dangers of talking to strangers. Janell Burley Hofmann, a mother in Massachusetts, wrote her 13-year-old son a letter when he got his first phone listing 18 edicts, including: “If it rings, answer it. It is a phone. Say hello, use your manners. Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad.’ Not ever.”

The Internet is bursting with dozens of multi-plank contracts for parents to execute with their children. As the father of tweens, I like this idea, but I’m also realistic enough to know that a three-page contract will be swiftly ignored and even it can’t keep up with the last parent-avoiding app. What I craved was a handful of overarching rules that could guide our interactions.

Yalda Uhls, a psychologist at Common Sense Media and the author of the forthcoming “Media Moms & Digital Dads,” said parents should set guidelines in advance: “I believe that when you first give your child something that gives them unlimited access to the Internet and their friends, it is important to make it clear that you own the device, you pay for it, and if there is any behavior that you feel is not true to your family values, you can take it away.”

Part of this deal is that you will respect their boundaries, she said, but you also have the right to join any social network they join, know their passwords and check their texts. This can create awkward situations, she said, like when her daughter mentioned on a friend’s Instagram page how funny it was when he shoplifted. “I was horrified,” Ms. Uhls said, “but I chose to focus on the impact on him. ‘This is a public forum,’ I said. ‘His parents will be seeing this.’ ” She removed the comment.

Though it seems as if children know everything about social media, Ms. Uhls said, actually they’re still learning. “They’re so focused on themselves and their friends,” she said, “they don’t understand that other people are watching.”

Step Away From Your Phone

Of the 10 contracts I examined, one item appeared most frequently: “Phones will be turned off and put away at certain times of the night.” Research backs this up. A study from the University of Basel found that teenagers who kept their smartphones on at night were more likely to watch videos, text and have poor sleep habits and higher depression. Lynn Schofield Clark, a professor at the University of Denver and the author of “The Parent App,” told me that setting physical limitations may be easier than enforcing time restrictions.

“When parents say, ‘You can use the phone only from this hour to this hour,’ it’s hard to manage,” she said. She recommends that all phones go in a box by the door when children enter the house, or all devices go in the center of the table during mealtimes, including at restaurants.

“Whatever rules you adopt,” she said, “make sure you put the chargers in a public place, so the phones have to be out of their possession at night.”

Read Every Text Twice

One role of parents is to explain that digital communication can easily be misconstrued. Ken Denmead, the publisher of GeekDad.com and the author of several books, said that he tells his teenage sons that text-based conversations have no emotional nuance unless you take the extra step to insert it. “You can use smileys and emoticons to add flavor to what you’re saying,” he said. “It’s also about word choice or adding #enthusiastic. The bottom line: Before you send a message, go back and read it without context. Consider if that exclamation point could be read as aggressive.”

The Grandmother Rule

Everyone agrees on the need to prevent children from sexting, bullying or posting something inappropriate. But how to convey that? One parent told me she requires her children to put potential posts on the refrigerator and get a majority vote from the family. Mr. Denmead tells his sons, “Always pretend you’re speaking in front of a crowd.”

Ms. Uhls recommended giving children a visual. “Think about your grandmother,” she said. “Think about the principal. Think about the most embarrassing adult in your life. Before you hit send, reflect on how that person would react.” My daughters independently suggested the same rule, and when I asked what the consequences should be for violating it, they said, “Actually show the post to Grandma!”

No Phones at Family Time

Everybody I spoke with had certain rules about family time. Ms. Uhls said: “When I was younger and took parenting classes, everybody said, ‘Just 10 minutes on the floor with the children.’ Now I say the same thing. ‘Just 10 minutes. No devices. That’s our time together.’ ”

In Mr. Denmead’s family, the first 20 minutes of every car ride are reserved for conversation. After that, devices can be plugged in. “I think we’re overly nostalgic for ‘spot the license plate,’ ” he said. “It’s just a substitute for abject boredom.”

Ms. Schofield Clark went so far as to add family time to the contract she wrote with her children. That item reads: “We will have weekly technology-free activities, like hiking, biking or walking the dogs. Occasionally, we will take technology-free retreats, like when fishing or camping.” The contract also includes weekly movie night, with the proviso, “When Mom watches horror or fantasy films, she’s not allowed to say, ‘Ewww,’ ‘Oh no!’ or ‘Gasp!’ ”

Do Unto Yourself

One surprising thing I heard about these agreements: They should include restrictions on the parents, who are the most egregious technology abusers of all. Ms. Schofield Clark’s daughter insisted on the clause, “When I have something to say, Mommy has to close the laptop and listen.”

Her son added a rule. Beginning when her children were young, Ms. Schofield Clark took their photo with Santa every Christmas. She forced them to do it when they were teenagers, then posted the photo on Facebook. Within seconds, her otherwise hibernating 14-year-old son came bolting from his bedroom. Their agreement now includes the plank, “If Mom wants to post a photo with a kid in it, she needs to ask.”

This story also holds perhaps the final lesson of managing media in families: No technology agreement can be written in stone. It needs to be revised with every new child, every new phase, every new device and every new app.

Your Phone vs. Your Heart

From The New York Times

 

CAN you remember the last time you were in a public space in America and didn’t notice that half the people around you were bent over a digital screen, thumbing a connection to somewhere else?

 

Kristian Hammerstad

 

Most of us are well aware of the convenience that instant electronic access provides. Less has been said about the costs. Research that my colleagues and I have just completed, to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, suggests that one measurable toll may be on our biological capacity to connect with other people.

Our ingrained habits change us. Neurons that fire together, wire together, neuroscientists like to say, reflecting the increasing evidence that experiences leave imprints on our neural pathways, a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Any habit molds the very structure of your brain in ways that strengthen your proclivity for that habit.

Plasticity, the propensity to be shaped by experience, isn’t limited to the brain. You already know that when you lead a sedentary life, your muscles atrophy to diminish your physical strength. What you may not know is that your habits of social connection also leave their own physical imprint on you.

How much time do you typically spend with others? And when you do, how connected and attuned to them do you feel? Your answers to these simple questions may well reveal your biological capacity to connect.

My research team and I conducted a longitudinal field experiment on the effects of learning skills for cultivating warmer interpersonal connections in daily life. Half the participants, chosen at random, attended a six-week workshop on an ancient mind-training practice known as metta, or “lovingkindness,” that teaches participants to develop more warmth and tenderness toward themselves and others.

We discovered that the meditators not only felt more upbeat and socially connected; but they also altered a key part of their cardiovascular system called vagal tone. Scientists used to think vagal tone was largely stable, like your height in adulthood. Our data show that this part of you is plastic, too, and altered by your social habits.

To appreciate why this matters, here’s a quick anatomy lesson. Your brain is tied to your heart by your vagus nerve. Subtle variations in your heart rate reveal the strength of this brain-heart connection, and as such, heart-rate variability provides an index of your vagal tone.

By and large, the higher your vagal tone the better. It means your body is better able to regulate the internal systems that keep you healthy, like your cardiovascular, glucose and immune responses.

Beyond these health effects, the behavioral neuroscientist Stephen Porges has shown that vagal tone is central to things like facial expressivity and the ability to tune in to the frequency of the human voice. By increasing people’s vagal tone, we increase their capacity for connection, friendship and empathy.

In short, the more attuned to others you become, the healthier you become, and vice versa. This mutual influence also explains how a lack of positive social contact diminishes people. Your heart’s capacity for friendship also obeys the biological law of “use it or lose it.” If you don’t regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you’ll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.

The human body — and thereby our human potential — is far more plastic or amenable to change than most of us realize. The new field of social genomics, made possible by the sequencing of the human genome, tells us that the ways our and our children’s genes are expressed at the cellular level is plastic, too, responsive to habitual experiences and actions.

Work in social genomics reveals that our personal histories of social connection or loneliness, for instance, alter how our genes are expressed within the cells of our immune system. New parents may need to worry less about genetic testing and more about how their own actions — like texting while breast-feeding or otherwise paying more attention to their phone than their child — leave life-limiting fingerprints on their and their children’s gene expression.

When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health.

If you don’t regularly exercise this capacity, it withers. Lucky for us, connecting with others does good and feels good, and opportunities to do so abound.

So the next time you see a friend, or a child, spending too much of their day facing a screen, extend a hand and invite him back to the world of real social encounters. You’ll not only build up his health and empathic skills, but yours as well. Friends don’t let friends lose their capacity for humanity.

Barbara L. Fredrickson is a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the author of “Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become.”

Millennials Would Rather Ditch Car Than Smartphone Or Computer

The Huffington Post  |  By  Posted: 03/01/2013

Millennials Car Ownership

Millennials would rather give up driving than their smartphone or laptop, a surveycommissioned by the car rental company Zipcar finds.

Every other age group in the survey said losing their car would have the greatest negative impact on their life, except millennials. Thirty percent of people ages 18 to 34 said giving up their mobile phone would have the greatest negative impact on their life — two to nearly three times higher than any other age group in the survey. A plurality of young adults, 35 percent, identified their computer as the piece of technology they couldn’t live without.

More than any other age group, millennials said they make a conscious attempt to reduce the amount of time they drive by carpooling, taking public transportation, riding a bike or walking, according to the study. Millennials were more likely to communicate with friends online than to see them in person, and more likely to order online than to drive somewhere to buy something.

Zipcar surveyed 1,015 adults in December 2012, 303 of them between the ages of 18 and 34. Sure, Zipcar has a stake in promoting the sharing of cars over car ownership, but plenty of statistics support their survey’s findings.

There’s been a significant drop in teens even bothering to get a driver’s license [PDF]since 1980, according to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute.

In 1985, 38 percent of all new cars were purchased by people age 21 to 34, but that fell to 27 percent in 2010, the Atlantic reported. Four out of five millennials said in the Zipcar survey that the high cost of gas, parking and maintenance has discouraged them from owning a car.

“What I have heard a lot is that the cost of getting licensed, purchasing, insuring, maintaining and fueling a car has become an impediment to use of a car. Prices have increased a fair bit since the mid 1980s for all facets of car ownership and operation,” UMTRI research professor Ray Bingham said in a 2011 publication of Research Review. “Cost pushes people to seek out transportation alternatives.”

Surveys of millennials by Ypulse found that young adults still like to drive, and still value the “freedom of the open road,” but that they are willing to give up owning a car because it “represents a huge responsibility.”

This may help explain why American car makers have turned to MTV for strategic advice on how to get more Generation Y customers, though so far their efforts have largely proven unsuccessful.

Children Use of Mobile Phones – Survey Results

To better understand the landscape for families and mobile phones, AT&T commissioned GfK for a national study with 1,000 parents and 500 children ages 8–17.

The study found that:

Kids start receiving mobile phones in grade school

  • Kids receive their first mobile phone, on average, at age 12.1.
  • Of the kids who have a mobile phone, 34% have a smartphone.

Mobile issues are very real for kids

  • More than half (53%) of kids report that they have ridden with someone who was texting and driving.
  • More than 1 in 5 kids (22%) say they’ve been bullied via a text message from another kid.
  • Almost half (46%) of kids ages 11–17 say they have a friend who has received a message or picture that their parents would not have liked because it was too sexual.

Kids are willing to accept rules

  • 90% of kids think it’s OK for parents to set rules on how kids can and cannot use the phone.
  • 66% of kids have rules at home about use of their phone; 92% of these kids think they are fair — and this is consistent across age groups and types of phone (i.e., mobile phone and smartphone).

… but aren’t necessarily getting them

  • Only 66% of kids say their parents have rules on how they can and cannot use their phone. Rules are much more common among younger kids.
  • 38% of kids say their parents have not talked to them about staying safe and secure when using the mobile phone.
  • 77% of kids age 8–11 and 74% of kids age 12–14 say they have rules, compared to only 58% of kids age 15–17.

Mobile phones are a kid’s go-to device

  • If kids had to choose one technology device for the rest of their lives, the majority say they would choose a mobile phone above all else — computer, television, tablet.
  • 75% of kids think their friends are addicted to phones.

Not all parents are using or are aware of the tools at their disposal

  • 62% of parents are concerned that they are not able to fully monitor everything their child is doing and seeing on the phone.
  • 2 out of 5 kids with a mobile phone say their parents have not talked to them about staying safe and secure when using the mobile phone.
  • 58% of parents say that their mobile phone provider offers tools or resources for parents to address issues like overages, safety, security and monitoring.

Parents’ Guide to Kids and Cell Phones

Parents’ Guide to Kids and Cell Phones

Everything You Need to Know Before You Buy Your Kid a Cell Phone.
 

These tips can help you:

  • Decide whether your kid is ready for a cell phone
  • Teach basic cell-phone safety
  • Explain responsible cell phone rules
  • Set limits

Advice & Answers

 

At some point, most of us decide that our kids are ready for a phone — so they can call when they get off the bus, need a ride, or just check in. That’s when you discover that it’s nearly impossible to find a phone with only the features you need — namely, the ability to receive and make phone calls.

Most phones — even basic models — are tiny handheld computers, with features that put a lot of power in little hands. Kids can take photos, text, access the Internet, watch YouTube, play games, download music … and even make calls.

Cell phones give kids access to the world in ways that you can’t predict. A little advanced preparation, including rules, guidance, and expectations, can go a long way toward protecting your kids.

What’s the right age to get my kid a cell phone?

Age isn’t as important as responsibility and maturity. If your kid can demonstrate both — by checking in with you at appointed times, following your rules, adhering to school guidelines, and handling the phone sensibly — then he or she may be ready. Here are a few questions to help you decide:

  • Do your children need to be in touch for safety reasons?
  • Would having easy access to friends benefit them for social reasons?
  • 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?

Can I “just say no” to cell phones?

It’s not a tragedy to be the only kid at school without a phone. But there are very few public phones anymore. If there’s an emergency and you need to reach your kid, you’ll be kicking yourself for not having gotten him one. Maybe you just don’t want to buy into a tech-obsessed, always-connected culture. You can still pass along your values by modeling the tech habits you want your kids to pick up — without missing that emergency call.

What are the basic safety rules for cell phones?

Basic safety skills are essential for kids’ safety and privacy. Here are the areas kids will need to be responsible for, plus some best practices.

  • Texting
  • Calling
    • Verify the caller or texter. Don’t respond to numbers you don’t know.
    • Answer the phone when it’s Mom or Dad. Make sure your kid knows to answer when it’s YOU calling!
  • Cameras
    • Ask permission. Before you snap someone’s picture, take a video, or forward something, ask if it’s OK.
    • Don’t publicly embarrass people. Don’t post someone’s photo — especially unflattering ones — from your cell phone without permission.
  • Apps and downloads
    • Manage costs. Make sure your kids understand that they’re spending real money when they download apps, games, and music.
    • Use filters. Check your phone for parental controls that let you filter out age-inappropriate content, restrict downloads, and prevent in-app purchases.
  • Posting
    • Be selective — not impulsive. Make sure kids know to be very selective about what they post from their cell phone.
    • Be safe. Explain why they shouldn’t use location services.

What should I do if someone “sexts” my kid?

This can happen — even accidentally! Tell your kid to delete the photo and block the number. And if someone asks your kids to send them a “sext,” make sure your kids say no and tells you if they’re being pressured.

My kid’s friend texted an embarrassing photo of her to friends. What should I do?

She learned the hard way that kids can use cell phones to humiliate others by forwarding texts, photos, and other things that were thought to be private. First, explain that this is a form of cyberbullying. Next, talk to the other kid’s parents — and show them the evidence. Don’t accuse — but do make sure that you’re all on the same page about what’s appropriate behavior. Make sure your kids don’t retaliate, but do make sure they’re standing up for themselves and have supportive friends who will also stand up to bullies. Also consider discussing the matter with your kid’s school — the bully may actually be acting out due to other problems.

Is there anything I can do about the spam my kid’s phone gets?

Cell phone spam (unsolicited bulk messages) is a growing problem — and if kids click on these ads, they may be unwittingly giving away information or opting into a service. Call your cell phone company to report the problem; they may ask you to forward the spam to a specific number. Then, block the caller, either by using your phone’s settings or going through your carrier.

Should I buy parental controls from my wireless carrier?

There are pros and cons to purchasing these services, which let you do everything from filtering inappropriate content to blocking phone purchases to locating your kid on a map. The main “con” is cost. Some of these features can be expensive, and you may be able to find cheaper alternatives through the phone’s built-in settings or through third-party apps. But on the “pro” side is need. While we like to think our kids will be completely responsible, some kids will resist your rules. If your kid is risking safety, privacy, and money, it might be worth looking into these services.

Are smartphones OK for kids?

Kids love smartphones. And why not? They can play games, access the Internet, video chat — and do lots of other advanced activities. If you’re going to spring for a smartphone, get one that allows you to turn off features you don’t want your kids using (like the ability to purchase apps) and keep the ones that you’re OK with (like texting).

How do I keep tabs on my kids’ cell phone use without seeming intrusive?

Some parents say, “If I’m paying for it, I’m entitled to read my kids’ texts, check their call log, and know who their buddies are.” That’s valid, but kids consider these devices to be as personal as diaries, so tread cautiously. Spot checks are a good idea. You know your kid best. If you sense something isn’t right, spot check more often. Explain that your rules are for their safety and protection and that you need to be able to make sure they’re using their devices appropriately.

My kid seems addicted to her phone. What do I do?

Experts have compared cell-phone dependency to gambling. Every text, email, and update is like a “hit” you begin to crave. Hopefully, you’re just dealing with a compulsive habit that you can manage by structuring your kids’ time. Schedule time for the phone to be on and off, schedule activities where the cell phone can’t be used, and look into programs that block the phone from being used. If you suspect the problem is true addiction, talk to your pediatrician.

 

Original article

Should Cell Phones Go to Camp?

Should Cell Phones Go to Camp?

by Regan McMahon | May. 30, 2012 |

When your kid’s summer camp tells you to just pack the essentials — swim suit, sunscreen, sleeping bag — a cell phone is usually not on the list. In fact, it’s generally on the “What Not to Bring” list. But for parents, staying in touch with our kids feels essential, and some find it’s not so easy to break the habit.

A couple of summers ago, we sent our daughter to a two-week sleep-away surf camp in San Diego with a group of girls from her school. A few weeks before departure, the girls’ parents got together and someone brought up the camp’s no-cell-phone policy. One mom told how the previous year she snuck one into her daughter’s duffel bag anyway and the girl got busted and had her phone confiscated. But the woman bragged that she was going to do it again this year.

Apart from sending a dubious message that it’s OK to break the rules, the mom didn’t seem to understand the reasoning behind the rule.

As explained on the camp website, experience has shown that phone calls from home intensify homesickness: “One of the valued outcomes of camp is learning independence. Calls home would detract from that important goal. In rare circumstances, due to behavior or severe homesickness, our staff will contact you.” The statement adds that “cell phones cannot be with campers for security and privacy reasons.”

The camp also forbids bringing other electronics, such as MP3 players and electronic games, explaining, “Camp provides children a chance to live without electronic devices.”

But if the kids can unplug, why can’t we? Since we can all admit the cell phone is more for us than for them (kids aren’t the only ones with camp jitters), here are some tried and tested tips from recovering camp moms. You will get through it.

  • Remind yourself why your kid is going to camp. You’ve sent your son or daughter off for a new experience, and for a reason. Having your kids spend time with their fellow campers rather than texting friends back home will ensure a more valuable camp experience.
  • Dear Mom, connect the old fashioned way. You may miss hearing your kid’s voice, but nothing beats a letter from your sleep-away camper telling you about new friends and new experiences at camp. And for your kid, nothing beats a letter from home with news of familiar places and people, filled with expressions of love and “We miss you.” For parents of day campers, you can hear all about your kid’s exciting day when you’re together again — on the ride home or at the family dinner.
  • Seeing is believing. If you mainly want assurance that your kid’s having a good time, you may be able to see for yourself if your camp posts camper photos daily online. Our camp did, through a service called Bunk1.com. Ask if your camp offers a similar service, or suggest that they do.
  • If you’re on the fence, check the rule book. You’ll usually find cell phones on the “What Not to Bring” list. Abide by the rules, and if your kid has a problem and needs to get in touch, the camp will facilitate a phone call. You can always call the camp office or ask to speak to your kid’s counselor to ease your mind.

Original article