I bought my sixth grader a cell phone a couple of months ago. She is a very good student, on the A-B honor roll every year, so I figured buying her a cell phone (adding her to my plan) was a good reward for her passing all of her Texas-mandated Taks tests this past year.
I also bought it in case of emergency. With a cell phone, she can always contact me or my wife at work, or one of her many aunts and uncles, should something come up.
Finally, she had been asking me for one. Her friends have cell phones. I gave in.
I sat her down and told her that with a cell phone comes responsibility. Not all kids are mature enough to handle it, but I believed my daughter could manage the responsibility with ease. I'm sure many of you parents have had the same talk with your daughters, at least giving them some of the basics: Don't answer calls from unknown numbers. Texting boys is not allowed. Always answer when a parent calls, and always reply when a parent sends a text or email. After all, if you give your children cell phones, they had better promptly reply when you contact them.
As it turns out, these kids are setting the world on fire with texting. For the first month my daughter racked up over 6,000 texts. Is that possible? I have not even come close to 6,000 texts in all the time I've had a cell phone, and I don't think I ever will. I started asking myself: who is she texting? What can they be texting about?
I want to believe that middle school kids are mostly texting about harmless things: the latest Twilight or Harry Potter movie, TV shows like Hannah Montana, or the latest Jonas Brothers song. But I'm not sure. I have witnessed my two older daughters texting each other while in the same room! They can't talk? They have to text each other? I have not received my cell phone bill this month but I expect my daughter will top 7,000 texts for the month of July.
OK. So how am I going to decrease, and monitor, my daughter's texting? Good question. My cell phone carrier offers parental controls to monitor not only the minutes used but also who can text my daughter. A parent can go on the carrier's website and block unwanted incoming text messages from selected phone numbers. This puts the parent at least partly in the driver's seat when it comes to controlling a child's cell phone use. Why not use this feature? It's free and it will probably save a parent some heartache.
As part of the process, of course, parents need to actually go through their child's cell phone records, including going through the texts. I try to do this at least once a week. I also try to familiarize myself with the latest texting shortcuts that kids are using.
I knew right off the bat that I did not want my daughter to have picture mail or the Internet on her phone. I have read so many horror stories about teens sending nude pictures to each other. But after a month of getting used to her cell phone, my daughter asked me if I could "fix" her picture mail. But, while I would trust my daughter with it, I'm not sure I trust some of the kids at her junior high.
Parents should also disable the Internet from their teen's cell phones. Why would a teenager really need the Internet on her phone? If my daughter needs the Internet she can come home and use it on the home computer where I can monitor.