Cell Phone
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Kids and mobile: Mayhem or must-have?

By Staci Perkins

That's a question most parents ask themselves at least once a week. Is all the fighting over your daughter's excess texting worth being able to reach her at any given moment? Are the prices of your son's cell phone apps a small price to pay for being able to text him that it's time for dinner?

Ultimately, it's up to each family's budget and patience level. But there are tools available to help control the crazy – whether you're dealing with a sixth-grader or a 17-year-old.

Control the chaos: Usage controls

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Most of us know about family plans — multiple numbers on the same service plan – usually with free mobile to mobile texting and calling. But most mobile service providers have a whole menu of usage controls, including time restrictions, user locators, content filters and download blockers. Although these plan "add-ons" usually cost a small fee in addition to normal monthly plan costs, it may be well worth it to have peace of mind.

Time restrictions: If you had to pick one control to potentially end arguments with your cell-wielding kids, this would be the one. First, create an online account with your service provider. Log in and select the mobile number you wish to access. Then, simply block off the times you don't want your kids to use their phones. Restrictions also can be broken down by day, allowing you to adjust times by school night or weekend. Or maybe even a tech-free family day.

Time-saving Tip: Did you know that you can monitor your child's mobile phone using SafetyWeb's cell phone monitoring feature? Know who is calling and texting your child and what times of day your child is using their mobile phone. Is your child texting excessively in the middle of the school day? Is someone calling your child in the middle of the night without your knowledge? Find out easily with automated parental alerts for mobile phones.

Usage allowances: Avoid the "you talked for how many minutes last month?!" argument by setting limits on the total amount of time your kids can talk on their phones. Because most monthly plans include a finite number of minutes, allowing your child a specific allotment means you won't go over your target.

Another handy filter that comes with the usage allowance is number blocking. If your child is being bullied over his or her cell phone, or you simply want to block the number of someone, just enter the number online and it's done. Both phone calls and messages will be restricted.

Conversely, add "trusted numbers" and those numbers will be able to talk or text to your child at any time – regardless of any restrictions. Kind of nice if your daughter decides to call you at 2 a.m. to come home from her sleepover.

Time-saving Tip: Did you know that SafetyWeb lets you view mobile usage patterns and know who your child connects with most frequently on their mobile phone? Rather than reading every single detail on your mobile phone bill, view your child's mobile activity online to know how many calls and text messages your child is sending and receiving on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. If your child is receiving excessive calls or texts on their mobile from a number that you do not recognize, you might want to talk with them about whether they are being cyberbullied on their mobile phone ('mobile phone harassment').

Content filters: Avoid the dozens of potential calls to 411 or costly web surfing by blocking any usage that includes additional charges to your plan. Many downloadable applications such as games and GPS services have additional monthly fees that come with them. And calling 411 for those unknown numbers can really add up. If you do allow downloads, filters are available by an application's rating: suitable for age 7 and up, 13 and up, and 17 and up.

Family locators: Know where your kids are from the comfort of your own home – anytime, day or night. Get alarms to let you know if your son or daughter has gone outside a pre-defined location, such as school or a friend's house. You can even set up specific times that you want the locator to verify the location of your child. If you think this is a little bit Big Brother, you're probably right. But it can give parents a sense of control in this digital age that can be pretty ambiguous and overwhelming.

The bigger picture: Sexting

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If you have tweens and teens and you don't know about sexting — sending sexually explicit messages or photographs via cell phone – learn about it now. Sexting can lead to serious consequences that go way beyond the embarrassment of getting caught by parents.

Kids can feel empowered to say or do things over a cell phone or the internet that they would never dream of saying or doing face-to-face. Sadly, such behavior has led to recipients (and sometimes, even the sender) feeling guilty, worthless and even suicidal. Several stories in the news lately tell the horrible stories of teens taking their own lives after being teased until they simply couldn't take it anymore.

Over the past couple of years, more and more states have introduced legislation about sexting. In New York, Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski (D-Rockland) introduced a bill that will create an affirmative defense where a minor is charged under child pornography laws if he or she possesses or distribute a picture of his or herself; or if he or she possess or distributes the image of another minor (within four year's of their age) with their consent. The affirmative defense will not be available if the conduct was done without consent. It also creates an educational outreach program for teens that promotes awareness about the dangers of sexting.[1]

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a project of the Pew Research Center, focus group findings show that sexting occurs most often in one of three scenarios:

1. Exchanges of images solely between two romantic partners
2. Exchanges between partners that are then shared outside the relationship
3. Exchanges between people who are not yet in a relationship, but where often one person hopes to be.

The report also reveals that teens who are more intense users of cell phones are more likely to receive sexually suggestive images. According to the Pew Project, to these teens, the phone has become such an important conduit for communication and content of all kinds that turning it off is nearly unthinkable.

So, what's the role of parents here? The Pew Project notes that one younger high school boy said that he never sends or receives sexually suggestive images via text because "my mom goes through my phone." Still another high school boy described how he password protected images to keep others from viewing them. He told us that he "get(s) text picture messages from girls because they like me. The picture would have nudity, but I put those on security for my phone." On the Pew Internet telephone sur­vey, teens whose parents said they looked at the contents of their child's cell phone were no more or less likely to send or receive nude or nearly nude images on their phones.

One parental intervention that may relate to a lower likelihood of sending sexually suggestive im­ages was parental restriction of text messaging. Teens who sent sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images were less likely to have parents who reported limiting the number of texts or other messages the teen could send. Just 9% of teens who sent sexy images by text had parents who re­stricted the number of texts or other messages they could send; 28% of teens who didn't send these texts had parents who limited their child's texting.

Now what?

All you want to do is have a way to talk to your child while he or she is away from home. Suddenly all the complications and risks are before you. How in the world can we, as parents, rise above the noise? At the risk of sounding cliché – talk to your kids. Talking to your children is the number one prevention mechanism against risky behavior. They may not seem like they're listening, but they are. And if you really want to be sure you break through, send them a text.

Clueless in cellville? Here are some popular texting acronyms (word shortcuts) used by teens and tweens:

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AFK: Away from keyboard

AWHFY: Are we having fun yet?

B4N: Bye for now

BC: Because

BBL: Be back later

BF: Boyfriend

BRB: Be right back

CD9: Code 9 parents are around

CTS: Changing the subject

CWYL: Chat with you later

EG: Evil grin

F/F: Face to face

FOAF: Friend of a friend

FOFL: Falling on the floor laughing

FYEO: For your eyes only

G2B: Going to bed

GF: Girlfriend

GNOC: Get naked on cam (webcam)

H8: Hate

HAK: Hugs and kisses

HH: Holding hands

HMWK: Homework

HSWM: Have sex with me

IAG: It's all good OR I am gay

IBN: I'm buck naked

IDK: I don't know

IHU: I hate you

IS: I'm sorry

J/K: Just kidding

KHYF: Know how you feel

KPC: Keeping parents clueless

L8R: Later

LAM: Leave a message

LMAO: Laughing my @** off

LMIRL: Let's meet in real life

LOL: Laughing out loud

LTR: Long term relationship

MB: Maybe

MILF: Mother I'd like to f***

NIFOC: Nude in front of computer

OH: Overheard

OLL: Online love

OMG: Oh my God/gosh/goodness

OTP: On the phone

P911: Parent emergency

PAW: Parents are watching

PM: Private message

POS: Parent over shoulder

QSL: Reply

QSO: Conversation

ROFL: Rolling on floor laughing

SH: So hot OR same here

STW: Search the web

Sugarpic: Suggestive picture of self

TAW: Teachers are watching

THX: Thanks

TTFN: Ta ta for now

TTYL: Talk to you later

Umfriend: Intimate partner

WE: Whatever

WTGP: Want to go private?

WYRN: What's your real name?

YBS: You'll be sorry

143: I love you

420 4life: Marijuana

53x: Sex

*K*: Kiss

*H*: Hug

*G*: Grin