Protecting our kids can be a full-time job. And though parenting methods are much different today than they were 20 or 30 years ago when instant-access technology wasn’t so abundant, parents still have plenty of obstacles to face. On one hand, you have the computer; and though it can be tough, there are plenty of precautionary measures, software programs, and other privacy safeguards that can make the job a little bit easier and potentially give you some peace of mind. And on the other hand, you have cell phones; a technology that has probably evolved more in the last 10 years than any other mainstream piece of hardware—and arguably one that parents and lawmakers have struggled with controlling the most.
I recently wrote a blog about sexting laws in which I briefly highlighted the inconsistency and scrutiny that the laws were facing state-to-state. And I ended the blog with a call to action to parents. The call to action was a reminder that despite the law, every parent needs to do their part to protect their children when it comes to sexting. So I thought it was only proper to share a possible solution that parents can take advantage of now.
The Wall Street Journal’s Roger Cheng recently wrote about a few different cell-phone safety solutions. The great thing about his recommendations was that they cover a variety of issues that parents face when it comes to their kids’ phones—everything from using a home software application to prevent texting while driving, to spotting cyberbullying texts by alerting parents as soon as it happens.
Kid Phone Advocate
The first solution originates from a mother’s story that is very similar to mine. Sharon Hamilton decided to take action when she discovered that her 15-year-old son had been exchanging inappropriate text message with someone he had met on World of Warcraft. Sharon turned to her wireless carrier and the police to try and get some help, but she soon faced the harsh reality that there wasn’t anything that she could really do to track that person down. As a result, Sharon created Parents Are Listening Services Inc., which developed a software program called Kid Phone Advocate. Kid Phone Advocate allows parents to monitor the content coming to their child’s cell phone by treating the incoming text messages as images and scanning them for any evidence of lewd or harmful messages. If such messages are found, parents are sent an alert via their cell phone or home computer.
Though WebSafety’s new CellSafety software program has only been on the market for five months, it’s already causing a lot of buzz among parents and safety advocates. The software’s unique library of 6,000 phrases is capable of monitoring text messages, emails, instant messages, and social-network updates, and then sending alerts (similar to Kid Phone Advocate) to parents whenever there’s any instance of risky behavior.
Additionally, CellSafety incorporates a GPS system that allows parents to set up “no-text zones”, such as school grounds. As Cheng pointed out in his article, this has the potential to prevent kids from texting in class, cheating on tests, or sending or receiving cyberbullying text messages. Surprisingly, this GPS tracking system also allows parents to disable their child’s cell phone when they are in a vehicle that is moving at more than 10 mph! As you can imagine, this would prevent kids from texting while driving—a problem that, according to WebSafety, is 40% more dangerous than drinking and driving as 70% of people admit to texting while driving.
As the article in WSJ makes clear, the one drawback that works against both of these software programs is that they require phones with a data plan. And though kids who are already driving most likely have data plans on their cell phones, a lot of first-time cell phone kids just have basic phone services like calling and texting. Additionally, CellSafety doesn’t work on iPhones, which comes as a huge disadvantage given the popularity of the phone among tweens and teens.
With all that said—and despite the minor disadvantages of these programs—they’re both totally worth checking out if you’re at all concerned about your child’s cell phone usage. And just to come full circle, let me remind you that education and communication with your child is always at the forefront when it comes to protecting your child from any form of digital abuse. Really useful pieces of software like Kid Phone Advocate and CellSafety always need to be treated as backup.