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An Easy Way to Introduce and Teach Your Children Responsible Texting

| August 31, 2011 | Comments (25)
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Update 1/23/2013: The Text Free application now allows for picture messaging. I recommend that parents keep a close look at the content of their children’s texts just to make sure they’re talking about age-appropriate content.

At what age is it OK for your child to have a cell phone?  Better yet, a smartphone? If your children are like my elementary and middle-school age children, what they really just want to be able to do is text their friends.

Deciding when to give your child a cell phone really comes down to your parenting style and your assessment of your child’s ability to use the technology responsibly. As well, when making this decision, it’s important to define their need for a smartphone (a school safety issue or they are alone outside the house at sporting events, etc).

I haven’t taken the cell-phone-texting plunge just yet. My daughter waited until her 13th birthday for her first phone. My 12 and 10-year-old boys have been consistently campaigning for a phone, which is normal, I know, but not so they can call their friends mind you, but to text them.

While we consistently talk about responsible technology use at home, and I believe in making it easy to help our kids follow our rules through clear guidelines and consequences, I really was looking forward to delaying their foray into texting….just a bit longer.  My kids know that in order to text or have a phone there will be rules and consequences and that communication will be monitored. They accept that and understand that those are our family rules. That said, kids are kids and they’re going to make mistakes. That’s why it’s important we have the opportunity to:

  • be involved in our kids’ texting and cell phone usage
  • teach them how to text responsibly
  • teach them to proactively tell their friends not to text them anything they know is wrong
  • talk to them about sexting and the consequences that can follow
  • monitor their usage and messages

As I mentioned in the “How to Have a Safe iPod Touch and Happy Kid” article, my kids were interested in smart devices for one reason: the games and music. For that specific reason, I gave them an iPod Touch, and, as you know, I safety enabled the device as much as possible.  Since I’m not ready to invest in cell phones for them just yet, I decided it was time to provide the texting they wanted. So I did some research into texting apps for the iPod Touch, and I am very excited to share what I’ve found to be a great solution.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of choices out there, but a definite “must have” feature for me was some sort of parental monitoring component. The one I ended up going with was an app called Textfree with Voice by Pinger, Inc. Check out the guide below to see how you can safely set it up for them and monitor their usage.

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My advice is to set this up without getting your kid(s) involved. I say that because, in order to monitor their texting, you’ll set up a username and password when you download the app, and this username and password will be used to access the website where you do the monitoring.

Step 1:  With all of that said, the first thing you’ll want to do is take your child’s iPod Touch and download Textfree with Voice in the App Store. You’ll notice that it’s free, which is always nice.


Step 2:  Once the app is downloaded, go ahead and launch it. The first thing you’ll be asked to do is set up your account.

Now, though your child will be using this app for texting, it’s important that you use YOUR information here. More importantly, the email address and password that you use here will be directly linked to the website where you monitor their texts.

You’ll also notice that they require users to be 13. This is due to the fact that Pinger (the app developers) place advertisements in the texting conversations (not very intrusive from what I’ve seen). So before you hand the iPod Touch back to your son or daughter, talk to them about clicking ads. It’s always good practice not to click ads, regardless of when and where they appear.

NOTE: You can choose to purchase their “Hide Ads” option for $5.99/year via the Options Menu (more below).

Step 3:  Once you’ve created your account, you’ll immediately be asked if Textfree can use your current location. For your child’s privacy, I highly recommend that you select “Don’t allow”. Read why.

Step 4:  At this point, Textfree will want to assign your child a “texting phone number”. This is why they ask you for your zip code. It allows them to create a number that has a corresponding area code in it. I recommend that you use a zip code of a nearby city instead of the exact city you live in.

Settings: Once you’ve selected the phone number, you’ll be on the main screen where you can text and, if you have a iPod Touch 4, make phone calls. Click on the little gear icon in the top right corner to get to the Settings page. A couple of things you show be aware of:

1. Your child’s account will have 10 free talking minutes. These can only be used if the app is on a device that can make phone calls (iPod 4). Adding minutes is directly tied to the credit card you have on file with iTunes.

2. There’s a lot of Facebook integration with this app, like the ability to “tell your friends your number” and “Facebook chat”. These only work if your child is already on Facebook, but nevertheless, talk to them about using these features safely, if at all.

Step 5:  Now that the app is all set up, check your inbox and verify your email address by clicking the link they provide.

Step 6:  Then, head on over to http://www.pinger.com/textfree/ and log in with the same username and password you chose during set up. I recommend bookmarking this webpage so you can access it quickly in the future.

This is where you can see every single text (and photo), sent and received. You can also see the phone number associated with a specific text. In addition, if your child deletes a text in the app itself, you can still see it on the web dashboard. The dashboard will look something like this.


Once you’ve familiarized yourself with this dashboard, you can feel at ease handing your kid back his iPod Touch, knowing that you can see every text he/she sends at your own convenience.

Step 7:  Finally, sit down with your son and daughter. Share with them the great news that they now can text their friends. Remind your child to be proactive with their friends by letting their friends know not to text to them anything they shouldn’t. Also, remind them that you’ll be watching over their texts helping to insure the technology is used responsibly.

I found this app to be really helpful with my kids, and I hope you do, too. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any more insight into this app, or others like it.

 

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Category: Mobile Safety, Recommended Products, Reviews, Sexting, Tutorials

Comments (25)

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  1. Justin Noel says:

    Thanks for a great article Mark Kay. For younger kids, I’d like to suggest parents try out Kids In Touch. It’s a family friendly texting app that allows young kids to text with their friends and family. Kids In Touch allows parents to manage whom their kids can text with. Parents can easily review all of their child’s interaction via texting.

    I hope parents will use it as a training tool to ensure their children are ready for the real world later in life.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Help! I downloaded the app on my daughters iPod but I can’t see the dash board or even figure out how to bring it up on my iPad.

  3. Shannon says:

    HELP!!! I’ve promised a texting app to my 12 yr old son, BUT I want one I can back up. You said I could see messages even if they were deleted on the web dashboard. Text Free is deleting in the web browser as soon as I delete in the android application. Is there any way to back up web based texting???

    • Tyler says:

      Hey Shannon, Did you ever get a reply? I am curious about how to backup texts I’ve sent and received using the Pinger app to my pc! I’d greatly appreciate any feedback.

      Thanks!

  4. Marty says:

    Loved this article but I set up my daughter with this on her new ipod. Not even 2 hours later, she got a random text from someone unknown. My daughter hadn’t even been told her account info, let alone given it out. It’s really scary how quickly this info is shared and/or found. Any other ideas on a more secure option?
    Thanks again!

  5. Sheryl says:

    I just set this up, but the deleted texts do not show up on the dashboard.

  6. Mark Jordan says:

    One issue that you will need to be aware of… when signing up, you will need to indicate a registration phone number other than the phone number being selected for TextFree. If you select one of the parents’ mobile number, the textFree account will not be able to text that phone as TextFree will think that the mobile number is part of the TextFree account. I initially did this for my son, using my mobile number as the registration phone number; I was not able to receive any texts from my Son because of this.

    You can use you home’s land-line phone for the registration phone number. However, be aware that you can only have 1 TextFree account setup per registration phone number. Hence, if you have more than 1 iPod in the home, you cannot register your home land line number to both of TextFree accounts for the respective iPods.

    Having more than 1 TextFree account in the family at the same time seems to be problematic.

  7. Kristin says:

    Unfortunately, I downloaded this Pinger app, and within three days, my daughter received a sexually explicit picture within a text message citing white-on-black anal sex, and how “gay” it was. I am appalled given that this app was recommended by an “internet safety” expert, and would highly recommend that no parents download this app until your child is of an age, greater than 13, where they could handle this kind of text message. Per the sender, Pinger text/phone numbers are EASILY shared.

    • Mary Kay says:

      Dear Kristin:

      We used this app for over a year personally, and the editorial team at Yoursphere For Parents tested the app on many occasions. We never experienced what your child did. It sounds to us like they must have been sent the porn from a friend they gave their number to because my son only received texts from those friends he had given his texting app number out to.

      If any other parents experienced what Kristin did, please let us know.

      Mary Kay

      • Monica says:

        I ended up uninstalling this application from my 10yr daughters droid and ended up getting textplus because of the number of inappropriate adds and banners. We had more success with textplus and their is a section to keep it private so no one can search for her. I dont think pinger textfree is appropriate for tweens.

      • Concerned says:

        We removed this app from our iPod touch because there were unknown texts coming through. Although not graphic in nature, still from unknown senders…..will be looking for another texting option.

  8. Gray says:

    Can you turn off the phone feature? I do not want my daughter using her ipod touch for phone calls. Thank you.

  9. Maile says:

    First – I want to thank you for this. I have spent many hours researching trying to find a texting app that I can monitor. I initially went to a watchdog program as my daughter DOES have a cell phone ( that I have turned off all texting completely from), and she wants so badly to be able to text.

    Second, one of the first things I found is that there must be and area code in the contacts for the i pod – her i pod automatically downloaded her contact list, sans area codes and the test text I sent to myself did not work. All I had to do was add area codes.

    Third – I am having issues getting deleted texts to show up on the webpage – am I doing something wrong?

    THANK YOU!!

    • Maile says:

      I forgot to add that, while the mediawatchdog program was a very highly rated program and looked awesome – it could only be used with smartphones (and all of them seem to be this way) – I wasn’t about to buy my daughter a smartphone just so she could text!!! :/

  10. Denise says:

    Does this app allow you to set up a contact list of people they are allowed to text? Additionally, can you require parental permission to receive texts not in the approved contact list?

    • Mary Kay says:

      Hi Denise,

      No, it does not. This app, in my experience, is just a good way to introduce your child to texting without having to jump into an expensive service plan.

      Once your child has demonstrated their responsibility (as mine did), he/she can graduate to a service plan with a family safety solution married to it. For example, I added on the “smart limit” feature that AT&T offers. There, I could set up the guidelines that I believe would provide the oversight you’re looking for. I know it made it easier for my children to follow the rules.

  11. Jennifer says:

    Can my child receive and send texts to her friends that have a different app?

    • Mary Kay says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      Great question. Since TextFree assigns each user a “phone number”, your child can only text her friends who have a phone number, either through the texting app they’re using or through their wireless provider. Without that, there’s no way to connect the two users. I hope that answers your question!

      Best,
      Mary Kay

  12. Jennifer says:

    Can my child receive and send texts to her friends that have a different texting app? Thank you for all your info and research. It is highly appreciative.

  13. parent says:

    thank you so much, your post was very helpful!

  14. Mary Kay says:

    Caroll:
    That happened to another reader of ours once as well.
    What helped them was to go back through the instructions here one more time and repeat them step by step to assure nothing was missed.
    Give that a try if you could!
    Mary Kay

  15. Caroll says:

    I followed your instructions above, but when I logged in to the Pinger website I couldn’t find a dashboard. Please help.

  16. Mike says:

    Thanks. Our daughter came to us last night specifically requesting this app, now I know it’s OK for her to use in the way you describe.

  17. I love this idea. It is a great way to introduce your kids to mobile devices without the cost involved with a cell phone. And it is best to introduce them while they are young enough for you to teach them about safety and guide them.

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