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.
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.
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.
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.