Your kid wants a cell phone? OMG!

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

The Pickerington mom said her daughter, who received a cell phone for Christmas, is very responsible with her phone: she keeps it in a protective case and puts it on vibrate mode if needed.

When deciding whether your tween or teen is ready for a cell phone, consider how responsible he or she is, said Westerville police officer Randy Bailey. "Are they doing well in school?" Bailey said. "Do they follow the home rules? Are they good kids? And if they are, there comes a point when you have to trust them. You have to depend on them to make good decisions."

Parents should discuss cell phone etiquette and lay some ground rules before giving their kids cell phones. Here are a few suggestions from Officer Bailey:

Don't text while driving, don't leave your phone out where somebody could take it, don't respond to texts from people you don't know and don't let anyone else use the phone unless you've dialed the number for them. And only give your phone number to people you know and trust.

Bailey said parents should program several phone numbers into their kids' phones: 9-1-1, the local police department's non-emergency phone number, and an "in case of emergency," or "I.C.E.," phone number.

When it comes to phones and features, the choices can seem endless. Determine what you can afford, shop online and visit a few stores. John Adams, a Sprint spokesperson, said teens like colorful phones and features such as one-touch text messaging. Family plans are often more economical than going with a separate wireless plan for each family member's phone, said AT&T spokesperson Chris Bauer. Prepaid wireless service also is an option.

As for phones specifically for children, Verizon Wireless spokesperson Laura Merritt said Verizon launched a device with limited keys that were programmed to dial specific phone numbers several years ago. It was phased out. "It was very popular with the really young kids, but by the time they were in that 11- to 12-year-old stage, it wasn't cool enough," Merritt said. "They wanted what the older kids, or what Mom or Dad, were carrying."

AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless offer family wireless phone plans as well as some form of parental control options and family member locator services (GPS technology). Some of these are free and some cost an additional $5-10 per month. With these kinds of features, parents can restrict the time of day a cell phone is used, block phone numbers from calling that phone and even get alerts by text message or e-mail when a child arrives home from school.

Parents should consider whether they want unlimited texting. More than 50 billion texts were sent or received on the Verizon Wireless network in October 2009, according to Merritt. She suggests talking with your child about expectations for cell phone use - yours and theirs.

Jim Fischer of Ostrander said his 12-year-old daughter realizes that she needs to let her parents know where she is and be reachable on her cell phone. "We look at the phone every so often to make sure we know who the texts are going to and coming from," Fischer said. "We made her save all the numbers in the memory and give each one a name, so we knew who they were without having to ask."

For some, cell phones for tweens and teens are seen as a necessity; others view them as a privilege. Tracy Miller said cell phones help her kids - ages 15, 13 and 11 - learn responsibility. The Galloway mom said they need to do things like use their phones appropriately and keep up with their school work, or else their phones will be confiscated.

For Robin Nevin, a cell phone for her 8-year-old daughter is a nicety. Nevin, of Pickerington, said her daughter's phone line was added to her mother-in-law's plan in Arizona for $10 per month. She said her daughter uses it to text out-of-state family members. "I love that she knows the 9-1-1 feature," Nevin said. "That's my favorite thing."

Nevin said she also likes that her daughter keeps in touch with family members she doesn't get to see frequently anymore. "It's kind of funny to think that they're staying in touch better because of the phone," Nevin said. "You wouldn't think a 7- or 8-year-old would need a phone for better communication."

The Wireless Foundation's website offers a family cell phone agreement.

Smart socializing. Use the same good sense about what you post from your phone as you would from a computer. Once they're posted, text, photos and video are tough to take back, can be copied and pasted elsewhere, and are up there pretty much forever. Think about the people in them (including you!). Reputations are at stake, and even more if nudity or sex is involved.

Bullying by phone. Because people socialize on cellphones as much as online, cyber-bullying can be mobile too. Treat people on phones and the web the way you would in person, and the risk of being bullied goes down.

Sexting. It's the same on phones as on the web - do not take, send, post or even store on your phone nude photos of anyone under 18. You could be charged with production, distribution, or possession of child pornography - a serious crime. You could also be subjected to jokes, bullying, blackmail, expulsion from school, loss of a job, etc. and the images can circulate forever.

The value of "presence." If you do a lot of texting, consider the impact that being "elsewhere" might be having on the people around you. Your presence during meals, at parties, in the car, etc., is not only polite, it's a sign of respect and appreciation.

Down time is good. Constant texting and talking can affect sleep, concentration, school and other things that deserve your thought and focus. Real friends understand there are times you just need to turn off the phone - harassment can happen between midnight and morning too.

Social mapping. Most cellphones now have GPS technology and there are a growing number of services that allow friends to pinpoint each other's physical location. If you use such a service, do so only with friends you know in person, and get to know the service's privacy features.

Elizabeth Seufer lives in Canal Winchester with her husband and two children.