by Daniel Neal

The Kaiser Family Foundation recently released a study that reviewed kid’s media use – excluding cell phone texting and talking – and found that kids 8-18 are using media an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day.  The study found that texting adds another 1 hour and 35 minutes per day.  The study also found that high media use is correlated with lower personal satisfaction and lower grades. Parents are rightly concerned.

A major challenge in the world of cell phones has been bearing down on us for several years. And now it’s here. Extremely powerful mobile devices – small computers, really – are now in the hands of our children for large parts of the day, creating all kinds of questions, problems and conflicts. With two ‘mobile kids’ of my own, I live with the challenge of making sure my children make the best possible use of their powerful mobile devices – and avoid the pitfalls.

As a parent, I do not believe that ‘every child has to have a cell phone.’ Though I know that virtually every child wants one, the decision is a child’s parents to make. Still, the Kaiser Family Foundation study finds that 66% of 8 – 18 year olds now have cell phones. And the number is steadily growing. It’s our view that, within 5 years, nearly every child above the age of 10 (and probably younger), will carry around what we’d today call a Smartphone.

Parents are getting their children cell phones for safety, to improve family logistics, to help their kids connect with friends, and to keep the family in closer touch. (My kids and I love texting each other when I’m traveling for work.) All good reasons. And soon, cell phones will be integrated into more school activities and processes.

Yet, despite the benefits, parents want to find ways to make sure cell phone use doesn’t distract their kids from school, homework, and sleep. And they want to shield their children from dangers such as sexting; texting while driving; being harassed, tracked or worse by strangers; and bullying, much of which is now conducted online or via cell phone. (I was just at my daughter’s middle school orientation last week, and this was the most talked-about topic.)

At kajeet, seeing that cell phones were in the cards for most kids, we set out to be part of the solution. From our earliest beginnings, we’ve thought about our service as a kind of “kitchen table,” a place where parents and their children can negotiate the right boundaries and limits, which, as we know, change with time and circumstances. By building kajeet with a powerful suite of monitoring, alert, control and budgeting features, we’ve put the power of managing the challenges, risks and potential dangers directly in the hands of families.

Now, without even signing up to a contract (parents insisted on that point), families can manage their kids’ service via the easy-to-use kajeet parental controls. Just by logging in to our Web site, parents can ensure that the talk they had with their child is put into practice: who they can text and call, when, what features of their phone they can use, who pays for what. Plus, parents can monitor the phone’s activity, track their child’s phone, and even get alerts telling them where the phone is at set times. (For example, I get e-mail alerts each morning that tell me whether my kids have arrived at school, and, in the afternoon, telling me whether or not they’ve made it home. That works for me.)

But the actual conversation between parent and child is really the most important thing. Our technology supports and implements what comes from that conversation. So, we asked ourselves how we might contribute more to those conversations, beyond simply providing affordable and easy-to-use technology to manage and monitor your child’s cell phone.

After talking with many kajeet families, we have come up with a set of guidelines that families can review before giving their child a cell phone in order to avoid the common pitfalls many families encounter:

  1. Establish a contract covering the rules of use before giving your child his or her first cell phone. Cover “who, where, and how much” cell phone use is appropriate.    (Here’s a sample contract you can tailor to meet your own family’s needs.)
  2. Agree to put the cell phone in a central recharging area at night, in a powered down condition. (And, to be green, unplug the charger when it’s not in use.
  3. Discuss and reach agreement on appropriate cell phone etiquette (including use of phones during meals, at restaurants, and in public areas)
  4. Discuss the appropriate use of picture messaging and the hazards of inappropriate use. (Yes, we’re talking about sexting here.)
  5. Get an iron-clad commitment that the phone will not be used when driving. Discuss what your child should do if in a car with a driver who is texting.
  6. Review the rules of cell phones at school, and reach agreement that all school rules regarding cell phone use will be followed.
  7. Establish a budget and identify who will pay for use of the cell phone.
  8. Review the consequences if the agreed-upon rules of use are broken.

Many kajeet parents find it useful to periodically review the detailed account activity with their child to make sure that the phone is being used appropriately.

This may seem like good ol’ common sense. Good. But we parents are busy people, and it’s important to find the small amount of time it takes to set the ground rules for kids’ use of cell phones. That’s just as important as experiencing the excitement of giving the phone as a gift, or sending your child off to school or camp.

At kajeet, we’ve committed ourselves to helping families have better conversations, better tools to control that small computer their kids are toting, and a simple dashboard that allows for effective monitoring of their child’s communications.

But regardless of who you’ve chosen to be your child’s cell phone provider, outlining the rules and establishing a contract for use of this mobile computer can help families ensure the phone is a tool that keeps their child safe and teaches them responsibility.

kajeet – the cell phone service made for kids