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How Four Cell Phone Carriers Stack Up on Parental Controls

Which offers parents the most options?

By Monica Villa

As the summer break comes to an end and families prepare for the start of a new school year, thousands of parents are bracing themselves for the inevitable urgent demands for a new cell phone.

Maybe it’s a fourth or fifth grader clamoring for his first-ever phone, or perhaps it’s a middle-school student wondering why she’s the only one in her class without a smartphone.
Whatever the reasons behind the appeals, parents had better be ready!

If you have a younger child and you decide that he or she is ready for that first phone, then you might want to investigate some of the parental controls that are now commonly available. All the main cellular providers have various levels and types of parental controls. Usually, some kind of family plan is necessary but this is not always the case.

Parental controls for cell phones fall into three distinct categories:

1. Content filters

These allow parents to set filters for what multimedia content their children can download to their phones. While content filters are more important for smartphones with full web access and video download capability, most cell phones now have some kind of browser. However, parents should be aware that content filters are not foolproof and inappropriate content can also be received via text, IM or e-mail.

2. Usage controls

Usage controls put the parent in charge of a child’s cell phone usage, regulating the number of calls and text messages. They can also block certain numbers or restrict outgoing calls to a pre-approved list, and even disable the phone during certain times of day, like school hours or after 9 pm.

3. Location and monitoring controls

These can be used to monitor a child’s whereabouts through built-in GPS systems. Some systems can even send alerts when a child’s cell phone moves out of a pre-agreed zone or range.

Let’s take a look at each of the main carriers and see what they provide.

AT&T (T)

AT&T’s main parental control product is AT&T Smart Limits for Wireless™,
which allows parents to set limits for the number of text and instant messages; the dollar amount of downloadable purchases (ringtones, etc.); the amount, if any, of web browsing; the times of day the phone can be used; who can call or be called (blocking); and the type of content that be accessed.

With the usage controls, the child receives a warning notification as pre-agreed limits are approached. Once a limit is reached, that particular service will be suspended until the next billing cycle. One drawback with Smart Limits is that you can’t restrict the overall number of minutes, just the volume of calls, which might be a problem with talkative teenagers!

Smart Limits works with any active AT&T post-paid plan and costs $4.99 per month per line.
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No positions in stocks mentioned.

© Monica Vila, The Online Mom.

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