September 4, 2007 in Nation/World

Web site lets parents limit teenagers’ cell phone use

Jeff Elder McClatchy
 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For generations, parents have yelled at their kids about running up the family phone bill, talking to their friends at all hours, and sneaking calls to that low-life boyfriend.

Technology has just achieved what lectures never could.

AT&T is announcing a Web site today that allows parents to limit how many minutes teens can put on their cell phones, how many text messages they can send and receive, and how much can be spent on ringtones and games.

And other key topics of family dispute can be regulated:

Don’t want your teen texting during school? Shut that down. Don’t want him talking after 10 p.m.? Put the phone to bed. Don’t want her calling or receiving calls from a certain someone? Block that number.

Not since Romeo and Juliet has teen communication been dealt such a tragic blow. Parents might see things otherwise.

“It’s about time,” says telecom analyst Jeff Kagan, a regular source for CNBC and Fortune magazine. “This addresses a runaway problem that every parent complains about. The whole market was set up to give parents whiplash. They’re told a new line for a kid costs $10, until they get the bill.”

About 79 percent of American teens 15-17 have cell phones, according to C&R Research Services in Chicago. The telecom industry has experimented with parental limits for teens’ online and phone activity for years. Tiny Disney Mobile introduced this same system of limits last year, but it reaches very few customers, compared with market leader AT&T. Parental control of cell phones has never reached this far, analysts say.

The next phone innovation to go mainstream and affect family life? GPS tracking that lets parents see online where their phone-toting kids are.

Are there privacy issues with parents managing so much of their kids’ phone use?

“Not if they’re paying the bills,” Kagan says.

The service works on any AT&T phone bought within about the past two years and costs $5 per line per month. Teens can always call 911 – even if they’re past the set limits on minutes. And parents can set it up so teens can call or text them anytime.

Analyst Weston Henderek with Current Analysis in Virginia doubts this innovation, or any other, could come between true teenage love.

“Nothing’s ever stopped kids before.”

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