So it's happened: Your kid wants to text. They have friends, and they want to keep in touch with their friends the modern way. Are you ready to just hand them over to whichever texting app their phone comes with? And do you know about everything that's out there already? It's not just words anymore — now kids can send each other photos and videos. And the universe of emoticons!
Take a deep breath. It's going to be fine. Here are a few things about texting that can help you and your kids navigate the world of safe electronic communications.
First, use an app with parental controls. MouseMail's WebTxT filtering allows kids to send text messages from their email account to any phone from your approved list of contacts. It also scans messages for inappropriate content. The service is a child-friendly introduction to texting — sort of like training wheels before they try out the real thing.
TextFree with voice (Free on iOS & Android ) can be set up for your child to use on their device — but with your email address and password so you can monitor their conversations via the service's website. It comes with a free phone number kids can use if they have access to WiFi but aren't on a phone plan. This app is not designed for children, by the way; it's intended for users age 13 and older, and it includes ads. You'll want to talk about not clicking on those ads before your kid starts using this app.
Another way to stay in the loop on your kids' communication is an app called TxtWatcher (Free on Android via TxtWatcher website; not supported on iOS yet). Install the app on your child's phone, and you can watch and record the messages and pictures being sent. The app will even translate texting terms for you. Personally, this feels intrusive to me. But it's an option for parents who are especially concerned about the kinds of conversations their kids are having.
As long as you've set your child up with a device and texting, it might be a good idea to download iEmergency ICE Pro ($2 iOS; $3.99 Android; $.99 for similar Blackberry app). This app provides emergency personnel access to your child's medical information, like allergies, medications, doctors and whom to contact in case of emergency.
So that's the good; now let's talk about the bad and the ugly. Whichever apps your kids use, you want to select NO geolocator. Refuse requests to allow the app to use your location or enter your zip code. I know that you probably want to know where your kids are, but you don't want predators to know. Avoid apps like Kik Messenger which are not private and which can invade your child's contact list. You may have heard about SnapChat, which allows users to send photos that disappear? Not for the kids. And even more innocent photo apps like Instagram should be used with care since texting apps can access them, and Instagram Direct essentially serves as a photo texting app.
You'll also want to establish some texting etiquette rules. Are there time limits for texting? Is there a nighttime curfew? What about texting during mealtimes or at school? Whatever rules your kids have for texting, make sure you have rules that you respect as well, parents. No texting at the table if your kids aren't allowed to do it. No bullying behavior or harassment allowed.
Keeping an eye on your kids' texting activity in moderation is a good idea, but be careful not to become obsessive with your monitoring. You don't have to track their every communication. Pay attention to their outward behavior and be alert to major red flags before zeroing in on their online and texting activity.