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AT&T bestows parents power over kids’ cellphones

Today is a big day for AT&T. They’re unveiling an exclusive new service that allows parents near complete control over how and when their children can use their cell phones. No longer will kids on family plans have free reign over their phone habits. Parents can now reel them in, setting strict limits on minutes usage, number of text messages, which numbers can and cannot contact or be contacted by their children, and at what times these services can be used. Gone are the days of the unimaginable cell phone bill. Parents can now set limits that will keep said bill in a reasonable range.

Recent surveys purport that 79 percent of kids aged 15 to 17 have cell phones. Experience tells us that of those 79 percent, 90 percent likely abuse the hell out of those cell phone plans, causing parents great misery. Recent developments like mobile to mobile minutes and text messaging plans have made some headway in keeping bills lower, but they still haven’t really done the job.

The limit on minutes is a huge benefit for parents, as they can now utilize a powerful feature of prepaid phones. So now when the kid hits the plan’s limits, he or she simply cannot use the phone anymore until the end of the month. As we’ve said before in relation to prepaid plans, this can go a long way in teaching a kid how to budget. Much further, at least, than they learn it in the classroom.

We’re hot and cold on the time limits feature. Yes, it is good to disable text messaging during school hours. Class is not a time to be sending a message to your buddy asking him what he’s doing this weekend. There is a time and place for that, and it’s called the hallway between classes, or at a lunch or study period (where we see little harm in cell phone usage). We definitely don’t like that parents can block calls after, say, 10 p.m. Let ’em stay up until the wee hours. They’ll learn quickly that they need to get to bed earlier in order to function the next day.

The worst part, though, is that parents can block certain numbers from contacting or being contacted by their children. Sorry, parents, but enacting this feature will only cause a rift between you and your kid. And when there’s a rift, you have plenty more to worry about than their cell phone usage. Once again, from experience, if parents tell their kid that they cannot receive calls from or make calls to so and so, they’re going to do it anyway…likely with more passion than before. So by blocking someone’s number, you’re indirectly encouraging even more contact with said person.

Also troubling is the service to which this might lead: online GPS tracking. We feel it unfathomable for parents to know where their kids are 24/7 just by opening a website. Yes, we understand the need to know that one’s child is safe. But if kids did everything their parents told them to do, we’d have the blandest generation in American history. Kids need to learn, and to experience is to learn. Parents won’t want to hear that, but that’s because most of them forget they ever even had a childhood.

Thankfully, 911 calls will always be enabled, even when minutes run out. And calls to and from parents can be placed, too. The service is a modest $5 per month, and we see just about every AT&T customer on a family plan signing up.

[Detroit Free Press]