Q: I need to be able to monitor my child’s text messages. Do you know any sites (pay or free) that would enable me to do that? — Mike
A: As a parent of a 16-year-old and 20-year-old, I’m on the tail end of this new challenge for parents in the age of technology and can share my personal experiences.
The first piece of advice is “be careful what you wish for!”
Text messages can easily be misconstrued by a third party and once your child knows that their text messages are being monitored, they will simply resort to another method of communication (IM, Facebook messaging/chat, etc.)
Additionally, really think about whether you want to know every thought your child has. We all grew up saying things we didn’t mean in the heat of the moment and the same will hold true with your child if you monitor every text message they send.
I’ve helped parents in the past install monitoring software on their home computers to track their children via instant messaging conversations and many regretted doing it. It can be way too much information to deal with and you can’t address much of it without blowing your cover.
There is also the possibility of damaging your relationship depending upon the age of the child and how you go about incorporating these tools.
Having said that, there are plenty of reasons (cyber-bullying, etc.) that you may want to monitor everything that goes to and from your child’s cell phone, but it’s not quite as simple as it may sound.
Most programs that allow you to monitor your child’s phone requires your child to have a pretty sophisticated phone with a higher level operating system (mainly smartphones), which most parents wouldn’t dream of giving their child because of the costs.
The phone must also have a data plan of some sort so the information can get pushed up to the Internet.
Unless your child has a BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Android, iPhone, or Symbian OS based phone, the software that’s available is of no use.
Ordinary cell phones lack the ability to have third-party software installed on them, so if you want to know what your child is texting on an older traditional cell phone, you may just want to randomly pick it up and view it directly (this can easily be done discretely if you think about their usage patterns).
Since there are so many variables involved, including the type of phone your child has and the network that the phone is on, you should start by checking with your cell service provider for options.
Some providers have special phones and/or special services that allow parents some measure of control (although I’m not aware of any that actually keep copies of text messages for their customers anymore).
If your child does have one of the smartphones listed above or you are willing to get them one, there are a number of companies that sell software and annual services to allow you to monitor everything your child does with their phone.
I have not reviewed any of them, so I can’t make any specific recommendations, but a Google search of “monitor cell phones” will get you started on the research. Make sure you thoroughly research any solution that you think you’d like to use by checking Twitter and discussion forums (use the same search phrase) to learn from those who are already using them.
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