Mobile Future

Kids, cell phones and safety in the summer

As the parents of an active teenager, my husband and I are constantly texting, phoning, and otherwise using our daughter’s cell phone to keep track of her.  And, as summer vacation frees children across the country from their classrooms, it becomes more difficult than usual for parents to keep track of their roaming kids. Cell phone and wireless communication enable parents, grandparents, and other concerned adults to stay in touch with their preteens at the beach, playground, or friend’s house. Parents can rest easy knowing that their child is not only capable of being reached, but also phoning for help in a moment of peril.

Summer is when police departments receive the most missing child calls, and with the speed of wireless communication, even the surrounding community can assist in providing child safety. Summer vacation spots like Kittery, Maine participate in the "A Child is Missing Alert Program," where law enforcement officials send a customized alert message to all registered numbers in the area in question. Wireless communication, when utilized correctly, can thereby alert individuals in a crowd at a fair, amusement park, or beach where a child has gone missing.

Of course, preteens tend to be less interested in these wireless capabilities, and more interested in their cell phone’s multimedia, games, and text messaging. So it’s important to teach kids the responsible use of their cell phone, particularly when it can keep them from harm. Already a third of the 20 million American preteens between the ages of 8-12 have a cell phone, a number that will jump to nearly half by 2010.

Nicholas P. Sullivan and David Aylward are proponents and researchers of cell phone safety and head COMCARE Emergency Response Alliance, a nonprofit educational and advocacy group of more than 100 organizations representing emergency responders nationwide. "Children need to be taught that the cell phone is a tool, not a toy. It can play an important role in emergency situations involving children, but only if their parents have taken the time to teach kids what they need to know," said Aylward.

Aylward and Sullivan outline the basic ways each parent can teach their children cell phone safety in the summer months.

  • One should teach their kids how to press 9-1-1 and SEND on their cells, and then stay on the line to explain their emergency.
  • Parents should stress, however, that calling the police is not a game, as some children unfortunately sometimes fail to grasp, resulting in disruptive and illegal prank calls.
  • Also, adults should pre-program their kids’ cell phones with all emergency phone numbers and precede them with ICE, for "in case of emergency."

Parents can also take advantage of some cell phone companies’ more customized child-friendly provisions. There are some service plans that can be prepaid, which limit kids’ free talking and encourages children to "budget" their phone time. Other phones allow only numbers pre-approved by parents to be called and accepted by the child, including offering a special emergency key. These are great tools to focus and monitor kids’ cellular activities.

Finally, parents should always insist that their kids keep their cell phones on at all times, and provide an extra battery for the kid to prevent any possible excuses. Wireless technology is a gift to families-in Sullivan’s words, a "safety blanket" that adults may extend to their loved ones when they leave the security of the house-and so it is crucial for children to understand that wandering around in the summer months without a powered phone is not an option.