Special Report: Who's Texting Your Child?

May 12, 2008

ALBANY, Ga. --  Parents know the dangers of the internet, but they may not realize their child's cell phone can also lead to trouble.

Do you know everyone who has your child's cell phone number? Have you ever asked whether your kid has gotten an unwanted or inappropriate text message?

There is a way to keep tabs on how your children use their cell phones and find out who's texting your child.

It's hard to find a teenager these days without a cell phone. And if they have a phone, they're probably texting.

Youth counselors Howard and Heidi Davis see it at church.

"Oh my goodness, constantly, constantly," says Howard. And at home with their teenage daughters. "Last month, Megan was 10,000 texts in the month and Casey was a little over 7500. We broke that down to a little over 250 or 350 times a day," he said.

14-year old Casey is a texting whiz. She doesn't even have to look at her phone as she types out the letters, and sometimes it seems she does it all day.

"I text when I wake up in the morning and when I'm going to bed too," Casey said.

She texts more than she talks, just to keep up with friends. "What we're doing this weekend or we're just bored, and guys."

Her parents don't really understand all that texting, but they like the idea of their kids having cell phones.

"If they have a problem, they know we're just a phone call away and we'll be there," Howard said.

They keep the family computer in an open area and monitor their daughters' internet usage, but they don't worry about them getting inappropriate text messages.

"Not so much on the phone," said Heidi. "Computer, yes."

But maybe that's something parents should worry about. A South Carolina boy scout leader arrested for sending obscene text messages to a 14-year old boy.

Police near Tampa say a teacher texted a student to set up sexual liasons.

In Jacksonville, a preacher was arrested for sending lewd texts to a 14-year old and was later charged with molesting another girl.

And Colorado authorities claim this man had sex with a 12-year old girl after exchanging text messages. He got her phone number from a social networking website.

A company called Radar markets a service that allows you to monitor your child's text messages and cell phone calls.

The Davises say it's an interesting idea, but they're not convinced it's right for them.

"I wouldn't want to do it unless they gave me reason to think that something was going on, and I needed to check up on them," said Heidi.

Here's how Radar works. You pay a monthly fee and get an online account. You make a list of approved phone numbers. If your child gets a message or call from an unapproved number... You get notified immediately. And you can view the content of all texts.

"To some families I think it would be very beneficial to be able to follow up and just make sure the kids are making good choices," said Howard.

But the Howard and Heidi say parents need to be prepared for what they might see and not over-react to every message they might not like.

"I think there is a line there that a lot of parents would abuse," said Heidi.

Casey's not a big fan of the idea either.

"I think it's kind of dumb," Casey says.

She says she and her friends have nothing to hide, but they like the idea of having a little privacy.

"Nobody wants their parents reading about their personal business," says Casey.

But as teens conduct more personal business on their cell phones... Parents must weigh their kids right to privacy against their obligation to protect them and decide how far they should go to monitor who's texting their children.