Guest Educator

Parents Need To Set Groundrules
For Cell Phone ‘Mobile Commerce’

by Mark Strohm, Jr.

This month’s Guest Educator, Mark Strohm, Jr., is elementary principal of Delaware County Christian School in Newtown Square, PA, and co-owner of the website ThriftyTimes.com. MetroKids invites educators to contribute articles that offer insights to teachers and parents. Please send ideas to editor@metrokids.com

In addition to voice and text communication devices, our phones are also full-fledged commerce tools — we can purchase phone content or pay for items through them.

With what’s called “mobile commerce,” your phone is a gateway to purchase ring tones, download music and get stock quotes, movie tickets or driving directions. Companies advertise that through the purchase of their products and monthly service, you can turn your stove on or house lights off, all from the convenience of your phone. PayPal recently an-nounced, “Wherever you are — on a sidewalk, in the bleachers, on a couch — you can make PayPal purchases” through your cell phone.

One type of mobile commerce includes services usually provided via your phone and billed to your phone account. They work similarly to 900 phone numbers. Another type of purchase is billed to a separate account, typically set up online through a financial vendor such as PayPal. Sending a phone text message or calling a special 800 number with an accompanying password enables the purchase.

New Version of an Old Talk
When I opened my first checking account, my mom and dad sat me down and discussed basic checkbook wisdom and safety rules. Just like a checkbook or a credit card, today’s mobile phone enables teens to make purchases instantly, without the counsel and moderation of a parent.

To avoid problems, parents will need to prepare their teens when handing over a cell phone, just as our parents trained us when handing over a checkbook.

Here are some simple mobile commerce rules to teach teens:

Do not make mobile commerce purchases or establish accounts without prior permission. When my children learned to drive, I gave them a gas credit card and a list of what could and could not be purchased with it. Similarly, make clear what is and isn’t acceptable with phone commerce. Unless you would trust your child with a credit card, don’t allow him to set up a PayPal or similar account on his phone.

Check each offer carefully. Make sure your teen clearly understands whether she is making a one-time purchase or buying a subscription service. She should know how to cancel any subscription she buys. The cost and duration of services such as ring tone downloads or driving directions vary, depending on the vendor.

Only purchase from reputable companies. If the deal seems too good to be true — it is!
Never disclose personal information. Make sure your child understands that when it comes to personal information, text messaging and cell phone Internet use are no different than going online on a computer. He must never disclose his identity, address or other personal information to strangers

Never allow “private” conversations while lending his phone. If your child lends his phone to a friend, instruct him to keep the friend in sight and return it immediately. This will prevent abuse, including mobile commerce and inappropriate text messaging.

Cell phones are a great comfort to parents and extremely useful to our independent teens. As technology expands and brings more and more options, parents should keep abreast and prepare their child for these changes.

Mobile commerce is no exception. If you find your child has not made wise choices, check with your wireless provider. Some companies offer an option to prohibit certain types of mobile commerce transactions.