My kids have cellphones. I bought each one of them a phone when they reached junior high, on the assumption that at that stage of life they’d be spending more time away from home and school, with friends, and I’d need an easy way to contact them. I love the convenience of being able to text or call when I need to pick them up somewhere or just check in with them.
What I don’t love is the idea of my kids having 24/7 access to the internet. I don’t think they should be able to check Facebook or use Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter or any one of a number of other social media applications, wherever and whenever they want.
So when my oldest got his phone, I talked to the helpful person at the Bell Aliant desk in the mall and she told me I could easily request to have data blocked on my kid’s phone. That way, he could only use his phone to access the internet when he was in an area that had wi-fi. That was perfect for me, especially as the two places he spent the most time — home and school — didn’t have wi-fi.
I’m not naive, Bell Mobililty. I don’t believe that any one thing I do is going to protect my children from the horrors of cyber-bullying, sexting, and all the other new, high-tech ways kids have found to perpetrate the same behavior they used to do in person. I take what I think are sensible precautions: I keep the one internet-enabled computer in our house in the parents’ bedroom where anyone can see it, and it has no webcam; I don’t (for now) have wi-fi in the house; I talk to my kids about responsible behavior online, and I give them smartphones that, in most cases, can’t be used to send or receive data, only to make calls and text. Even then, obviously, if they’re determined enough to misuse their internet privileges, they’ll find a way. But at least I can make it harder for them.
I’m a bit mystified, to be honest, by parents who wring their hands about the stuff kids are getting up to online, yet at the same time want to provide their kids with every imaginable electronic toy and endless access to the internet. People, it’s OK to not let your kids have every cool thing. It’s OK to give them a cheap, crappy phone with no data plan if that makes it harder for them to circulate incriminating or indecent pictures of their friends or enemies or frenemies … or of themselves. While you can’t keep them in a glass bubble, you can certainly throw a few roadblocks up on the road to perdition.
So when my daughter got her phone at the beginning of Grade 7, almost two years ago, I asked for the same arrangement as I had on my son’s phone — no data — and was told that was no problem. And for the last year and a half my daughter has had no internet access on her phone except when we go to a place with wi-fi, where she sometimes checks Facebook or downloads a game.
A few days ago, my daughter said, “Mom, my phone is showing the wi-fi symbol lit up even in places where I know there’s no wi-fi.” As it turns out, good people at Bell, her phone wasn’t getting wi-fi, it was just getting data from your network, the same as my husband’s phone and mine do. Data we were going to get charged for even though we’d had it blocked for over a year; more importantly, data that would give her unrestricted internet access.
Yesterday I called Bell Mobility and explained the situation. The customer service rep said, “Oh, data’s not blocked on that account; it never has been.” I knew this was wrong but frankly I don’t have the time and energy to argue about mysteries in the cyber-past. What interested me most was what she said next: “You’ll have to pay a dollar a month to block data on that phone. Your son’s account was set up in 2010; back then you could block data for free, but now it costs a dollar a month to do it.”
I’m sorry, what??? I know that data costs money. I’m resigned to the $50 a month data plan my husband and I pay for on our iPhones, even though I don’t think it’s a very good deal. But you’re telling me that not only would I have to pay if my kids accessed data on their phones — I also have to pay for them NOT to access it?!?! It costs to get data, and it also costs not to get it? That’s the definition of “got you coming and going.”
But what really burns me is that you are charging me for taking a simple step to help protect my child’s internet safety and privacy. I have to pay $12/year to make it more difficult for my kid to be cyberbullied, or to cyberbully anyone else. If the telecommunications industry has any shred of decency or desire to help control some of the myriad problems their devices have helped to cause, surely this is a service that should be offered free, at least to parents paying for the cellphone account of a kid under 18. In fact, I think “no-data” plans should be the default for underage kids, and parents need to have a very good and compelling reason to give their kids internet access in the palm of their hand 24 hours a day. But maybe that’s just me.
Of course I’m going to pay the $1 a month to have data blocked. But I’m also going to take a moment to say: Bell Mobility, this is a stupid policy. You can do better than this.