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AT&T adds parental control options to cell phones

For $4.99 per month per line, the new "Smart Limits" service lets parents restrict talk time, text messages, Web content and the like.

The battle between parents, school, and teens over cell phones involves many levers to push and pull. Now AT&T has added a new twist: for $4.99 per month per line, parents can add on customized controls through the new "Smart Limits" service. Phone options include limiting talk time, text messages, instant messages, and Web content and downloads.

Teens naturally balk at the idea of limits, but there are many advantages to making these controls available.

The ability to limit the time of day that a phone is used may help bolster the argument that kids can manage the challenge of bringing phones to school while keeping them turned off during school hours. Night owl kids may also benefit from having cell phone use restricted to reasonable hours. Late-night cell phone use has been cited as a major factor in chronic sleep deprivation among teens, who concentrate phone use around midnight, but may continue talking even later into the wee hours of the morning.

Though the restrictions will irk teens, I applaud AT&T's effort to make more controls available at the product level. Parents need options to ensure safe and reasonable use of mobile, Web-enabled phones, which by definition will be used outside the context of the ideal supervised "computer placed in a common area at home." As long as Mom and Dad are paying the bills, they have the right as well as the obligation to set reasonable limits.