Friday, June 28, 2013

Smartphone Apps for Families

Besides transferring all your contacts (and figuring out how to block those spam calls), the most important thing when you get a new smartphone is to install all the apps that will make your life easier.  And probably a few games, as well.

Most phones come with some preloaded apps to get you started, and there are many, many more available through Google Play, Amazon, and even your provider.

Because families today are getting busier and busier, many are using smartphones to make their lives easier, more efficient and meaningful. U.S. Cellular offers several apps specifically to help with that and to help people enjoy Better Moments with family.  Two of those are the Family Organizer and U.S. Cellular's new Family Protector.

Family Organizer helps you manage your busy family with a centralized calendar, shopping lists, to do lists and a family journal that everyone can share on the go.  It's like an updated version of the family wall calendar/schedule - only this one goes with everyone in the family everywhere they go.  Which is good, because busy families may not be home enough to actually read that calendar on the wall.

The Family Protector app is one I wish we'd had when my kids were still at home.  Of course, we would have had to have to have smartphones back then, too, but that's beside the point.  This app allows parents to monitor and control usage on their children's cell phones.  You can monitor text messages, photos, and call history as well as restricting apps, blocking websites, and setting time limits and schedules for when your children can talk, text, or browse the internet.  The app will also allow you to monitor your child's location, which could be a matter of life and death should, God forbid, something happen.  It's also a great way of making sure your teenager is where she says she is. (not that mine would ever have told me otherwise.  Uh, yeah)

When Beth would go to visit friends, we always had her call when she got there so we'd know she got there safely - and the caller ID would show whose phone she was calling from so we could see that she was where she said she was.  Then she got a cell phone, and she'd still call to let us know she got there, except that because she was calling from the cell phone, she could have been calling from anywhere.

I'm not necessarily advocating the Family Protector app as a way to spy on your teenagers, but it could work that way, and because it cannot be uninstalled without a password, there would be nothing they could do about it.  I do think it's a good way to protect your children and, yes, teenagers too.  Our kids didn't get cell phones until they were ready to drive, and then I wanted them to have the phones just in case they had car trouble or something else happened when they were out on the road.  It's hard to believe we all used to drive everywhere all the time without those phones!  But, while our kids didn't have phones until they were a bit older, many families are choosing to give their kids phones at earlier ages so that they can always keep in touch and keep up with their busy schedules.

That doesn't always mean the kids are ready for or responsible enough to handle having a cell phone and everything that goes along with it.  I've heard great stories about moms who set all kinds of rules and guidelines for phone use - and those stories circulate widely because the rest of us are so impressed at the way those moms handled the phone situation, and we wonder why we didn't think of that!  Oh, my kids had basic rules like don't text and drive and don't spend all night texting or talking on the phone, but I wasn't very good at checking up on them or really being able to enforce those rules.  I mean, I didn't even think about checking their phones regularly just to see who they were calling, when they were calling, what kind of texts they were sending and receiving, etc.

If only I'd had an app...  Or this customizable Parent-Child Agreement from U.S. Cellular has provided to help parents think about guidelines and phone responsibility.  It has some basic guidelines to get you started, and you can remove, edit or add your own guidelines that work best for you and your child, and that fit within your family.

So, if you've got kids with cell phones, that's great because I know, with the right apps and guidelines, they help families keep in touch and keep organized, but if you're looking for a good way to monitor your kids' phone usage and enforce the cell phone rules you've set, be sure to check out the Family Protector app.  It's free to try for 30 days and then $9.99/month after that for up to 5 devices.

Are there any other apps you've found useful for your family and that you'd recommend to other moms?  Feel free to share them here.  

Disclosure: I am being compensated for my participation in the U.S. Cellular Better Moments Blogger Brigade as well as receiving a new phone.  My experiences with and opinions of U.S. Cellular are 100% mine.
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