Many children and teens rely heavily on texting to communicate with their friends. While this can be innocuous, kids can also use texting to bully others or to engage in inappropriate -- or even illegal -- activities. It is important for parents to monitor their children's texting activity to ensure they stay out of trouble. While you can't request a transcript of their child's texts from a cell phone provider without a court order, you still have several options that allow you to monitor texts.
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Install Provider Messaging App
A few cell-phone providers offer a messaging app that allows users to sync all of their messages -- including text messages and voice mails -- across devices. For example, the AT&T Messaging app allows users to view a single thread for voice mails, calls and text messages from a single number. A transcript of messages is shown, and these messages can be viewed on a computer, smart phone or tablet. Parents would just need to install this app on their children's phones, and then they can monitor the activity from a computer, so long as the number is on their account. Verizon has a similar app, called My Messaging, that allows users to check 90 days worth of text messages across devices. Parents can also sort messages by date and recipient. While neither of these apps is designed for parents to monitor their children, they can both be used to do so if the app is downloaded on the child's phone and the phone is linked to the parent's account.
Install a Text-messaging Monitor
Some programs are available that will monitor text messaging and other activity on your child's phone. Programs such as My Mobile Watchdog can be installed on the child's phone, and then parents can receive reports with full details of text messages, including sender, date, time and content. The program also provides location tracking and allows parents to block certain applications, websites, or times that the phone can be used. Parents must have their child's phone in their hands to physically download this program.
Monitor Your Child's Phone
The easiest way to monitor a child's cell-phone activity is the most direct way: Require that your child give you all passwords to the phone and any accounts linked to it, and regularly check the phone for call logs, messages and e-mails. Of course, this method isn't foolproof because savvy older children will likely just delete messages before you have a chance to check them. However, you can cross-check what you see with the usage log you get from your cell-phone provider, which typically includes the phone numbers that are sending and receiving texts. If your provider does not include this information on your bill, you can request it in writing. Your child will have to sign consent on the request.
Get a Court Order
The only way for parents to request a copy of text message transcripts from a cell phone company is to get a court order. Though some states, including Arizona, are considering legislation to change this, federal law still stands that recognizes the content of text messages as the property of the owners -- the kids -- even if the parents pay the cell-phone bill. Getting a court order won't be as easy as telling a judge you want to know what you're children are doing. You'll need legal standing, which will be determined on a case-by-case basis. A lawyer can help you determine what's possible.