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Five Ways to Track Your Teen

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by Kim Watts - ADDitude March/April 2002

  1. Cell Phones

Honestly, have teenagers every met a phone they didn't like? Parents may be concerned that their AD/HD teen could make impulsive long-winded calls to friends, or might be distracted by calls during school or study time. For the most part, though, the novelty of cell phones has worn off, and usually kids make practical use of family phones. Current studies show that teen girls, prime suspects for costly chats, use their wireless phones to keep in touch with parents first, friends second, emergencies third and boyfriends - dead last.

For all the communications gadgets out there, cell phones win hands down for ease of use. Wireless providers have become hip to the needs of both parents and kids. Result - teens can select from a wide array of sleek, modern and colorful phones and parents can choose a shared or pre-paid calling plan they don't have to sweat. Most major wireless providers feature minute pools that can be shared by up to five phones; most cell providers offer unlimited calling between family members. Pre-paid plans like Sprint's Wireless Allowance limit talk time for teens with impulse control issues.

  1. Pagers and Two-Way Text messengers

Good for parents, who can't make or receive many personal calls at work, two-way text messengers such as Motorola's Talkabout T900 are ideal for instant communication with minimal distraction. Since the messenger is email based, access to the Internet or a second T900 is necessary to communicate quickly, however, the device will store messages while turned off, so that nothing is missed.

"To be useful, you really need two," says Judy German, who tried the T900 with her thirteen year-old AD/HD son. "It took me a while to master the technology, buy my son picked it up immediatly." Judy's son carried the pager, and her primary concern was that the device was so comapct (it's designed to fit in pockets) that he could easily lose it. He didn't.

A bonus for AD/HD teens is that the text messenger can be programmed with reminders and alerts (for things like medicaiton and soccer practice) and can be set to vibrate so it won't disturb class - or movie dates!

Traditional pagers, or beepers, offer a more economical way for parents to message their teens - however, communication is limited since the messaging is one-way.

  1. Two-Way Radios

ADDitude's Editor in Chief, Ellen Kingsley sweasr by 'em! On ski vacations, camping, shopping trips and jaunts around the neighborhood, two-way radios (a modern version of the CB) keep everyone available at the touch of a button, without a service plan.

Motorola's Talkabout two-way radios, which can also recive FM stations and weather channels, have a range of approximately two miles. They are wonderful for group activities within that boundary, but out of range is out of touch.

Nextel's "Direct Connect" provides the best of both worlds, combining a two-way radio feature with regular cell phone calling. The private direct connect feature works up to hundreds of miles away, and doesn't use valuable "minutes" in a calling plan.

  1. "Digital Angel", or Global Positioning System Devices

Digital Angel is a personnel-tracking device than can be worn as a watch or a pager. It can monitor the nearest locations and medical emergencies through Internet access or a call center, and has a 911 alert button, Though it might be ideal for older kids who are anxious about being alone or have serious health problems, troublesome teens whose whereabout need constant supervision could simply take off the watch or pager and leave it with a friend or at home.

Digital Angel is a new technology, and its components can be relatively pricey. It is primarily marketed for the very young, the elderly, or people with serious medical conditions who would be willing to wear the locating devices. If you suspect your teen wouldn't wear it, don't waste your money.

  1. Face Time

Daily, face-to-face communication with your teen is not an optional gadget. It is your most important, effective means of keeping in touch with your teen. Make family dinners a regular occurrence in your home so that parents and kids can share their day. Have family "Game Nights" to promote closeness and conversation. Ask your teen what's going on at school, Invite their friends in to meet you (ALL of their friends). Ask where they're going, and with whom - and be explicit about rules, curfews and limits. Teens may not always comply, but without boundaries they're guaranteed to feel lost.

Ask Dr. Susan