In the interest of fairness, a customer service reps side of the story....

I work for AOL in one of their call centers; call "billing," get me. (Actually, I also handle certain aspects of customer service as well.)

In the past *week,* I've encountered the following situations:

(1) A mother who wanted to know how she can change her level of service to prevent her 15-year-old daughter from "living" on the computer, thus depriving the other children of their access to email. The "master screen name," which controls billing, mail controls, and parental controls, belongs to a 17-year-old son.

(2) A mother who acknowledged giving her 10-year-old son her checking-account information so he could open an AOL account. She was horrified to receive an itinial AOL bill over $300 -- charges incurred because her little sweetie chose what seemed to be the least expensive service option, without being old enough to understand that what he chose costs $4.95 a month, allows 3 hours of online usage, and costs $2.50 an hour for all usage over the 3 hours. Mama insisted that (1) AOL shouldn't let (?) children open accounts, (2) AOL should send snail-mail to explain bills before the bills are sent, (3) AOL should eat the charges, because *she* didn't expect the bill to be so high.

(3) A father who wants AOL to close the three separate accounts his 16-year-old son opened and to credit all charges made. Daddy admits giving the boy his credit card to use to open an account, but he says he didn't realize the boy could actually open more than one account. Ergo, why should *he* have to pay for it?

(4) A mother who flatly refused to believe her 13-year-old daughter could *possibly* have written the obscenities attributed to her and which resulted, after several warnings, in the termination of her AOL acccount. And no, mama never supervises her daughter, as she knows nothing at all about computers.

(5) A mother who gave her credit card to her 14-year-old son to open an AOL account but now thinks she shouldn't have to pay for the bills because (1) no one told her her son could play games that cost extra, (2) her son INSISTS he didn't see the warning box about the additional charges, (3) her son INSISTS there was NO warning box to tell him the 1-800 number he was using costs $6/hour.

(6) A woman who told me her 13-year-old son was very reliable and trustworthy, therefore she didn't need to (1) go through the registration process herself to learn the billing policies, (2) keep the master screen name for herself to be able to use the parental controls features, (3) worry about whatever he might do on the computer, since he "wasn't interested" in anything that might be considered adult-oriented. [This discussion took place while I was trying to convince her of the importance of monitoring both the registration process and her son's use of the computer.]

Dave, there is NOTHING unusual about this situations. I hear similar stories every day I work, as do my co-workers. The sad -- and infuriating -- truth is that many parents don't bother to take even the smallest responsibility for their children's computer usage.

While I have fought and argued for an "adult" section of AOL, and while the company is now planning improvement to the parental control features, the reality is that a majority of parents seem just not to care about it.

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