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Kids & Phones

My son recently turned 13, and we decided that it was finally time for him to get a mobile phone.  Even though many of his friends already had phones, we had held off because there really wasn’t a need for him to have one yet.  Now that he’s a bit older, we felt that we’d be more comfortable letting him have a little more independence but still be able to keep tabs on him.  The decision to get mobile phones for your kids isn’t one that I’m going to offer any advice on, that’s for your family to work out.  What I will do is offer a little technical advice and maybe help you save a little money in the process.

Now that you’ve made the decision to equip one of your kids with a phone, it’s time to start shopping.  If you’re a typical family, you’ve already got at least one mobile phone and a monthly service plan with it.  If you’re still in a contract with your mobile service provider, then you’re best bet is to add the new phone to your existing contract.  If you’re not under contract, then now is a perfect time to shop providers for the best deals and service in your area.  Most providers have family plans that allow for multiple phones to share the same pool of minutes, texts and data.  It’s going to take a little homework to find the best plan for your family, pay attention to how your family will be using their phones before settling on a provider and a plan.

Service plans can be very confusing, but they’re usually broken down into three basic services, telephone service, data service and messaging service.  Telephone service is obvious, you’re billed for a number of minutes that you’re allowed to talk on the phone.  Every provider has their own special deal with minutes.  Some allow unlimited calls to other customers on the same provider, some let you pick your 10 most commonly called numbers and almost all of them don’t charge additional fees for long distance.

Here’s my first money-saving tip, GET UNLIMITED TEXTING! You may find it annoying to use text messages instead of speaking to someone, but your kids will use it as their primary means of communication, period.  I’ve had friends share stories of their teenagers topping 17,000 text messages in a single month.  At $0.05 per message, that’s one heck of a bill!

If you follow my advice below, your kid will end up with a fairly basic phone so a data plan is completely optional.  Even though my son’s phone is capable of accessing the Internet, we’ve decided that he didn’t need that perk so we opted not to pay for a data plan.  Here’s something that your provider may not share with you, even if you choose not to pay for data, your kid can still use the data services on their phone and you’ll be charged an outrageous amount of money for the privilege.  Make sure that when you sign up, you explicitly tell the sales person to block data services on their phone!

Once you’ve figured out which provider to use, and which plan to take, you’ve got to pick out a phone.  If you’re due for an upgrade on your phone, you could be mean and get a new phone for yourself and pass your old one on to your kid.  If you’re nice and want the get them a new phone I’d suggest sticking with a basic phone for a youngster.  They really don’t have any need for a smart phone and basic phones are far cheaper.  Basic phones are generally more durable than smart phones and we all know that teenagers have the uncanny ability to break almost anything with relative ease, and when they inevitably lose their phone it won’t be as expensive to replace. Make sure you purchase a protective case as well, it’s $20 well spent.  If your kid is particularly adept at breaking things, you can usually purchase handset insurance for a few bucks a month.

You can also ask about additional services that your provider may have.  Some companies offer parental controls that allow you to control what numbers your child”s phone is allowed to communicate with.  Some also offer services that allow you to track the location of a phone so that you can keep tabs on your kid.

Go to the provider’s store and do some shopping for a phone.  Let your kid have some say in which phone they get, but steer them towards what you want them to have.  Here’s my last big money-saving tip.  Decide which phone you want, but don’t buy it at the store!  Instead, go home and log on to Amazon Wireless
Amazon is an authorized reseller for most major providers and they generally offer a lot better deals on phones.  When I recently upgraded my wife’s phone, I paid $0.99 for a phone that was $129.99 in the AT&T store!  You can renew your contract, change your service plan and order a new phone right from their site.  The phone will arrive in a few days with instructions on how to activate it.

Once you’re home with the phone, sit down with your kid and set some guidelines for the use of their new phone.  Here’s an example of a few basic rules you may want to enforce.

  • Keep track of the number of minutes you use
  • Don’t text anything that you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read
  • The phone must be on the charger outside of the bedroom at night
  • You must answer the phone or respond to messages from parents ASAP
  • No using the phone at school or anywhere else it’s prohibited

I hope I’ve given you at least a little guidance in the process of equipping your kid with a mobile phone.  Here’s a quick summary of my advice.

  • Shop around for a plan that fits your family’s usage pattern
  • Don’t pay for a data plan
  • Make sure the provider explicitly blocks data usage on the phone
  • Get an unlimited texting plan
  • Stick with a basic phone
  • Shop in the store, buy from Amazon Wireless
  • Agree on some usage guidelines
  • Ask about additional services like parental controls and GPS locators
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About Todd E. Grady

I'm a dad, husband, IT guy and geek of all trades.

Posted on 12.06.2010, in General Geekery. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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