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So Your Child Wants A Cell Phone

You’ve decided it’s time to buy your child a cell phone. Your decision may be practical (safety, convenience), or simply that you caved to a campaign of unceasing pleading. As a parent, you’re not alone. A 2009 survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that roughly three in four teenagers aged 12 to 17 in the United States own a mobile phone, compared to fewer than half in 2004.

Once you’ve decided to make the purchase, here are some tips to keeping your child’s cell phone use in perspective and making sure the cost isn’t greater than you expected.


PARENTS RULE
Setting limits on phone budgets and behaviors

Parents can add their own rules about where and when texting is not allowed, for example, at the dinner table. Some phone plans provide settings for parental restrictions on the phone itself.

Parents can also control costs through the type of phone they select. Children might push for a smartphone, but additional features might mean additional monthly fees.

Be forewarned that many plans do not include the cost of downloading ringtones, buying applications, and exceeding data limits while accessing the Web, especially if not connected to a wireless network.

Another cost-control measure is a prepaid phone, which comes without a contract and can be loaded for a limited amount of usage—paying $10, say, for 30 minutes of calls. Texting is available with some prepaid plans. A prepaid plan can make sense for younger children, when parents want the phone primarily for emergencies or last-minute changes in plans.

Cell-phone insurance isn’t cheap, but can save the day if the cell phone is lost or stolen. Take a careful look at what’s covered under the plan or whether there’s a deductible. If the phone is replaced, ask what terms are covered (drops, spills, running the phone through the spin cycle) and whether it would be less costly to simply buy a new one.


TEXT TIPS
Phones aren’t just for phone calls any more

The way teenagers communicate has changed. They are more likely to text one another, or their parents, than to make a phone call. A good first step for many families is a phone plan with unlimited texting. Unlimited texting plans mean neither parent nor child needs to carefully track the number of texts, avoiding price penalties for exceeding the limit.

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