Time to Buy Your Kid a Cell Phone?


There’s a tough question facing American parents these days: When do you buy your kids a cell phone? And once you’ve given them one, how do you keep them from going nuts with the things: texting until 3 a.m., buying $4.99 ring tones or worse yet, “discovering” inappropriate content on their phones’ Web browsers?

On Friday, New York Times columnist Alina Tugend wrote about her two sons and how she approached the cell phone question. There are some good takeaways here, but this little blurb really gave us pause:

“For example, a while back, we stumbled upon a surprise $19.99 charge on our Verizon Wireless bill. It turned out that [our son] had accidentally bought a joke-a-day for his cell phone. He thought he had taken advantage of a free offer.”

When you hear about stuff like this, parental controls take on a whole new light. You also wonder just how funny those jokes were at that price. 

One colleague here at TheStreet.com says that her brother ran up a bill of nearly $300 one month just by texting (albeit to Shanghai).  The Newark Star Ledger ran a story about this phenomenon last week too.

There are a variety of parental controls available, though they vary depending on the model of phone and the service provider. When you’re ready to take the plunge you’ll want to ask about the following:

  • The cost of texting and how to limit it.
  • How to filter web browsing.
  • Blocking or limiting phone numbers that can be dialed or received.
  • Limiting a child’s ability to make purchases.
  • Locator functionality (so you can tell where your kid is when the phone is turned on).

Though cell phones for kids unquestionably mean both expected and unexpected expenses for parents, it’s hard to put a price tag on the peace of mind they offer. The knowledge that your child need only tap a couple buttons to get you or, if need be, the police on the phone is something that many parents just can’t live without. It’s hard to believe kids were ever as “disconnected” as they were.

When you’re ready to take the plunge into the juvenile cell marketplace, there are a few sites that provide useful guides to the different phone options available to various age groups. Take a look at reviews on Cnet.com and ConsumerSearch.com.

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