The great debate: Kids with cell phones?
BY SHARON KENNEDY WYNNE
The benefits of kids with cell phones. | JOHN HELLBACH
I know, I know, I'm about to get pummeled with outrage from readers telling me that no 12-year-old needs a cellphone. I get it. You lived through your childhood without a cellphone, and kids these days can do the same.
But the truth is, about 75 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds have phones, according to a Pew Internet and American Life Project study. It's not just that kids want one; a lot of us parents want them to have them so we can reach them more easily.
They also are excellent discipline tools. Got a kid getting acting up? Threaten to take away his cellphone and watch him turn into an angel. Want to teach a kid money skills? Let her earn the money she needs to pay for her cellphone or those extra texting minutes she wants.
Metro PCS recently sent me these four tips for parents to consider when buying a cellphone:
-- Look at big-picture costs
While some parents opt for discounted phones to save up-front costs, they are usually paired with pricier plans that can add up over time. Paying a little more up-front for a phone usually equals big savings in the long run: Lower-rate plans save close to $2,000 over a two-year period.
-- Find the right plan
First-time cell users are likely to text frequently (the Pew study also shows that one in three teens sends 3,000 texts a month). By opting for a pay-in-advance plan, parents know what costs to expect and won't be surprised by overage charges at the end of the month. Bonus: Pay-in-advance phones can be taken away as punishment when necessary without worry of being bound to a monthly contract and paying for a service that isn't being used.
-- Determine which features matter most
It's important for parents to talk to their child about which features or services they'll use the most. For instance, parents could opt for a phone with a QWERTY keyboard for text-happy users, or select a device with strong audio and visual capabilities for those who love videos and entertainment.
-- Research parental controls
Once settled on a carrier and phone, parents can consider apps, services and programs that give insight into what their kids are doing on the phone. Whether regularly checking browser history or automatically looking through text recipients, there are a number of tools available to help parents monitor what kids are doing. Apps can also help keep track of where children are, at all times.
And here are my tips for parents buying a phone for a kid for the first time:
-- Be prepared for the worst. It is highly likely the phone will get lost, broken or maybe even stolen because kids tend to be careless. Don't buy a phone you can't afford to lose. My son's first phone was a prepaid phone that only cost about $20. When he jumped into a pool with it in his pocket, it didn't cost much to replace (and he was the one who had to raise the money to replace it).
-- Let them earn a better phone. Set an amount of time, like the first year or six months, and if in that time the phone has been well taken care of and no house rules have been broken, talk about getting a better one.
-- Go with prepaid. Kids often don't realize that going over their minutes or texting will result in big charges. If you do a prepaid plan, you protect yourself.
-- Get the passwords. Talk ahead of time about your rules for phone use and what will happen if they are broken. Get their passwords and let them know you will be checking texts for signs of bullying or other inappropriate behavior. And do check.