Kids and cell phones

Little Girl with Cell PhoneA little history

When we first got our teenage son a cell phone he was thirteen. We had thought that we might be in for some trouble. Will he text too much? Will he download a bunch of games? Will he use up a ton of our shared minutes? Now at the time, there were far less controls for these things at the carrier-level, and apps weren’t the new-fangled smart phone app-store types of apps. Surprisingly, though, he did none of this – even to this day, he barely makes any phone calls, and most of the texting he does is with me. Most of the usage was as an alarm clock, camera/video camera, and music player. So, for him a cell phone was an absolute non-issue.

Up to this point, our next oldest son, had been dropping hints non-stop for no less than two-years – wanting a cell phone, different phones that were cool, all the cool things he could/would do with a cell phone, what kind of phone this friend or that friend has (you wouldn’t believe the number of twelve-year old kids running around with cell phones) – you name it.

Fast-forward to this last Easter

We finally broke down and decided that it may just be a good thing for the kid to get a phone, after all he was doing really well in school and keeping up with his homework. Now, it’s hard not to get into anything other than a smart phone these days, but you can’t have the younger kid with a better phone than the older one…or can you? Well, after all was said and done, it was going to cost next to nothing to upgrade the other phone, so why not? Two smart phones, two Easter gifts, real simple. It was basically a hit, and everyone was happy. Android phones, an app store, a bunch of free app potential, free unlimited texting.

Fast-forward again to the next cell phone bill

Just as we had suspected, the younger one was using the crap out of his phone. Texting left and right, making calls, downloading free games, the whole deal. Okay, so why is this cell phone bill so big? I had expected a larger than normal bill just due to the fact that we would have hookup charges for the extra line, and rebates on the hardware take forever to come back. Despite that, then why were the charges on his line so big? What’s this extra $20…and what the hell is “premium messaging“? So, I’m on the phone to Verizon trying to figure out what this is, and what can I do about it.

It turns out that there are some incredibly spammy things that go along with crappy little free applications in the open Android Marketplace, and it sure looks to me like they are honing in on the kids. For instance – quizzes, ringtones, and other “premium” (shiny) things like to rear their ugly heads, and engage in some real shady/sleezy opt-in practices, not making it real clear to a youngster that this is a service that will be charged to your [parents’] bill, and if you don’t notice, it will continue to charge every month! Since this is a third-party, there isn’t anything that the carrier can do for you, money-wise, but they can help you opt-out and block further charges. However, since the billing cycle doesn’t jive with the third-party charge cycle, watch out – you just might get hit with more charges, even if you opt-out and start blocking immediately.

Lessons learned

  • Actually read your bill and don’t just let an auto-payment let it slip through
  • Block out “premium” stuff – the carrier can assist you, or you can usually always do it yourself online
  • You can block a bunch of other things you may not have known about that might do potential damage
  • Buy the insurance – full-price replacement hardware is expensive!
  • Teach the kid what airplane mode is, and why you won’t be able to get a hold of them if it’s on
  • Teach the kid that battery life is a precious resource, and how it goes fast when you do cool things
  • Find out your school’s policies regarding phones and electronic devices – they like to take them away

Benefits

There are a few benefits, and after all, cell phones are here to stay. You can definitely feel a little bit safer knowing that you should be able to get a hold of your child with a little training. Also, they will have the ability to call for help, if necessary. You can also sign-up for things like GPS tracking for that added bit of security – for our carrier (Verizon) at this time, this feature is an extra charge, but it’s not outrageous. It’s also worth mentioning that the opportunity for lessons in responsibility can be taken advantage of here. As an added bonus, you are probably inheriting a powerful tool that can be used as an incentive and/or taken away for misbehavior.

P.S.

Please, don’t get me wrong, I am not bashing Android or Verizon (or any other carrier) here. In fact, I don’t blame them, nor do I blame my son. Just a little heads-up on things that you may or may not be aware of!

What am I missing?