When Do Tweens Need Cell Phones? — Part 2
NOTE: Although I refer to girls in this blog, all areas apply to boys as well as girls.
OK, you read my last post and you decided that your tween is finally ready for a cell phone. “Where do I go from here?” is the message my psychic mind is getting. Well, here is the next step in keeping your sanity, giving your child the appropriate phone, and keeping your costs in line.
Check out websites (not the carriers’ sites) that provide consumer reviews of phones, accessories, and cell services. Pare down your choices, then meander over to the various carrier websites where you will now have to deal with marketing hype. Does your child really need a smartphone? Choose wisely grasshopper.
Where is your tween going to be using the phone? Around town? Out of state with a parent or other family member on a regular basis? Carrier coverage maps are a start, but they won’t tell you where the “dead zones” are in the area your tween needs coverage. Talk to people who use their phones in these same areas. Then ask them how they would rate the service and what issues you could possibly face as a customer.
Postpaid or Prepaid
Most of us have postpaid/contract-based services with our cell providers. Depending on your current plan, you may be able to simply add another phone to your existing plan and share your bucket of minutes, text messages, and data (if you’ve chosen a smartphone) with your tween. In order to get an inexpensive phone, some plans will require you sign a 1-2 year service agreement. These generally carry a hefty early termination fee, so ask lots of questions before signing on the proverbial dotted line.
Prepaid plans typically contain no contract or overage charges because you pay up front for a certain number of “units.” Usage is deducted from your bucket of units. With many of these plans, the phone can no longer be used until additional units are purchased, whether you are on a monthly prepaid plan or a buy-as-you-go plan. Some prepaid plans provide unlimited calling/browsing/texting, even if the allotted units have been used up. If you go this route, be sure your tween understands that their lack of good judgement could cost you a pretty penny. Prepaid phones are not generally discounted because there is no contract involved. Both postpaid and prepaid plans change regularly. These are simply guidelines. Read the fine print and ask boatloads of questions.
Texting–This is a BIG deal
Over 40 percent of tweens use texting as their primary form of communication–more than face-to-face contact, email, instant messaging and speaking on the phone. This number grows every year. Consider this as a key factor when choosing a plan for your tween. If you can afford it, get unlimited texting. It is not unusual for a tween to text between 1,000 and 3,000 texts per month, once they are in full swing. A few accomplished tween texters have hit close to 10,000 texts in a month. Don’t ignore this facet of your tween’s preferred method of communicating with others.
Data plans can be costly. Does your tween really need it? A better question is can your budget take it? And are you comfortable with your child’s ability to manage and self-regulate their data usage? Remember that smartphones give them access to the Web, the ability to download apps, and the ability to send instant messages and use other social media platforms. Ask the carriers about what they offer by way of parental controls and don’t be afraid to use those controls. Your tween may hate you for a while, but you’ll both get over it. Better safe than sorry.
You may be steering this ship, but let your tween pick their phone (from the choices you give them). Allow her to try it out–keyboard, clarity of sound, and any other important function you deem necessary. Does it fit in her hands comfortably? Let her choose the color if that is an option. This is part of her responsibility; she chooses the phone that works for her. If she complains down the road, you can remind her that it was her choice, not yours.
Don’t buy at a brick and mortar store before checking to see what special deals you may find online. Sometimes carriers offer online-only discounts. Also, if you are purchasing a new phone, it should come with a money-back guarantee, usually 30 days or less. Pay attention to the timeframe of this guarantee. Work closely with your tween to determine whether the phone is working as advertised. That includes making sure there is coverage where your tween hangs out most often. If not, make changes within the guarantee period or you could face heavy penalties if you need to opt out later.
I do not profess to be a cell phone carrier expert. I give you these suggestions to help you find the right product at the right price for your tween. My hope is to make your job as a parent a bit easier.
Next Week: Setting Rules for Your Tween and Her Phone
Shine Your Light — Annie M