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Teens and Cell Phones: Advice For Dads

Deciding to Buy


Smiling teenage boy in living room text messaging on cell phone
Paul Bradbury/OJO Images/Getty Images

If you are the father of a teen or pre-teen, you have certainly heard the inevitable plea, “Dad, can I get a cell phone?” Current statistics indicate that 1/3 of all teens or pre-teens in the United States carry a cell phone, and about 25% of all cell phone revenues come from this age group. It is not surprising that your child might feel left out if he or she doesn’t have one in a pocket or a backpack.

But while teens love them, moms and dads can get burned by cell phones in the hands of teenagers. Charges for excess minutes, for text messages, for phone-based e-mail and other services can be burdensome. A cell phone can also tend to change relationships (positive or negative) and can lead to some “dangerous liaisons.” So, what should a dad know about teens and cell phones and what can he do to make the experience positive?

Cell Phone Plans

With an ever-growing market for the sale of cell phone services to teens, the various cell phone providers have a wide variety of choices to meet the needs of this segment of their market. Currently, the plans tend to revolve around a few general choices:

Stand-Alone Plan. In this case, your teen has a cell phone on his or her own account and receives a bill for that service. Generally, the plan includes a limited number of airtime minutes and a per-minute cost when the account uses more than the limited minutes.

Companion Plan. In a plan like this, a phone is added to the account of a parent and the minutes are shared between multiple phones. Frequently, these plans include unlimited minutes between cell phones on the same plan.

Local Unlimited Plan. This type of plan has unlimited minutes for local and incoming calls, but charges per minute for long distance calls.

Prepaid Plan. In this case, the phone minutes are prepaid and when the minutes are gone, so is the cell service.

Which Plan is Right for Your Teen?

From the parents with whom I have spoken, the key question in selecting a plan is how the phone will likely be used. For example, a teen who uses the cell phone for virtually all calls to friends and family may do well with a local unlimited plan. In our case, our teen’s cell phone is on a companion plan and any minutes in excess of her share of the shared minutes come out of her spending money. But since she and her mom can call each other’s phone without cost, they stay in communication all day long. For teens that have a hard time managing their minutes, a prepaid plan can be a great strategy.

Comparison Shopping

Make sure when you buy a cell phone plan that you shop around for the best deal. Make your decision about the type of plan you want and then find the best combination of minutes and features. Providers will often meet or beat competitors’ prices and plans, so get offers in writing.

Make sure with each plan you compare you ask the following important questions.

  • What is the basic monthly charge?
  • How many anytime minutes are included?
  • How many free night and weekend minutes are included?
  • What is per minute airtime rate if included minutes are exceeded?
  • What is the long distance charge?
  • Are there roaming charges when you are outside your local area? If so, how much per minute?
  • What are the hours per day for peak versus off-peak minutes?
  • What is the charge for text messages?
  • What are the charges for Internet access if the phone has it?
  • How long is the initial contract period?
  • Can you make changes to the plan during the contract period?
  • What is the cost of termination during the contract period?

What Should Your Teen Pay?

Again, the answer to this question depends on a variety of circumstances. Having your teen pay the full cost helps them to be responsible phone users. But if they pay it all, it’s a little hard for you to regulate their use. In our case, we cover the monthly cost of the phone plan—that way, we can require that she carry the phone, check in with us and be able to checked upon by mom and dad. But any minutes she uses over her allocation, she pays for. She also pays for all text messages on her phone since there is a charge.

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