Should You Buy a Cell Phone for Your Child?

This past weekend, my nephew told me that kids needed cell phones when they turned 10. He sees the older kids at school with their phones and thinks that all kids should have them. I don't think his mother is quite on board with that plan just yet, but it's a question that she, and other mom's like her, will eventually have to deal with. This week, Tracy Davidson, consumer reporter for WCAU in Philadelphia, looks at what to consider and how to shop for cell phones for your child.

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Is a cell phone on your back to school shopping list?

A lot of kids are heading back to school with new pencils and notebooks and cell phones. The Yankee Group says nearly three quarters of 13 to 17 year olds in this country have cell phones and the Center on Media and Child Health estimates that in the next three years, 54 percent of kids 8 to 12 will have cell phones. If you're trying to figure out if this is the right time or the right age for your child to have a cell phone, there are three key things to consider: need, cost and parental controls.

Most kids WANT a cell phone. Does your kid really NEED one?

While some parents say, "Why would my 8 year old need a cell phone?" others believe it's a necessity these days. Dan Derry, from Verizon Wireless, says the decision is not so much about age. He says many parents base their decisions on where, when and with who their child will be. Is the child taking part in extra-curricular activities? Is he or she by themselves a lot?

Once you've decided whether to buy, shop around to find the best plan for your budget.

There are a lot of offerings out there for young people. Many parents think they save money either by choosing plans with unlimited minutes or unlimited texting. Texting, in particular, is a really important thing to focus on, since that seems to be the dominant form of communication for teens. (I don't get it, but it seems work better for them than talking.) Prepaid plans are also an option for some families. With these plans, once your child has used her minutes, she's done for the month. Some parents like that control and it helps them feel like they can monitor the child's behavior a lot better.

How much do you want to monitor your child's behavior?

There are a lot of ways to keep a close watch on your child's activities. Different providers offer a variety of options for controlling usage. You can restrict internet access, turn off their text messaging or block specific numbers at certain times and days. Good options for parents of teens like my nephew who, if allowed, would be texting his girlfriend all night. You can also restrict messages and downloads. Ask providers specifically for what you want when you start shopping and compare prices.

A lot of parents get their child a cell phone for safety. If this is a big concern for you, I think the coolest feature offered by some carriers is the GPS capability. Here's how it works: Say you know that your child will go to school, followed by practice, then to a friend's house and finally home. You can set it up so if his cell phone goes outside that geographic perimeter, you are notified.

Bottom line: Shop around for features that fit your needs for cost and control. And then have a talk with your child about responsibility. You might even consider having her sign a contract, like this one.

Like this? Read these!

- Kids and cell phones pros and cons
- Cell phone parental controls
- Best cell phones for kids
- Cell phone plan comparison chart


Check out All That & More with Tracy Davidson.

Read more of Tracy's blog posts.

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