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Kids & Cell Phones

By Robert Lett

Is it safety? Is it security? Or is it just cool?

Have you ever noticed how many kiosks have popped up in you favorite mall? And just about all of them are selling cell phones. Teens can actually design their own graphics and have the graphic airbrushed on the face of the phone itself. They face plates and antennas that light up on each ring. Just drop by a kiosk next time your at the mall, you'll see what I mean.

In a resent Los Angeles Times article, they stated that teens with cell phones were at around 16% on average. I think by 2005, it will more of an average of 50% or even more.

Cell phones seem to be a great security feature for the parents. They can now be 'connected' to their children 24 hours a day, 7 days week, and 365 days a year. And of course, it allows the child to dial 911 if an emergency arises. And now with the GPS Location Sensitivity feature, your child will be located during that emergency with ten feet of the phones location.

Of course, with all this technology and added security, there are a few problems. The school systems are being cluttered with phone calls in the middle of class. And there is always the problem with calls in the hallways and bathrooms going on continuously. Most schools are adopting the "use it during school - you loose it" policy. This has become a real burden on school administrators. Their parents as far as carrying the phones themselves back the children. So this isn't something they can take away and keep until the end of the year. They must give the phones back at the end of the day. This is usually enough of a deterrent to keep them off during school hours.

If children and most adults new to cell phones could just remember to put their phones on silent or vibrate alert, these problems would never occur. These are the same issues with many other public places including movie theaters. Of course, it's easier for some wearing a belt to put their phone on vibrate, then you still know if the phone rings or not, regardless if you answer it or not. But for most women, they usually don't wear belts, this creates a problem. If the phone is in any mode other than "ring", they never know, (without checking from time to time), if they have missed a call or not. So usually, the phones are left in the "ring" mode and probably on load, sitting somewhere in the bottom of a purse. Even with the purses with the little pocket on the outside for the phone, the phones are still left in the "ring" mode.

How do you keep your child from talking you out of house-n-home? If you think about how your child may get on the home phone and talk for hours if you let them. What if they did that on their cell phone? There is one answer. But this might limit your ability to get in contact with them when you want to.

Some ideas:

1. Using a prepaid phone instead of using a shared plan, (it costs anywhere from $0.30 to $1.00 per minute talk time). You give them a certain amount of minutes per month. After that, it's up to them to use their allowance money to up the phone time. These phones are usually cheap and not as fancy as some of the newer models.

Using this technique is also useful on determining how responsible they may be with a checking account in the future. If they are out of the allotted minutes within the first week of the month, this might reflect in bounced checks in the future. And can also help to ingrain the use of saving up for that rainy day: If the child doesn't use all their minutes this month, they will have that many more minutes to use the following month and so on. Just like saving money in the bank. If you spend all your allowance in one week, you won't have anything for the next three, but if you save now, you have twice as much to spend next month. And so on, three times as much as the following month. (Hmmm, so what could you buy if you were holding three months worth of allowance)? Think about it.

Parents can recharge the phone each month as part of their allowance. This gives children a feel for having a checking account! Because, when it's gone, it's gone! This will hopefully build a level of responsibility. Or this could possibly make them want to go out and get a job to buy more minutes. Either way, it has the potential to help them coup with the world ahead of them.

2. Shared plans from your current provider. This is the cheapest way to go. But, if your child is not yet responsible enough not to over use, then your in for an interesting surprise at the end of the billing cycle. With most of these plans, you can get anywhere from $0.07 to $0.12 per minute. And with most carriers, the plans include either 1000 mobile-to-mobile minutes, which means if your child calls someone else on the same cell provider as you, the call comes off the 1000 minutes. Some even have plans that mobile to mobile are unlimited. And many of the plans have free night and weekend plans. Which would mean, you might never get the child off the phone over the weekend! Remember one thing: It's hard to keep up with what minutes where used when and how, so you would have to check with your cell provider from time to time to see where you are on the minutes you have available. Most services have a number you can dial, and a computer voice will read off the time you have used for the current billing cycle. And most of these plans will require a one to two year contract which might cost as much as $100 to $200 to break. So if you decide that the family plan isn't working out like you thought, it might cost you up to $200 to end that contract. Most of these plans will also have an activation fee, they usually charge anywhere from $30 to $50 per phone being activated. And of course, don't forget one really important thing: You have to buy the phone! This always helps to you the service. And this is probably going to be something the child will want to pick out.

One note about cell phone time-sharing. If you have a family of three using a shared plan of 300 minutes per month, and your child decides to use 300 minutes of talk time within the first 3 days, for the rest of that month you will be paying anywhere from $0.35 to $0.60 per minute for every call! This might not even be a responsibility factor: What if your child calls a friend that he thought was on the same cell carrier. Which, if you have the 1000 minute mobile to mobile or unlimited, this call wouldn't count against your plan. But if his friend was wrong about the carrier, you get bill.

(I've actually done this)! And I never checked my time because I use a program that does that for me. I just enter in the numbers I think are unlimited, and the program never counts those numbers. Well, if you get that wrong, it can bite pretty hard at the end of the billing cycle when you see that pretty bill.

A note about roaming fees. If you aren't in your "area" as defined by your cell service provider, you will be charge a roaming fee for incoming and outgoing calls. If your plan doesn't include a national calling plan, you will be charged anywhere from $0.45 to $0.80 per minute for those calls. So be careful.

3. Prepaid phones.

Simple, you buy a phone and then buy minutes as you need them. Most will include roaming and nationwide coverage, ("Roaming" no additional fees for your current location, where ever that might be and "Nationwide Coverage" just means no long distance charges). These phones don't require any contracts, so this means you can cancel at any time without paying any cancellation fees, which can be anywhere from $140 to $190, depending on the contract length you signed up for originally.

These phones don't require a credit card or even a checking account. If you have the cash in hand, you walk away with a cell phone and a certain amount of usage time. It's just that simple.

3. Disposable phones. Yes, disposable! They're going to have many up sides. Just to name a few: They are setup the same as the prepaid phones, no possibility to get a LARGE phone bill at the end of the billing cycle. No roaming or long distance charges, some won't even work if you leave the activation area, (be careful on this one, mainly if you are getting one for emergency use). No contracts to deal with and no activation fees, or credit checks.

The bad side, no call waiting, voice mail, or SMS (Small Message Service) capabilities. And you'll pay a higher per minute charge, just like the prepaid phones. In a way, these are prepaid phones, just cheaper. And you probably won't be able to sale an old phone on eBay, even if it's in good condition.

They are soon to be introduced at a price of around $40, which gives you the cell phone and about 10 minutes of talk time. This also includes the charger and a headset.

These little phones can be recharged with time by either buying a scratch-off card that resembles a lottery ticket. After scratching the card, there is a PIN number, you enter it into the phone, and your minutes are updated. Parents will also have the ability to call in and update the minutes if need be. The minutes expire just like the prepaid phones, but they are saying it's set to every six months. If you update your minute balance, the phones won't expire. The current price per minute, $0.25 to $0.35, depending on the phone your purchased. And of course, the downside is with a regular cell plan, you would probably pay around $0.15 per minute or less.

These little phones are soon to be sold in department stores to convenient stores. No check or credit cards are need. If you have the cash, you can have a cell phone.

And when your done with the phone, you either throw it away, or recycle it. (You might want to recycle the battery at least! Depending on the type of battery, most States have laws that describe how to properly dispose of rechargeable batteries.

Things to keep in mind when buying a cell phone for a child: With most all of the newer phones, you can send and receive SMS (Small Message Service), which means the phone is also capable of sending and receiving email from the web. Some of the phones allow Internet access just like your home computer. Some phones will display graphics; this means "all" types of graphics. Some phones will take low-resolution pictures. These pictures can be sent to anyone that can receive a picture via SMS or the Internet. What if a picture was taken in the Physical Education dressing room at school and sent across campus and off through the Internet. Do you get picture?

There have been many complaints in school about this type of Hi-Tech bullying. You have to make your children understand the do's and don'ts of the new technology. Make sure your child isn't being bullied and make sure your child is being the bully. All this new technology needs to be monitored when children are at play. Just like your home computer, you must be careful where your children are going. One simple way of tracking who your children are calling, even on the prepaid phone models is to check the call history. Some phones allow you to set the call history at to save up to the last 999 phone calls made. Other phones may only go up to 100 or even less. You can check that history and see who they called, when, and for how long. You can see if it might have been late at night when they should be sleeping or if the call was made in the middle of a class at school, which could denote skipping classes, hey, you never know. But there are many ways to find out what your child is up to just by looking at the phone history. It tells you much more than just a bunch of numbers!

Just remember, most of these camera phones can send and receive pictures, inappropriate material can also be sent and received. Just be aware of this.

Most phones will access the web just like your home computer. This means graphics of all kinds can be viewed.

If the phone will send & receive text messages, SMS, it will have the ability to send & receive Email.

Many plans have free night and weekend minutes, but make sure your child understands the company definition of "night and weekend," Most start around 9 p.m. and end around 6 a.m. the next morning. And your weekend minutes begin around 9 p.m. on Friday and end around 6 a.m. on Monday. Incoming and outgoing text messages, incoming and outgoing calls, Web access, and special features such as downloading games, screen savers, and ring tones all costs money or costs part your cell minutes. Just make sure your child understands that before it becomes a co$tly argument. Most of the horror stories I've heard about where a child ran up $1000 or more in cell phone bills within one month is usually a case where the child thought they were on free minutes of some kind, but were not.

Cell companies have confusing plans for a reason, to get you to spend more and make it difficult to keep up with peak minutes used. Most services have free mobile-to-mobile calls. If you are on Verizon and you call someone else on Verizon, it costs you nothing off your peak cell minutes. This is free for peak and non-peak calls. (Check with your own carry to see if they offer this feature). Soon we'll be able to keep our cell numbers as we bounce from carrier to carrier. Let's say your on Verizon, your friend used to be on Verizon, she switched to Sprint and she was able to take her old cell phone number with her. You still call the same number and think she is on Verizon, so it's a free call, right? No, since she moved to Sprint. It becomes a costly mistake at the end of the month when you get your bill. What I'm trying to say is this; we adults get caught in the cell company's confusion trap too. It might not completely be your child's fault for bringing home a cell bill with high scores on it, instead of their report card.

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About The Author

Robert Lett has operated his 25 year old company Infinite Data for the past 4 years with nothing more than a handheld Smartphone. As a public records research specialist, I need to have all my important files with me when ever I speak with a client. I now carry all those files with me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, hanging on my belt. I haven't sat at my desk in front of my computer for over 3 years. Be productive 24/7, anywhere - anytime.


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