Giving your teen a mobile phone might make you feel reassured that you'll be able to keep in touch with your child even though you’re not there to supervise – but is she old enough to use it responsibly?
These days it’s not unusual to see children as young as eight and nine chattering away on their mobile phones. If your teenager’s friends already have them it won’t be long before she’s pestering you for one too. But aside from the fact that your teen is willing and able, are you ready for an additional parenting expense?
I ask this because it’s difficult to anticipate the expense that accompanies a teenager having a mobile phone and it’s something you need to consider very carefully prior to agreeing. Let me be very clear here. Many phone companies will give you a phone… in fact they’re queuing up to do it. It’s the service contract that can be problematic because once you sign on the dotted line, you’re responsible for the payments. And hidden in most phone contracts are expensive options that can add up fast. Text messaging, sound and picture downloads, and conference calls can all increase the monthly bill… and we haven’t even discussed long distance charges.
When I purchased a mobile phone for my son a few years ago, I thought it was the perfect vehicle for helping me stay in contact with him. I was certain I could afford the basic monthly charge… but I never considered the exorbitant amount of time he would spend on the phone with friends, in addition to all the options mentioned above. You can be sure I wasn’t best pleased when the monthly bill was continuously three times the amount I’d anticipated.
Although the idea of purchasing the phone seemed a good one, with the understanding that it would lead to improved communication with my son when he was off who knows where, I hadn’t even remotely anticipated the effect it would have on his social life. Yes, the phone did allow me to keep tabs on my son when I wanted to talk to him or know where he was. But it also meant he instantly knew where everything was happening in and around where we live.
My son is a pretty good kid – however, like most teenagers, he finds it hard to say no when his friends call up to invite him over or go out. The mobile made his social life much easier to co-ordinate – which, in itself, increased his running costs! Teenagers live for mobile phones. Besides the Internet, the mobile is their primary form of communication throughout the day. So, ironically, the phone put a strain on our relationship because of the increased monthly expense and his constant need to respond to the demands of his friends.
Eventually I had to bite the bullet and cancel the contract… and of course there was a cost attached to that as well. My son did without for a year or so and now pays for his own mobile, ‘Thou shalt not sign mobile phone contracts for they teen’ having become, for me, the little-publicized eleventh commandment.
So once your teen starts bleating on at you about having one, keep in mind the fact that generations of teens have grown up without mobiles, and they did just fine. Your teen won’t be deprived by not owning one – though naturally he will tell you the opposite.
Feel yourself caving? Consider these:
- Although your teenager will be able to remain in contact with you, everyone else can contact her as well. And just because you can talk to her doesn’t mean you’ll actually know where she is.
- The concept of ‘monthly payments’ doesn’t really mean anything to a teenager earning little income with few financial responsibilities.
- All the ‘bells and whistles’ available on mobile phones come at a premium that may be in addition to the monthly service cost.
- Just tell her you can’t afford it – and brandish a stack of other bills under her nose as proof.
Thinking it’s a great idea? Consider these:
- Get her a pay-as-you-go mobile and inform your teen she has to use her allowance to buy the minutes.
- Have her save at least a year’s payment of the fees prior to the purchase and hand this money over to you in advance.
- Loan her your mobile if she’s going to be out late.