With a son going into fifth grade, I’m one of the few holdouts among the class parents who hasn’t given into peer pressure and gotten my child a smartphone. I have my reasons, most notably among them, he hasn’t asked for one … yet.
Truth be told, I also don’t think he’s ready for the responsibility of carrying around a device worth hundreds of dollars just so he can take a few schoolyard selfies. And, then there’s the monthly expense of adding another line to our account. The way I figure it, the longer I can get away with being a two-phone family (just my husband and me), the better.
However, I know the day is coming. Mobile users are getting younger and younger, especially tweens and teens who take part in after-school teams or go home to an empty house before their parents arrive home. Pretty soon, my son will be partaking in more activities without me, too, and knowing he can get in touch with me will provide peace of mind.
A 2017 survey by the collaborative educational site Top Hat found that 75% of the students surveyed felt that their phones and other digital devices helped them learn more effectively. In fact, 41% of those students said they have used Google to find answers to classroom questions.
These students were in higher education, older than my son. When the time comes, however, I plan to use the phone to impart some financial lessons about saving for and earning a privilege (not to mention about social media and technology responsibility). Here are some ideas that I’ve picked up from parenting and personal finance experts over the years that I plan to adopt:
Explain the costs. A good time to talk about financial responsibility is when a child receives his first cellphone. Pull out a physical bill to show how much monthly fees are, and go over any data plan limitations. Unlike electric or heating costs, about which a child might not give much thought, using a cellphone is a tangible service and he or she should understand what you are paying for it. Make sure they understand the true purpose of a cellphone and that it is not a toy.
Make a deal. Taking the idea of an allowance a bit further, have your child take on a new chore or task that will help him earn money toward his portion of the cellphone bill. If he or she is old enough to text, there’s no reason why taking out the trash or doing the dishes should be too difficult.
And don’t forget to make deals on phone plans. Some companies offer special rates for students and teachers; be sure to ask. Republic offers a low, no-contract prepayment plan for unlimited text and talk (with some restrictions). Freedom Pop has a free plan — yes, free — for wifi calls. (That means calls placed over wifi and not a cellular network.) The basic plan is very limited, but if your student uses WiFi whenever it is available, they can save on data costs. Compare deals to the plan you already have in place to determine which is the better option for your student.
Go over hidden fees and costs. Whether it’s a fancy phone case or downloading new apps each week, accessories and extras add up. Point out the free app options available (and how vendors might try to get you to add costly extras) and how using a hand-me-down case from an older sibling can save a few bucks. Wash off the smudges and grime to make it look brand-new. Have your student make fun inserts for a clear case — this easy project can spiff up an otherwise boring case, make it personal, and allow the student to change inserts when it is no longer trendy.
Chat about privacy and identity theft. There is so much to worry about when your youngster enters the world of social media and mobile communications, you’ll need to go over safety and best practices and closely monitor activity. One thing to point out to your young mobile user is that he or she could be vulnerable to hackers, so be sure to make it a rule not to give out any personal information via text or online. Explain the dangers (and the laws) about posting photos or video.
Keep an emergency number in the contact list. Instead of the name of the contact person, label the number “Emergency.” Police or emergency responders will know whom to call if necessary. Explain to your child that phoning 911 is a free call and they do not need any network authentication.
Only time will tell how far into the school year the cellphone request comes up, but at least I’ll have a game plan ready so my son will know that having a cellphone is something of value and should be treated as such. At the very least, it’ll be good practice for that other scary teenage milestone looming ahead … when he learns to drive.
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