Smart phone for a smart-but-still-naive kid
February 14, 2014 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Our oldest child is about to turn 13 and desperately wants a cell phone and an email address. We see both good and bad in this, but we agree that he's matured a lot in the last year and he's old enough (and mature enough) to start learning how to use and live with these things. That said, we're a bit apprehensive, for all of the obvious reasons. With those things in mind, MeFi parents of tweens and young teens: how are approaching/handling your child's cell phone and email usage?

We've been avoiding this issue, but it's time to wrap out heads around it and come up with a plan. We're interested in hearing about all aspects of this, but I'll break our question into three broad categories:

How is your family managing the phone plan side of things? We're on ATT for business reasons, but would welcome hearing about other plans as well.

What is your family's access policy? How much access is do you think is appropriate for your child, and what rules have you established around your child's phone and its usage, and what, if anything, is off limits as a matter of family policy?

Finally, on the tech side, do you use any sort of filtering or gating technology to limit what your child can access, and/or do you monitor their usage after the fact?

I know this is a broad question and I apologize if it sounds like I'm trying to boil the ocean, so feel free to answer just a small part of this if that's easier. Thanks!!
posted by mosk to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
We just set up our son (a bit younger than yours) with an email address, and are starting to think about a phone as well. Here's what we've done about email: created an account that uses an alias (essentially, we didn't put any personally identifying info in the address, like real name, birthdate, etc.); whitelisted those addresses we want to be able to email him, like family and the email addresses of his school friends, which he has asked for in person; and set up my email software to also access his account. I don't read his emails, but I'm able to see them if I need to for some reason.

He's got an iPad on which to read his email, and surf the net. The restrictions we've put in place there are pretty basic -- I've locked down personally identifying info as much as possible, and added an access code for in-app purchases so he can't do that without me knowing and agreeing. So far we haven't installed any filters or anything yet, though that may change.

I don't have any advice on the phone aspect -- I'll be interested to hear what others suggest.
posted by Janta at 10:38 AM on February 14, 2014

It's possible that he is an angel who would never think of this on his own but if your son has internet access at his school or at friends' houses (or for that matter via the mobile phone you might get him) it is virtually impossible to prevent him from creating his own email address that you don't know about, and difficult to control what he views.

Which isn't to say you shouldn't try, but I suspect it might be more productive to focus on being able to have a productive and honest ongoing conversation about what's appropriate, and the dangers of giving away personal information online.

I am totally on board with it being the parents' final say on what is and isn't okay, but have you sat down and asked him what his expectations are? (Beyond "I want an email and a phone" I mean.) How does he feel about you being able to view his mail, or browsing history, or calls, etc.?

Finally, is Snapchat still a popular thing with jr high and high school kids? Because if so it might be a good case study for him of what is and isn't private. I hope he's still too young for this to be an issue but I know too many teenagers who just assume that they can send whatever they want over snapchat and it just disappears. That's not as secure as they might like, not to mention the obvious trick of just taking a photo of the phone screen before the image disappears.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:57 AM on February 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you considered an iPod Touch? Not a cellphone, but he can message, email, and get on the internet when around WiFi. It's a lot easier to monitor, and take away (if necessary).

You can also setup filtering (either on the device, or through-out your home) using a simple DNS setting.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:58 AM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with blue_beetle's advice above: We gave our 13-year-old one of our old iPhones on his birthday to replace his regular cell phone and iPod Touch, and I'm having a bit of buyer's remorse. He uses it 99.9% of the time at home with wifi, so the smartphone charges are basically just gravy for Verizon.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 11:08 AM on February 14, 2014

Response by poster: Appreciate the answers so far, keep 'em coming! Not threadsitting, but FWIW he's had an iPod touch for the last 18 months or so. This is specifically about stepping up to a cell phone and email address.
posted by mosk at 11:19 AM on February 14, 2014

If you end up buying a phone out of contract, there's really nothing that gives better value for the price than a Moto G as long as an Android phone isn't out of the question. It's not the fastest phone, and it doesn't have the best camera, but in regular usage those differences aren't really detectable and it's 100% capable otherwise.
posted by invitapriore at 11:22 AM on February 14, 2014

I just got a Moto G and I love the thing, primarily because it cost $150 on sale and if I drop it I will wince rather than cry.

Snapchat is most definitely a thing amongst the 13-16 year olds that I know.

It has been my experience that teenagers are completely addicted to their smartphones and that makes monitoring their internet use easier, as it is mostly or entirely piped through that one device. It also is an effective parenting tool in that turning off/taking away a kid's phone gets them to straighten up and get back in line with the quickness.

I would strongly suggest against any notion of having him pay for the phone or service. I understand wanting to teach monetary responsibility, but that turns the phone from a parentally controlled privilege into a ipaidforititsmineyoucanthaveit right. If you pay for it, you get to inspect it, you get to take it away, etc.

Good luck!
posted by Athene at 11:30 AM on February 14, 2014

I bought my 12 year old (now 13) a refurb LG Optimus S (~$75) and added her to our family plan on Ting. She has a Gmail address but rarely uses it. After approximately 2 years I have no reservations whatsoever. Ting is very cheap ($60-80/month for three lines) and the phone is her most precious possession and she treats it as such. She lets me scan her Instagram feeds and text messages (Kik) for anything untoward and has never so much as dropped it. I installed Life360 on it to keep rough geographical tabs on her location.

YMMV of course depending on the child's maturity but our experience has been overwhelmingly positive. It has also helped immeasurably in coordinating her increasingly busy schedule.
posted by erebora at 11:52 AM on February 14, 2014

My kids are eight, and have email addresses they almost never use. I figure when they start using them with their friends, there isn't anything they can share that they couldn't share on the school playground.

They also share a dedicated OOMA internet phone line, which means they can actually call and talk to friends all they want without incurring any cost to me. I figure that having them on the phone with a friend beats email, and they seem to agree as the phone gets used more.

Cell phone? Too pricey, and unnecessary for someone who socializes almost exclusively in person or making calls from home, but that's just my take on it.
posted by davejay at 12:04 PM on February 14, 2014

Both of my kids have had Iphones for awhiile now and have done very well with the responsibilities that come with them. Both have had some sort of device since age 12 or so that had internet access. they have email addresses too, but the youngest never uses it and the oldest mostly uses it to get info on colleges she is applying to. Email is just not really a thing for them as far as communication at all. That is all done through texting or some flavor of social media, so we had to put more thought into use of those things than we did email.

I have the ability to see what they post on these sites and will look at texts if i feel it is necessary. we have been so fortunate and the most we have had to deal with is how not to be rude and use their devices when they should be engaged in what is going on around them. I have girls and there have been lectures on how it is inappropriate for someone to ask you to send naked or scantily clad pictures of themselves and how those things NEVER stay with the first person they are sent to no matter how close you think you are to that person. We have talked about not revealing that you are home alone or going on vacation and to be aware of strangers who are following or friending you. There have been lectures that what you post can come back to haunt you years from now and how colleges and business look for negative things on social websites. We have talked about how it is easy for people to misrepresent themselves online and for the girls to not engage the random DM or IM's if they aren't sure who it is. And much like real life, if someone gives you the creeps or you are uncomfortable, trust yourself and act accordingly.

i love my kids having phones. They are gone all the time for activites and it makes coordinating all of that so much easier.

As far as plans go, our oldest grandfathered in to the Iphone unlimited plan which we will keep forever. We have unlimited texting, but now that we all have iphones i am considering downgrading. With I message, we don't use that many texts. My youngest daughter has a smaller plan and after a couple of months of overages and understanding what that meant, has learned to make sure she is using any available wi fi and to watch her usage otherwise. ATT sends warnings when you reach say 50% of purchased usage and she knows when our plan renews each month and monitors herself accordingly.
posted by domino at 12:23 PM on February 14, 2014

I give my 13-year-old free reign over his internet access and communications. We talk about appropriate behavior and such but I strongly value privacy and would feel uncomfortable monitoring him or threatening to.

He has an ancient Virgin phone that was a hand-me-down from my mom; not a Smartphone. It's pay as you go and costs about $7/ month, which he pays for (my kids' allowances cover most of their non-necessities so they can decide what they really want money spent on). If he wants to upgrade I plan to add him to my Ting plan (very cheap for my usage); other than the $6/ month additional phone fee, my usage is so low that it's possible he'll not have any charges above that, especially if he makes an effort to use wifi rather than cell data. (Let me know if you want a Ting referral!)
posted by metasarah at 12:38 PM on February 14, 2014

My biggest reason for deciding when to get cell phones for my kids was this: are they at a point where they will be out somewhere without adult supervision? Prior to that point, I would rely on the parent to have a cell phone and be able to make contact in an emergency, and I would consider the child as a child. But once the kids got older and started hanging out at the mall or the park in a group of friends without an adult, I wanted to be able to contact them.
posted by CathyG at 2:14 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

A very high level of supervision compared to what passes for "typical" these days... and NOT slacking off after the point where they and you have gotten used to them having one, and you *think* you trust them with it. Because THAT's exactly when things tend to get hairy.
posted by stormyteal at 10:25 PM on February 14, 2014

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