Are prepaid cell phones the best option for kids?

By: Sarah Alban

Like mother, like daughter -- should she get a cell phone like yours? See more parenting pictures.
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More than a couple times, your child has asked you for a cell phone. But is it time? You've seen more of her friends whip out their cell phones at your house. She sometimes waits for rides without means of communication. Truth be told, you wish you could text her to feed the cat or take the late bus.

However, you may be worried about her losing the cell phone or running up an exorbitant bill that you'll have to pay. Before adding her to your family plan, consider starting with a prepaid phone. It's like a phone with training wheels.


The Ease of Prepaid

You probably didn't buy your kid a bike fit for Lance Armstrong to begin. You started her with one decked out in kid colors and with training wheels. Then you had her maneuver it around the driveway a dozen times before she could try rounding the block. This is how she learned responsible biking.

A prepaid phone is the same way. They start at about $20 but range upward of $100 for special features. On top of that, activation plans start as low as $5 a month, much less than regular cell contracts. You can buy the phone and plan from trusted brands like Virgin Mobile, Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile. This affordability makes prepaid phones perfect for test-running responsibility and for vacations. Later you can often move a prepaid phone onto to your family contract.

When picking a model, tailor the features to your kid's needs. Parental controls range from functional to fancy. Some higher-costing prepaid phones, like Kajeet, let you track your kid's whereabouts with GPS. Other pricey features include warranties, touch screens, Bluetooth, cameras, social media accessibility and photo-messaging. Many prepaid phones aimed at children also let you control which numbers can be dialed in or out.

But one of the best controls is your child's inability to cost you extra cash. With you controlling the minutes, texts and features, she can't go over a limit without your approval. If she does max out, she'll have to ask you to buy her more minutes, texts or a combination. Some phones even let you control which hours the cell phone works. (Texting in school anyone? Not your bright, focused student.)

Buyer Beware

There are a couple of caveats. Opponents of kids with phones point out that phones can act as a conduit between kids and predators, like pedophiles or even advertisers. Some also point to questionable research linking phone use and brain tumors. The important thing to remember is your child will likely have to get a cell phone at some point. So training her in healthy habits now bodes well for her future use of a more adult cell phone. Besides, if she drops the phone now, at least it wasn't an expensive one. (But just in case, you can buy a prepaid phone with a warranty.)


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Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Aquino, Greg. "Dialed In: Cell Phones for Kids." PCWorld. Aug. 31, 2005. (Oct. 11, 2011).
  • Consumer Search. "Best Kids Cell Phones." 2011. (Oct. 11, 2011).
  • Firefly. "FAQ." 2007. (Oct. 11, 2011).
  • Kajeet. "Why Kajeet?" 2011. (Oct. 11, 2011).
  • Reynolds, Paul. "Buying a child's first cell phone: 5 reasons to think prepaid." Consumer News. Aug. 19, 2010. (Oct. 11, 2011).
  • Wireless Guide. "Prepaid Cell Phone Plans: How To Choose The Right Service." 2007. (Oct. 11, 2011).