Handing your child their own cellphone is a big parenting step. It can open up a whole new world to your kids (one which requires much vigilance on your part), but it can also be just a simple tool to help you stay in touch. The right cellphone plan for your child will depend on what they use it for. Here’s an age-by-age guide to choosing a phone and phone plan for your child.
You may not need a cellphone plan at all if your child mainly wants a smartphone for “fun” and you don’t need it as an essential communication tool. A device such as an iPod Touch or a deactivated smartphone can act just like a phone—it can make calls and send texts using apps such as FaceTime, Skype, or Google Hangouts—but without a monthly cellphone bill.
Most apps that work on iPhones or Android phones (like games and video streaming), will work without a cellular connection for free, as long as they’re connected to WiFi. The caveat is that without cellular service, they can’t make regular phone calls nor send or receive standard SMS text messages. If you are an Xfinity Mobile customer, your child can access hundreds of WiFi hotspots nationwide, so they have a better chance of being connected when they aren’t on their home WiFi.
Preteens might be in situations where they need to reach a parent or caregiver, but they don’t need unfettered access to the Internet. Some simple prepaid plans or inexpensive add-ons to an existing service for basic flip phones may be all you need. These plans don’t use data and often can be restricted to just dialing or receiving calls from certain numbers. They cost between $15 and $30 per month, depending on which network you choose. You can also opt for a prepaid plan, but as long-term cellphone contracts are largely a thing of a past, there’s no need to pre-pay anymore. Xfinity Mobile offers an attractive option for preteens. You can get 100 MB of shared data per month, plus unlimited nationwide talk and text included with your Xfinity Internet service.
Once you’ve decided it’s time for your child to have a full-fledged smartphone (one with access to the Internet courtesy of a data plan), you will need to choose a plan that allows calling, texting, and has a data allowance. That data will help access the many useful functions of a smartphone—from navigation to music streaming, social media activities to games. The advantage of these phones from a parenting perspective is that you can keep “tabs” on your children. You can see their location, monitor which apps they’re using, and easily communicate with them regardless of whether they’re in range of WiFi.
In the past, this meant having “a family plan,” where would you pay an extra-line fee and shell out for a set amount of data each month. But today’s family plans have largely gone the way of two-year contracts. They’ve been replaced by tiered pricing, where you pay a higher amount for your first and sometimes second phone line, and then a smaller amount for your third, fourth, and fifth line. All of these plans generally come with unlimited calling and text messages, and you choose an amount of data to share between all your lines. Or, you can opt for an unlimited data plan. None of these now require annual contracts, but you may need to put a deposit down. Some are called “prepaid plans,” even though they are essentially the same as the old monthly plans, just without the commitment.
With an Xfinity Mobile plan, you don’t pay any deposit, extra-line fees, or for minutes or texts; you just pay for the data each line uses. For example, you can pay $45 a month for unlimited data on your phone, and allot your child 1 Gb per month for just $12. Both phones have unlimited minutes and texts. That’s cheaper than most pay-as-you-go options, which were previously the best solution for younger smartphone users.
If (or when!) your teenager’s active online lifestyle is burning through your data allowance each month, it might be time to consider switching to an unlimited plan. There are several options for unlimited plans across all the popular carriers, but Xfinity Mobile’s $45 per month with no-line access fees is one of the least expensive.
Once you’ve decided on the best plan for your child, the next step is choosing the best device. Consider the benefits of Android and iPhone options, and check out the features of specific devices.