smart spending

The high cost of high-tech teens

For Diane Matheson, the financial breaking point of keeping her teen in technology was the $360 her daughter spent to download music and horoscopes onto her cellphone. For "Ellen," who is too embarrassed to use her real name, it was back-to-back cellphone bills totaling $1,100 for her teen daughter.

"Parents are doing ridiculous things to finance the status symbols of their children."

Back when today's parents struggled to join the "in" crowd, being cool meant wearing the right clothes and sneakers, having an extension phone in your room and listening to the right music on eight-track or cassette tapes.

For this generation of teens and tweens, the cost of being cool and connected has soared. New and upgraded phones, tablets and iPods seem to come out monthly, but phones are the main expense: Teens, tweens and younger kids want cellphones and smartphones to talk to and text their friends and to keep up with social media.

"It's about being cool -- having that cellphone so you can whip it out," says Claudine Jalajas, adding that there's no way her 10-year-old son is getting a cellphone anytime soon, despite his constant pleas. "When we were kids, we saw adults with cigarettes in their hands and we thought that made you look cool. Now it's cellphones."

Keeping up with the "iJoneses"

The use of technology by teens is only growing. A Pew Research study last year found that not only has the use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter increased from 2012 to 2013, but teens are spending more time on them and sharing more personal information.

The result for parents is that they often feel ambushed by high bills with charges for hundreds of minutes, thousands of texts and Internet options they didn't even know existed. Keeping up with the Joneses' cool kids has never been so costly.

"Apparently it is very expensive to have access to the Web," Matheson says wryly. "That wasn't explained to me. My daughter downloaded four songs and those four songs cost me $280. I was really upset. I canceled the service right away."

Unlimited and costly headaches

The cost of an iPhone alone can set parents back $200 or more. Tablets are even more, but it's the monthly plans for talk, text and data that can run up a fortune in a hurry. And then there are the extra purchases, such as various apps or downloads from iTunes, which often catch parents by surprise when it comes time to pay the bill.

But beyond the monetary costs of various devices is the question of who should be paying for their use.

Both Matheson's and Ellen's girls are paying back their parents for their excessive phone use by baby-sitting and forking over birthday cash, but their families are footing the bills in the meantime.


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