smart spending

The high cost of high-tech teens

"Maybe I should take a second job," says a still steaming Ellen.

"Parents are doing ridiculous things to finance the status symbols of their children," says Marybeth Hicks, author of "Bringing Up Geeks."

You shouldn't have to take a second job to pay for your kids' phone bills, music and high-tech games. Here are some tips on holding the line.

1. Comparison shop

Check price plans online before you go phone shopping, says Matheson, who found a better deal on the Internet after signing a contract at the carrier's brick-and-mortar store.

Consider different service levels, options and charges for extra minutes and data plans from a variety of carriers, including Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.

When it comes to the costs of plans with unlimited texting, there are two schools of thought. One is that kids are going to send hundreds, even thousands of text messages anyway, so you might as well get unlimited texting. But do you really want your child sending that many text messages?

"One relative of mine sent 6,000 text messages the first month she had a cellphone," Hicks says. "If you send that many text messages, you're spending way too much time texting."

Parents can control costs and restrict their teens' tech addictions through various parental control options. For example, Apple's website instructs parents on how to install controls on phones, iPads and iPods.

2. Set expectations, then check up

Beyond costs of technology, parents also want their children to understand the responsibility that goes along with ownership. Discuss expectations about texting, minutes used, downloads and other issues with your child before handing over a phone.

"Talk to the child before getting the phone about how you expect them to use the features, what you will or won't be allowing," says Emmy Anderson, communication manager at Sprint. "But sometimes that discussion comes after they get the first bill."

Then, check up on your child. Depending on how much you want to know, a variety of apps from carriers and third parties can be installed on smartphones to let parents see what their children are doing or block certain behaviors. "If your child hasn't had a cellphone before, checking on how the phone is used is a very good idea," says Anderson.


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