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Expert tips on selecting a cell phone for your kids

As parents continue chipping away at their kids' holiday gift lists, many will consider a first or new cell phone. Many parents like the convenience and perceived security of their child having a cell phone (so they can easily reach the child and so the child can get help in the event of an emergency). But according to Greg Travis, assistant director of the Pervasive Technology Labs' Advanced Network Management Lab at Indiana University, with today's technology-rich phones, there are several things parents should consider before making that trip to the local cellular store.


Before buying your child their first cell phone, make sure you know what features it includes.

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"A very large number of phones are now capable of providing the same kinds of services as desktop and laptop computers," said Travis. "This means parents should be concerned about all the same issues they worry about on their other computers -- exposure to inappropriate Internet content, the potential for kids to share personal, incriminating, or embarrassing personal information and photos, and the potential for trouble should the phone be lost or stolen."

Travis also warns that parents can get a bad case of sticker shock when opening that first cell phone bill.

"These services aren't free," he said. "Charges can add up quickly, especially if kids make heavy use of the text messaging and Internet features."

Travis offers these tips to parents buying cell phones for their children:

  • World at their fingertips. Parents who are uncomfortable with allowing their children and teens full access to online content should choose either a phone plan that does not include Internet access or a phone model that does not include an Internet browser.
  • Teach good sharing. Make sure your kids understand how to exercise good judgment when deciding what to share with their cell phone -- particularly pictures taken from its camera. The Internet doesn't forget; pictures or content kids once thought to be harmless or funny can quickly become incriminating or embarrassing. Kids shouldn't take or share any pictures that they wouldn't want to be seen by you, their teachers or the world.
  • Privacy at risk. Today's high-tech cell phones store a lot of very personal data, including e-mail and text messages that your kids may not want others to read. Unsecured e-mail and text accounts can also be used by others posing as the phone's owner. Kids should not lend their phones to friends. And make sure the phone you choose includes a self-locking feature that requires a Personal Identification Number (PIN). Know how to contact your cell provider promptly if the phone is lost. Your company may be able to erase and disable the phone, no matter where it is.
  • Know the plan. Don't get caught off guard by budget-busting cell phone bills. Make sure you and your child understand what's included in the cellular plan -- such as number of text messages, phone minutes and amount of included Internet access. Watch your monthly bills closely. If you are getting lots of charges outside the plan, you may want to upgrade your plan -- or downgrade the phone.