Choosing a calling plan for your child will depend largely on their maturity level. Young children who only need the phone for emergencies can safely be added to your existing family plan, as they're unlikely to eat away a great deal of minutes. 'Tweens can learn about budgeting with a prepaid plan, while responsible teens may thrive on a more conventional plan where they're responsible for covering any extras, like ringtone downloads. Keep in mind that your child's main usage may be text messaging instead of calling, and most carriers offer unlimited text plans.
A cell phone becomes more and more of a status symbol the older your kids get, and chances are, they'll have an extensive wish list of features. Compromise is key in this arena to keep both parents and kids content. Remember that even the most harmless extras may still distract your kids from schoolwork.
Giving your child a phone of their own opens up the doors to cyber-bullying and misuse, so some of the most important cell phone features for kids may be the parental controls. Some phones allow you to input a restricted list of numbers that your child can call or receive calls from. Others allow you to disable the phone during school hours or at night.
Consumer Man on msnbc.com, a non-biased column by top consumer expert Herb Weisbaum, recommends four phones with features geared towards four different age groups:
For children ages 5 to 9, the Verizon Migo has a simple interface with four programmable buttons and one bright red button for one-touch emergency dialing. For an extra charge, the ChildZone feature lets parents receive alerts whenever their child leaves a pre-determined area. The neon green color gives the phone added appeal for younger children.
For children 5 and up, the Firefly by Cingular is the easiest phone to navigate. The keypad consists of a male and female icon, allowing your child to easily dial mom or dad, with room for 20 additional numbers in a phone book. Kids can choose from ten ring tones, and parents can restrict incoming calls to the numbers programed in the phone.
For children over the age of 6, the TicTalk by Enforma looks like a small walkie-talkie with two buttons on the side for scrolling through pre-programmed numbers. The pay-as-you-go phone comes loaded with LeapFrog educational games and a timer to limit your child's talk time.
For tweens and teens ages 11 to 15, the Disney Mobile LG flip phone has the "cool factor" that other kid-friendly phones lack. The phone looks like a regular cell phone and comes with all the major extras, like a camera, caller ID, voice dialing and downloadable games. In addition to restricting incoming and outgoing calls and setting times for phone use, parents can set a monthly allowance for calling, texting and downloads.
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