Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! This column is an attempt to save parents from the costly combination of cell phones and teenagers. I recently added a 16-year-old friend of the family to my cell phone plan. For only $10 extra a month, I thought she would benefit from the safety of having her own mobile phone.
In addition to the 550 minutes included with the base family plan, she could also utilize unlimited minutes during the night and weekend hours. Fast forward 30 days when I received my first updated bill. Fifty-three pages detailed every text message, music download, video premier, and premium ring tone. Cingular smacked me with $280 of multimedia damage. By providing our young socialite with the latest cell phone technology, I had apparently signed up for the adolescent DVD-cable-TV-satellite-dish-Internet-video game package. Needless to say there was some direct communication taking place between my teenage friend and I. Say hello to mucho grande babysitting hours!
The oldest of my four children will be 11 this May. I realize that within a year or two he will start conjuring up tons of reasons to justify the use of his own mobile. After my recent experiment of mixing teenagers with cell phones, I have created the antidote that will preempt any recurrence of P.B.T. (Phone Bill Trauma). Please feel free to use these objections when your child initiates the discussion with you.
Crazy, Phone-less Teenager: I need to call home if I am out late.
Rational Adult: If you plan on missing curfew, just mail me a letter with your new home address. I will send your clothes within five business days.
Crazy, Phone-less Teenager: I can take photos with the camera on my cell phone.
Rational Adult: Introduce them to the $4.99/month plan (i.e. disposable instant camera.)
Crazy, Phone-less Teenager: How will I call for a ride after practice?
Rational Adult: Like always. I will be there 10 minutes after the hour to pick up you and your four friends. (Please be careful not to let this detour into a conversation about giving them a new car.)
Crazy, Phone-less Teenager: Don’t you trust me?
Rational Adult: In God I trust. All others I trust to find a pay phone.
Crazy, Phone-less Teenager: All my friends have a cell phone.
Rational Adult: Way too easy. If all your friends jumped off the Sears Tower, would you be lacing up your own parachute?
As tough and prepared as I sound now, I probably will cave in to demands when the actual conversation takes place. Truth be told, most parents will ultimately buy a cell phone for their offspring’s “emergency” use. I think the key to making this decision a life learning experience is to make sure our children earn the privilege. Good grades and completed chores should be a pre-requisite to gaining and keeping unlimited nights and weekends. The same “earn your keep” concept should be applied when extending the privileges of video games or used automobiles. (I say “used” car because the subject of buying your kids a new car is an entirely separate column.) As parents we can not put a price on our children’s safety, however, we can put a premium on teaching our young ones the value of working toward a goal.
I regret to admit that corner payphones in our communities are being phased out quickly, which does put a flaw in one of my arguments. I guess this means that Superman has no place to change but he does have unlimited rollover minutes.