Tillie's getting her first cell phone this Christmas. Well, the first one that's totally hers, that is.
She's 13 and it's the one thing she really wants for Christmas this year. Mykl & I have agreed that she's old enough, and have already started setting ground rules for her. (For anyone worried I'm spoiling the surprise, she already knows she's getting it.)
This isn't her first phone. For the past year or so, she's shared a cell phone with her sister Lucy. Since they live with their mom, it's been a great tool for us to keep in touch with them.
As parents, I'd say we're more tech & social media savvy than your average parent (I've been a lifestyle blogger for the Verizon #VZWBuzz team for a couple years now). But we've never actually gone through the process of gifting our child with a cell phone, and some of the considerations have surprised me as we prep for Tillie's Christmas gift. So here's my story, in hopes it may help out other parents going through this process.
Researching Plan Options
At first, we thought a prepaid plan would be the way to go, since it would allow us to easily set limits on how many minutes and how much data could be used in a given month. While at the Verizon store (because Mykl needed a new screen protector and we were already at the mall for another event), we chatted with a sales rep and he told us about family plan options that might be a better option, depending on what type of phone she wanted to get.
I've known about their Family Base feature that allows you to set restrictions on your child's account, but I didn't realize just how specific you could get. With Family Base, not only can we set limits on the amount of minutes and data Tillie will have access to, we can also set limits on the time of day she's able to use certain features. For example, we can set it up so she cannot text or play games during school hours.
Cost-wise, it's more or less a wash to add her to our plan, but the Family Base features cinched the deal. Besides the general control & monitoring, we'll be able to use the data limits to help her learn how much data she's really using. For example, if we decide 2GB is what she'll get every month, we'll start by setting her limit at 1GB so she can see how quickly she burns through it.
Teaching Safety & Setting Boundaries
We've already had conversations with both girls about online safety, but this year's focus has been around apps like Facebook & Instagram. We've had to edit what we post online as parents (because being a loudmouth online isn't as much fun when your 13 year old might be reading it), but we're reasonable about it. I still post what I want on my Life With Levi Facebook page, but I'm definitely more conservative about the types of jokes I share on my personal Facebook account since Tillie & I are “friends” there.
Our discussions with Tillie are ongoing about being safe online and how to deal with things she might come across (ads, things other kids are saying, comments from adults that might show up in her newsfeed, etc…) As parents, it's a struggle to decide which things to protect our kids from and what lessons to let them learn on their own, especially when it comes to the Internet, since the consequences of certain actions could last forever. Luckily, she's got a very good head on her shoulders and she understands that as she handles limited freedoms well (have a Facebook account, for example), she'll earn additional freedoms online (like a snapchat account, since a lot of her friends are already using it).
Embracing the Experience
When we decided to get Tillie her first cell phone for Christmas, I was all “hey, I have an extra phone, let's get it all set up and wrap it for her!” (FWIW, it's a really nice phone.) But Mykl is smart and pointed out that half the fun is sharing the experience with her.
He's made an appointment at the Verizon store at the Mall of America (it's one of their huge destination stores) to take her shopping. Since they have soooo many phone options there, he's already picked out a few to show her specifically (that also fit in our budget) so she doesn't feel overwhelmed by the choices. She'll also be able to pick out her case & a couple accessories while there, and Mykl will get to do some father-daughter bonding during the trip.
Even though it's a scary thing jumping into our kids having their own cell phones, I'm excited for Tillie, and I know this is a gift that she'll really love.