When I was a teen, cell phones did not yet exist. In fact, when I got my first job right out of college, each new hire was given one of the first versions of the "mobile phone." This technological marvel was quite literally a mobile phone, in that it had a phone cord that attached it to a phone base that was installed in the company vehicle I drove. Oh yes. Those were the days. Today kids are getting mobile phones for all kinds of reasons. Tablets and laptops are standard issue for the classroom. Phones with GPS help parents keep tabs on older kids (and vice versa for younger kids). But budgeting for the costs associated with kid, tween or teen mobile phone use can be tricky. Here are some tips from parents to help you keep these costs manageable.

1. Choose a phone designed for use by the younger set

For kids, tweens, and young teens, you may want to opt for a smart phone specifically designed for the younger set—and their monitoring parents.

Here are three of the most popular options today:

  • Kajeet: These phones come with free built-in parental controls, GPS tracking, and more. You can choose between iOS and Android devices.
  • Kytephone: Kytephone has a built-in GPS tracker, blocking for unknown callers, limits for use time, and more. It’s actually an app that turns any Android device into a simple phone.
  • Just5: Just5 is designed to be an extremely simple phone for kids, seniors, and those who only need a cell phone for emergency purposes. You can try the phone free for 30 days before you decide.

2. Choose a family plan that permits you to add extra lines for a lower cost

  • AT&T: AT&T's family plan permits adding 5+ lines, including 10GB of data and unlimited text and talk time.
  • Sprint: Sprint recently introduced its new "Framily" plan—for friends and family alike. The per line cost goes down with each line you add. Each line gets 1GB of dedicated data and unlimited text and talk time.
  • T-Mobile: T-Mobile's family plan is called "Simple Choice." Every line gets unlimited data, text and talk time for a flat fee per line.
  • Verizon: Verizon's "More Everything" plan for families is for 4 lines and includes 10GB of data and unlimited text and talk time.

3. Choose a carrier with the parental control options you need

Your needs may vary and change as your child gets older. Here’s an overview of the parental control options for the "Big Four" carriers.

  • AT&T: AT&T has a free purchase blocker and a monthly paid subscription to limit use types and time.
  • Sprint: Sprint's parental controls package permits blocking camera use, texting/data and calls, limiting use, and more.
  • T-Mobile: T-Mobile's Family Allowances program permits blocking of usage, numbers, texting/data, and setting use allowances.
  • Verizon: Verizon's Family Safeguards & Controls program allows parents to set age and usage limits, block types of use, and even locate family members using GPS.

4. Install apps to permit you to monitor and restrict use

Here are a few sample apps to give you an idea of what’s out there to help you control your tween's or teen's cell phone use.

  • Parental Time Control (Android, free): This free app permits a parent to set up start/stop times, block texting/data use, block emails, and even stop incoming/outgoing phone calls.
  • Screen Time Parental Control (Android, free): This free app offers the same functionality as Parental Time Control but for both smart phones and tablets/laptops.
  • ParentKit (iOS, free – for a limited time): This app is in beta mode so it’s currently being offered free of charge. ParentKit works on all iOS-based devices to permit parents to remotely manage kids' device use.

5. Use inbuilt device parental controls

All Apple smart devices come installed with parental controls. Most Android users install aftermarket apps to achieve the same.

  • iOS: Here’s a simple primer to guide you through the process (screen by screen) to set up restrictions on any Apple smart phone.
  • Android: Android devices are less likely to come with inbuilt controls (so check with your carrier or use one of the excellent parental control apps on the market today).

6. Consider a use contract

Various contract examples are floating around on the Internet today—all drafted and crafted by parents with an eye towards monitoring healthy, safe, and appropriate mobile device use.

Here are a few contract examples you can review for ideas:

7. Set up a use budget (with a payment plan for over-use)—or select a prepaid plan

The option you select will necessarily coincide with the type of phone and type of plan you select. But most parents say their choices most closely coincide with the age and maturity of the child.

Here’s a handy guide that may be useful:

  • Kids (ages 9 and under): Kids will do best with a prepaid plan.
  • Tweens (ages 10-12): All but the most mature tweens will do best with a prepaid plan.
  • Teens (ages 13 and up): Teens who are able to get a part-time job may benefit from and appreciate a use budget—and the choice to stick to that budget or pay for the overage.
7 Tips to Keep Kid, Tween and Teen Mobile Device Costs Manageable