ORANGEBURG, NY — Back in the days of Princess phones and Trimlines, parents knew when the time was right to get a phone for the teenager in the family. The home phone rang constantly, but none of the callers asked for mom or dad. Relatives and friends complained that the line was always busy.
Today it's a wireless world. More than 100 million Americans use wireless phones. Every minute, 26 people sign up for wireless service in the United States and a growing number of them are parents who have decided to equip their teenagers with wireless phones. And, while it may be a birthday, graduation or a new driver's license that prompts the purchase, most parents who buy wireless phones for their sons and daughters do so with the same thought in mind: safety.
But how do today's parents decide when it's time for their teenager to have a wireless phone? What about monitoring how the phone will be used? How do parents manage the monthly bills?
To assist moms and dads who may be thinking about a wireless phone purchase in the near future, Verizon Wireless, formerly Bell Atlantic Mobile, offers the following tips from parents whose teens are toting cell phones and staying connected.
Determine wireless phone "readiness" based on responsibility-not age
Diane Horowitz, of Searingtown, NY, bought her 17-year-old daughter a wireless phone when she was in middle school. "She is very responsible and sensible, so I never worried that she would abuse the phone, " Horowitz said. "Her school had 19 bomb scares in one year and I wanted her to be able to call me to pick her up."
Horowitz suggests if teens are responsible in terms of school, curfews and other commitments, chances are they'll use a wireless phone properly.
Though parents say there is no magic age that determines when a teen is ready for a wireless phone, they agree a driver's license often triggers the need for a phone. "Now she is driving and the phone is extremely important," Horowitz said. "If she gets lost or has car problems, she can call me, and if I'm worried, I can get in touch with her and put my mind at ease."
Talk with your teen about how the phone should be used
Be sure your son or daughter understands your expectations for when and how the phone will be used. Tell your teen if the phone is for emergencies only, for calling home to let you know of his or her whereabouts, for making plans with friends or all of the above. Set some ground rules for usage.
Jim Stolz, of Lodi, NJ, surprised his sister with a wireless phone last year for her 17th birthday. "She's a new driver who commutes to college in West Paterson and then to work, and I wanted her to have access to help if she needed it," said big brother Stolz. "Luckily, when her car broke down a few months later, she wasn't stranded. My parents picked her up right away."
Explain the price plan you've chosen and how wireless billing works
When Pat Keefe, of Westfield, NJ, recently outfitted her 18-year-old daughter with a wireless phone and chose the Verizon Wireless DigitalChoice( 200 price plan, Keefe made sure her daughter knew the specific costs involved. "We talked about 200 minutes a month in terms of six-and-a-half minutes a day," Keefe said. "I wanted her to have a sense of how many calls and how frequently she could use the phone and stay within the included minutes each month. We also reviewed when billing begins."
"Of course, I told her not to think about the minutes at all if the call is a matter of safety or an emergency."
When parents pay their teens' wireless bills, they review the monthly statements carefully to determine if the phone is being used as intended. If parents fear their children will run up a bill, they might consider a prepaid wireless plan. That option, called MobileMinutesSM, allows Verizon Wireless customers to pay in advance for wireless service by purchasing a phone card that sells in increments of $25, $50 or $100. There's no monthly access fee, no monthly bill and no long-term contract to sign.
Be sure your teen is familiar with the phone's features and how to care for the phone
Today's digital phones offer features that make dialing easier and safer. For example, most phones allow you to store frequently dialed numbers in memory and push just one or two buttons to dial. If you've chosen a plan that includes voice mail, ensure your teen knows how to activate it and is able to retrieve messages. Review the phone's instruction manual for specific information about features and how to use them.
Also, keeping the phone's battery charged is essential. Establishing a routine for re-charging at certain times works best, parents say. Help teens understand, too, that the phone is not a toy; it should not be tossed across a room or submerged in water.
Teach your teen about driving safely and using a wireless phone
For teens and adults alike, driving safely is always their first responsibility.
"I don't expect to pass my daughter on the road and see her yacking away," Keefe said, "because I want her to give her full attention to driving. But for those times when she needs to make a call, she knows to dial while stopped, if possible, or dial only a few numbers and check the road before continuing."
Verizon Wireless is committed to enhancing safety for all customers on the road and offers a variety of hands-free car kits, headsets and ear pieces to enable drivers to keep their hands on the wheel when using their wireless phones. Earlier this year, the company reduced the price on many of its hands-free accessories and offers free shipping for those items when purchased via the online store at www.verizonwireless.com.
About Verizon Wireless
Verizon Wireless is the largest wireless communications provider in the U.S. with more than 25 million wireless voice and data customers and nearly 4 million paging customers. The new coast-to-coast wireless provider was formed by the combination of the U.S. wireless businesses of Bell Atlantic Corp. and GTE Corp --now Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) -- and Vodafone AirTouch Plc (LSE:VOD; NYSE:VOD). The new company includes the assets of Bell Atlantic Mobile, AirTouch Cellular, GTE Wireless, PrimeCo Personal Communications and AirTouch Paging. The new company has a footprint covering nearly 90 percent of the U.S. population, 49 of the top 50 and 96 of the top 100 U.S. markets. Verizon Wireless, headquartered in New York City and Bedminster, NJ, is 30,000 employees strong. Reporters and editors can find more information about the company in its Media Center on the Web at: http://www.verizonwireless.com/mediacenter