Controlling Your Kid's Cell Phone Just Got Easier

Giving your teenager a cell phone is often a necessary step, but also one that opens your bank account up to some serious risks.

Giving your teenager a cell phone is often a necessary step, but also one that opens your bank account up to some serious risks. The good news is, new software allows parents to control virtually every aspect of their kids' phones.

I was speaking with a friend of mine the other day. She was taking a trip away from her children for the first time. She decided it was time her oldest daughter have a cell phone, and used her upcoming trip as an excuse to buy one so she could stay in touch with her children while away. So she added a line to her account, gave the phone to her child, and everyone was happy.

Until the bill came.

Her 10-year-old racked up (I am not making this up!) $1,200 worth of charges in just one month. Yeah, that's a lot. How did her daughter spend that much? Downloading games, ringtones, wallpapers, sending text messages, going over her monthly voice minute allotment and more. My friend had to argue with her wireless provider and fight to have some of the charges reduced. In the end, her carrier agreed to only charge her $500 -- which is still a heck of a tab.

New software from T-Mobile could have prevented the entire debacle.

Starting in August, T-Mobile is introducing a new feature called Family Allowance. Family Allowance is a set of online tools that parents can use to set "allowances" for their kids' cellphones. This means you can limit what hours the phone can be used, how many minutes the phone can be used in a given day or month, how many text messages can be sent from the phone, how many games, wallpapers or other content can be downloaded and so on. Once the monthly allowance is reached, the feature shuts off and the phone will no longer be able to use that feature for the rest of the month...saving parents the possibility of extra charges.

If you're worried that the phone itself won't work if your kids reach their voice-minute limit, there's nothing to worry about. Parents can stay in contact with their family members by setting up Always Allowed numbers that will continue to connect, even after allowances have been spent. Any unlimited calling features that are included in a family's plan, such as myFaves and T-Mobile-to-T-Mobile, can also still be used, which preserves the value of the calling plan. Additional controls are available so parents can choose to set allowances on unlimited calling features, if desired.

Family Allowance offers parents the best of both worlds. No only does it help teach kids a little bit about responsibility, but it can also help parents see exactly how their kids are using the cellphones.

In a prepared statement, T-Mobile said, "Parents across the country want their teens to have a mobile phone to stay in contact, but also want that phone to be used responsibly. With Family Allowances, parents get peace of mind knowing they can reach their sons and daughters, without having to worry about surprise bills. They can also reward their teens for responsible phone use by increasing their allowance."