Mobile Phones For Fiscal Responsibility
By Mike Masnick, Fri Oct 15 23:15:00 GMT 2004

Younger and younger kids are using mobile phones just as carriers are pushing additional mobile data offerings. It's causing some huge phone bills -- and, perhaps, some lessons in fiscal responsibility.

In the last generation, many children learned about managing money as they got a first job and a first credit card. Plenty of stories have been told about teenagers or young adults maxing out credit card bills before they learn how to carefully budget their spending habits. However, these days, with data-enabled mobile phones being owned by so many kids, it's looking like the phone may be the new way to teach kids how to better manage their cash.

Each new study about children and mobile phones seems to suggest that the average age of a child's first mobile phone is rapidly approaching zero, leading to certain questions about how young is simply too young to own a mobile phone. However, with new stories coming out about children ringing up huge phone bills, perhaps the financial lessons often learned with the freedom of a credit card will now be applied to mobile phone bills.

Parents are apparently complaining that their innocent children are being unfairly targeted -- and they do have a point. Broadcasters are adding interactive components to shows that are targeted at children in the afternoon while their parents may not be around to supervise. The story cites a single example of a child responding to a television show repeatedly, as if it was a video game, leading to a $2,500 bill. Admittedly, it sounds like the broadcasters were being a bit shady in how they explained the fees, and it may have even been confusing to adults.

However, it also raises questions about why the kid was in a position to send out $2,500 worth of SMS messages? Children have always been a lucrative market for marketers, but how many parents would leave their under-10 kid at home alone with a credit card to order everything they happened to see on TV or the Internet that caught their attention? This doesn't mean that kids shouldn't have mobile phones, or even mobile phones that can be used for interactive messaging and purchases. However, parents need to realize that the mobile phone may be the child's first exposure to financial freedom of any kind, and need to prepare them appropriately. There are a few obvious solutions, such as prepay plans, that are already quite popular with younger subscribers. There will still be a few large bills, but as many people learned a tough lesson from their first big credit card bill, now they'll learn a lesson from their first big mobile data bill.