Which mobile do you get for your child?

Naomi Caine

Naomi CaineHas your child asked for a BlackBerry yet? If not, it won’t be long. A recent survey found that four in 10 teenagers want a new mobile phone this Christmas, with many demanding the latest smartphone with a price tag of up to £500.

So what’s a poor parent to do – and I mean poor? Well, obviously you give in, but how far? Parents must essentially answer two questions. First: Do I want my child to have a smartphone? Second: Do I want a pay monthly contract or a pay-as-you-go tariff?

A smartphone is a child’s dream come true, right there in the palm of their hand. It’s flash, it’s cool, it’s the ultimate playground status symbol. It also has masses of functions. You can access the internet, send emails, download music and apps, all from your mobile.

A friend of mine is about to buy a smartphone for her 10-year-old because she doesn’t want her to feel left out. You can imagine that conversation, can’t you? But I have put my foot down. A child doesn’t need mobile access to the internet so she can log onto Facebook, especially at such a tender age and without adult supervision. A child needs a mobile so she can text her mum to say she’ll be late home from football practice.

I did fleetingly consider a BlackBerry, mainly because I was curious about BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM as it’s known by everyone under the age of 18. It’s a nifty little system that basically allows BlackBerry users to send messages to each other at no cost. So you can BBM all day for free. Hurrah!

Of course, I quickly came to my senses and have made it quite clear that the only blackberries in our house will be the edible variety that we will pick ourselves as we skip along the hedgerows in a state of bucolic bliss.

Contract or pay as you go?

Whatever handset you choose, you need to decide between a contract or a pay as you go tariff. The big advantage of pay as you go is that it prevents bill shock. Your little darling can’t rack up a stonking bill downloading top tunes or texting her new BBF. So parents are firmly in control. Pay as you go is also flexible because you don’t normally have to sign up for 18 or 24 months.

The downside is thblackberrye cost. Calls, texts and internet access normally work out more expensive than with a contract. And you will probably have to pay something for the handset, especially if you want a high-end smartphone.

With a contract, you get a free or low-cost handset, plus it’s generally cheaper to use your phone. But you are locked into the deal for at least a year – and it’s much harder to limit the cost.

Of course, most parents want the best of both worlds: bill control and savings on handsets. And some of the mobile phone firms are finally wising up to the needs of customers with a sort of hybrid phone tariff.

The deals allow you to pay a fixed amount a month for an allowance of minutes, texts and data. If you need more, you simply top up as you would on pay as you go. T-Mobile’s You Fix is a good example. There’s also All in One Add-ons from Three. Check the details as the terms and conditions vary. But you might just find the ideal Christmas present. LOL!