(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed
are his own.)
By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK May 1 If it were possible to develop
Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome because of texts from your mobile
provider, Brett Anderson would be suffering from it.
The financial planner from Hudson, Wisconsin used to get a
little 'ping' every time his family exceeded its monthly data
usage. Every notice meant he was being charged another $15 for
more gigabytes - it would add up to an extra $100 or so a month.
"We got bigger data plans, we put limits on the kids, and it
was never enough," Anderson says, reserving particular
bitterness for his 18-year-old daughter's use of Snapchat.
The struggle over sharing a data plan is a decidedly modern
American lament. Almost every family has a story about carefully
dividing gigabytes and then sniping at each other when those
allocations inevitably are exceeded.
Some 55 percent of parents have limited the amount of time
their teenagers can go online, according to a survey by Pew
Research Center, and 65 percent have digitally "grounded" them
by taking away their devices at one time or another.
But it is emotionally fraught territory. According to Pew,
smartphones are nearly ubiquitous among young adults. And the
youngsters tend to favor a vast array of data-sucking apps. Push
back against that generational momentum, and you have a classic
parent-child power struggle on your hands, which is especially
difficult to manage when the "kids" on the family plan are
anywhere from 10 to 30.
So how can families navigate this tricky business of data
usage, without going broke or killing each other, or perhaps
both? Some tips:
* Go unlimited.
This solution is elegant if not necessarily cheap. Having
largely gone away as cell providers capitalized on people's
smartphone addictions, unlimited packages are now back with a
The Unlimited Freedom plan from Sprint offers one
relatively affordable option - $50/month for the first line,
$40/month each for two lines, $30/month each for four lines, and
the fifth line free. That means a family of four, with
additional fees and such, should be covered for around $150 a
Unlimited is the route Brett Anderson finally opted for a
couple of months ago, since data wars were "not a fight I wanted
to keep having." (More specifically, he did not wish to anger
his wife with data-usage criticisms, and be relegated to the
* Set parental controls.
Providers like Verizon and AT&T offer ways to
digitally fence in your teen, before they suck up every gigabyte
on the family plan. Verizon's FamilyBase and AT&T's Smart
Limits, both available for $4.99 a month, offer functions like
capping your kid's data usage, or limiting them to certain times
of day. Stand-alone smartphone apps like Norton Family and Net
Nanny offer similar services.
* Educate the kids.
Some kids may not actually be aware that streaming videos
while not on a wi-fi network will eat up family data. That is
what happened with Philadelphia mom Claire McGuire recently when
her 13-year-old son Leo blew through a month's worth of data in
just 10 days by enjoying the meme site iFunny while on the
school bus. "Oops," she says wryly.
A gentle reminder set him straight, as did a docked
* Make the kids pay.
There is no law against getting kids to chip in for their
smartphone usage. Indeed, it can be a useful teaching moment.
On FamZoo, an online family banking service, parents get
kids to contribute an average of $18.33 a month, says Bill
Dwight, founder and chief executive.
Or you can drop the hammer, and get them to pay for the
whole shebang. That is what Brett Anderson eventually did with
his son, who is 26 and living on his own but was still riding
the family plan.
Since his son never answered his phone anyways, Anderson got
fed up with paying the bill, and kicked him off.
"If you don't have enough data, and it's so important to
you, you can pay your own darn way," Anderson remembers.
"There's nothing wrong with saying that."
(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Bernadette Baum)