Phone data a trap for teens

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My 13-year old asked for an internet connection to her mobile recently, so she could load up with phone apps.

It is common for mobile phones to come with internet access but, while it is great for adults to access their emails, social networking sites and so on, it isn't a good idea for young kids.

There is a potential for high bills - not to mention other risks - if they overuse the phone or sign up for any subscriptions or services.

More and more kids have mobile phones. Around 75% of Australian children aged 12 to 14 own a mobile phone and by the time they turn 15 the proportion jumps to 90%, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

But with a mobile comes a financial responsibility plenty of kids need help with - especially when they are young. Often parents do the research to make sure their kids' phones don't end up costing a fortune.

If you don't want your child to have internet access, most phone companies can disable it or provide filters to block some of the content - such as adult-only sites. If you do have an internet connection, watch out that your child understands all the terms and conditions of the various services.

It is a good idea to block international calls and mobile premium services that allow text messages to a number starting with 19 to buy ring tones, wallpapers, join in competitions and receive horoscopes.

Check your next bill carefully to make sure you're not being charged for any of these premium services and scams. You might be signed up for something you don't want, such as an expensive subscription. You can report a scam to SCAMwatch.

One way to keep the costs down is to go with a prepaid service because it offers control over what is spent. Other alternatives are a fixed-term contract or a monthly plan if you own your own mobile. If you go with fixed term, there's a range of fees that can include connection and monthly access fees, call costs and charges for information received through the handset.

Kids need to learn to keep calls short or, better, to send an SMS. If you know the numbers you are calling, look for a special deal that allows calls to the numbers at a cheaper rate. If you do have a mobile phone dispute involving a child, it is best to approach the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO).

If you think you have been misled by advertising for a phone service you can complain to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.

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