parents guiding child smartphone

Whether your kids are just starting out in school or are about to journey through high school, you already know that the rapid rise of technology has changed the way they grow up. The generation you grew up in may have seen the mobile as something only adults use. But these days, kids are introduced to technology much earlier in life. Basically, they will never know of a world where smartphones didn’t exist. Too keep them safe, you need to pick a mobile plan that best suit their (and your) needs. Here’s a comprehensive look at what’s currently available.

Growing up with smartphones is not a bad thing. There are many benefits to kids having access to a mobile phone; and they go beyond the usefulness of these devices as miniature computers. Of course, there are tons of apps that help kids learn, for example. But the phone can also be something that keeps your child safe. It allows them to call you or the police if they find themselves in danger or lost. Plus, modern mobile phones are constantly keeping track of location. They can help you figure out where your kids are if necessary.

But with great power comes great responsibility, as Uncle Ben from Spiderman once said. That little device you hand to your kids as they head off to school is a fully-fledged internet-accessing machine. It’s capable of viewing any web site on the planet – even the ones you wouldn’t want your kids to see. It can also become a real distraction from schoolwork. Mainly due to its ability to run apps for every social network under the sun, from Facebook to Snapchat. Ideally, you’d want the phone you hand your kids to give you some level of control over what it can do. And thankfully, there are solutions available.

Keeping control

On both Apple iPhone and the many Android-based phones, there’s a wealth of control available for parents to manage what their kids do with their devices. Apple leads the pack in this department in many ways. Their Family Sharing functionality is baked right into the phone’s operating system. It lets you set things up so that your own iOS device becomes what’s known as the “family organiser.” All purchases made on other phones in the family are billed to the organiser’s account. Beyond that, though, the system lets the organiser set things up so when the child tries to make a purchase through the App Store or iTunes – even in-app purchases for mobile games – an alert is instantly sent to the parent’s phone. It gives them the option to approve or deny the purchase remotely. Moreover, restrictions and parental controls let you fine-tune exactly what your child can do with the device as well.

Family Sharing also enables automatic location sharing between phones in the family. You can see exactly where everyone is on a map by using the Find My Friends app, or find a lost phone accurately using Find my iPhone.

Android phones don’t quite have that tight level of integration between devices. But you can set up a profile for your child that restricts access to apps and purchases. You can also download apps that enhance parental controls in various ways. Exactly how parental controls work varies according to the version of Android the phone is running. Solutions exists, but they aren’t quite as seamless as Apple’s integrated system.

Safety solutions from providers

Aside from the phone ecosystem’s own customisable controls on what your child can do, there’s sometimes enhanced options available from the mobile provider itself. One of the best would have to be Ovo Mobile’s free cyber safety service, provided through Family Zone. That lets you restrict content at the network level. Worried that your child finds an app that gets past the device restrictions you set up? You can restrict access to everything from social networks to mobile games and apps. You can also limit app downloads and in-app purchases. Or even manage when the phone can be used, down to specific times of day. The service comes free with any Ovo plan.

The other two providers we’re looking at here don’t offer any network-level parental control functionality – which is not a negative reflection on them. Ovo’s gone above and beyond with their free service. And with the extensive control you can have over modern smartphone devices, you’re very much in command of what your kids can and can’t do while they’re out of your sight with the entire internet in their pocket.

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Plans for kids – what’s suitable?

kids using mobile phones
Ovo Mobile uniquely markets two plans specifically as being for kids – one at $9.95 per month and the other at $14.95 per month. Each prepaid recharge lasts 30 days. The cheaper plan comes with 1GB of data and $200 worth of calls, while the larger plan offers 1.5GB of data and $500 of calls. Both plans offer unlimited text and MMS. Whether or not that’s enough to match your kids’ usage will depend not only on what restrictions you put on the device, but also what you permit them to use it for. It’s probably unreasonable to ask an older child, especially older teenagers, to “only use the phone in an emergency.” Mainly because they’re likely going to text their friends, use social media, and so on. A small data cap should be enough for basic usage. But if you want peace of mind in terms of them always being able to get in touch, you might want to look at an alternative with unlimited calls.

You can get unlimited calls and text on Ovo – keeping access to the Family Zone service – by stepping up to the $24.95 plan. That one’s priced at the same level as amaysim’s entry-level plan, but offers slightly more data – 2GB versus amaysim’s 1.5GB. After that, with Ovo you’re stepping up to their popular 8GB plan at $34.95. This may be way more data than your child needs (or that you want them to have!) The higher-level amaysim plans come with similarly huge amounts of data – amounts not necessary for many adults, let alone kids with a busy school schedule!Over at Boost Mobile – which markets itself to appeal to teenagers – the entry-level 28-day recharge at $30 gives unlimited calls and text, as well as 3GB of base data. You also get 1GB of extra data each weekend, when teenage data usage is likely to experience a two-day spike. It’s an excellent value plan for older kids. Plus, it runs on the Telstra 4G network, so it comes with all the deep coverage and legendary reliability that network offers.

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The competition

When it comes to the sheer value stakes, Optus-based provider Vaya Mobile has a very eye-opening plan at the entry level, for just $16 a month (discounted to $13 for the first three months). Talk and text is unlimited, but there’s a catch. When the included 1GB data allowance runs out, instead of cutting off access to data, you’re automatically billed $10 for every extra gigabyte. So while this plan is a real money-saver, you need to be precise on the restrictions you set up to make sure this never happens. Just a few bytes over that 1GB limit and you might as well have gone with a slightly more expensive plan from Ovo, amaysim or Boost.

Over at Telstra, things get more expensive. A plan with a decent data inclusion and calls will cost you $40 per month on a 12-month contract. But Telstra has a little-known bonus up its sleeve that could possibly sway parents in their direction. Called Telstra Mobile Protect, it’s a free service that lets you set up network-level controls on a Telstra mobile service, including prepaid.

Aside from letting you restrict call and text activity or set time restrictions, it also lets you apply internet filters, block specific sites entirely, and find out which sites your child has been accessing on the service. In many ways, it’s similar to what Ovo offers with their Family Zone service. But in Telstra’s case it’s running right there at network level, which means all the controls and info are in your Telstra account for you to set up and view online. For many, the extra expense might be well worth it.

One more thing…

If you tend to call your kids’ mobiles a lot from a landline phone (or a mobile with limited calls), you can save a ton of money by switching to a mobile plan with unlimited calls yourself. While there are landline phone providers that offer unlimited calls to mobiles, the service you’re with is more likely to be a Telstra or Optus line – and they don’t do unlimited mobile calls. Find yourself a good unlimited-calls plan – there’s dozens out there to suit all needs – and keep in touch with your kids that way!

And the winner is…

If you’re picking a plan and provider for a younger child, there’s no contest in this race. Thanks to their free inclusion of cyber safety services and an extremely low monthly cost, Ovo Mobile’s your best bet by far. To offer a service which usually costs upwards of $50 per phone per year for absolutely nothing on a plan under $10 a month is commendable.

When the kids get a little older and start getting more active on social media (and more conscious of when they’re being filtered!), it might be time to move across to a plan with a higher data limit and unlimited calls. Ovo’s got the edge on value there too – though Boost Mobile’s bonus weekend data and Telstra network access could easily make that an equal contender.

Just remember to get to know the parental control features of your kids’ phones. That’s easier if the entire family stays within the iPhone ecosystem, but with a little diligence, easy to get set up on any current smartphone or tablet. Plus, it’s worth it to keep your kids in touch, free from distractions, and, most importantly, safe.

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