My Teenage Son, His Cell Phone, and the Bill for $1,055.20

We held out for as long as we could. We really did.

Despite an intense and relentless lobbying effort from my son, the Honeybee and I stayed strong and denied his repeated requests for a cell phone.

And, boy, were there a lot of requests.

I can’t remember the exact day he first requested his own cell phone, but I am quite certain the first letters he learned in school weren’t A-B-C. They were A-T-(T).

When Matthew turned 12 last year, we decided it was finally time to grant his wish. The only condition was that he had to pay us $25 per month to maintain his account. Knowing that he could easily earn $40 per month by simply mowing the lawn and doing chores around the house, Matthew readily agreed – and so we got him his phone.

Three months and two missed payments later, Matthew’s coveted phone was “repossessed” by the First National Bank of Dad for failure to fulfill his end of our contract. I know.

Fast forward about a year later.

My son finally turned 13 a couple months ago, so we decided to give him another chance – even though he still has trouble managing his money. And since it was time for the Honeybee and me to replace our old cell phones anyway, we decided to “upgrade” our existing plan with T Mobile and get some new phones for us in the process.

Matthew was ecstatic; he loved getting his phone back.

As for the Honeybee and me, we were pleased too. In addition to getting new phones, it was actually nice being able to phone our son again when he was out playing in the nearby hills and it was time for him to come home for dinner.

Anyway, last week the Honeybee went out to the mailbox to get the mail. She told me she knew something wasn’t right when she pulled our phone bill out of the mailbox and saw that T Mobile didn’t bother to send it in a smallish envelope like they usually do. This time it was curiously packaged in one of those oversized 9-inch by 12-inch envelopes instead.

She grew even more concerned after she felt the monster package and knew it contained more than just a couple of sheets of paper in it.

Her hope was that our carrier was including more information on the new plan we signed up for a month earlier.

Unfortunately, what she found was a phone bill that would have been 141 pages long if it had been stuffed into their usual smaller-sized envelopes, but T Mobile decided to save a small forest by copying and condensing all of those pages onto 42 unfolded sheets of regular 8.5 x 11-inch paper. Front and back.

And buried somewhere within all those pages were the ugly details:

Monthly recurring charges: $136.99
Taxes & Other charges: $17.61
Usage charges: $900.60
Text messages sent: 2,276 (2,052 of them by Matthew, God love him.)
Text messages received: 2,131

For those of you who aren’t counting at home, let’s see that’s… fourteen, pi-r-squared, carry the one, ah yes: $1,055.

And twenty cents.

I know what you’re thinking: YGTBKM. Unfortunately, I’m not. Here’s the top half of the front page of the 141-page bill…

PhoneBill

But surely there had to be a good explanation, right?

Well, before I go any further, let me say that T Mobile’s customer service department was absolutely phenomenal. They did a great job talking the Honeybee down from a narrow ledge outside our second floor bedroom, convincing her that jumping from there would result in little more than a broken ankle anyway – and then quickly assuring her that all of the text charges would be removed from our bill.

It turns out that when we signed up for our new plan T Mobile had failed to note that our account had unlimited texting. As a result, they had mistakenly billed us for all 4,407 messages.

That’s right. T Mobile was FUBAR.

PTL!

Still, I’m Left With A Few Questions…

1) The billing period was 30 days. That means my son averaged 68.4 text messages per day. I think I’ve sent six text messages in my entire life. All but one of them consisted of the same three little letters which, coincidentally, I am going to type again here because I find them appropriate: WTF?

2) On the first day Matthew got his phone he sent roughly 180 messages – even though I’m sure he couldn’t have had the phone that day for more than six hours or so. OMG. On average, that’s a text message every other minute – for six straight hours. I mean, come on. Really?

3) What information was my son conveying in those 2,052 texts aside from the frequent P911 warnings and occasional predictable admonitions to KPC — keep parents clueless? On second thought, never mind. I don’t think I really want to know.

4) Am I the only dummy in the room that had no idea kids with cell phones love to text so much? (Don’t rub it in. That’s a rhetorical question, folks.)

The Moral of the Story

If and when you finally do decide to give your child his own phone, short of blocking all text messages, you would probably be wise to make sure that you get a plan with unlimited texting. We pay $20 per month for the option and as far as I’m concerned it’s worth every penny.

CWYL.

Comments

  1. 1

    says

    Len, You never fail to disappoint. I HAD TO READ EVERY WORD of this post. All I can say is…. been there. Good luck with the next 10+ years. Best, Barb
    ps this is going in my link post IMMEDIATELY.

  2. 4

    says

    This is so typical I’m not surprised at all. But don’t forget thy incoming messages count too! So while sending a text every 4 minutes for 6 hours isn’t much better, that actually sounds a little bit not-as-horrific. I’m glad t-mobile was willing to work with you, I think you can get any charge reversed just by asking!

    • 5

      says

      Getting the charges reversed is NEVER a slam dunk. Ours were reversed because we started a new plan and the error was solely on T mobile. A buddy of mine once got stuck with a $1000+ bill (teenager and texting) but had to eat it because he had been in his plan for a long time – so the carrier wouldn’t give him relief.

  3. 6

    says

    My son is 14 months old and already the cell phone is his favorite thing. He sees somebody using one and he cries for it. Ought to be fun when he’s 14 years old! *lol*

  4. 7

    says

    Maybe that is why we are all screwed up, we grew up without the ability to text.

    But, I do wonder how big the human thumbs will be in another thousand years of texting.

    By then, however, there will probably be chips in our heads, that will allow “texting by thought!”

  5. 8

    Lynn says

    Thanks for the laugh – and the heads up! I have 3 1/2 year old twins and am dreading the day they ask for a cell phone. I think I may just block texting too because I just don’t get it!!!

    • 9

      says

      @Dr. Dean: If you’re right I just hope who ever is in charge of tracking our thoughts gives us an “unlimited thinking” plan option!
      @Lynn: Make sure any toy phones you give them have a cord attached to them.

  6. 10

    says

    Phone bill: $1055.20.
    No-scalpel vasectomy: ~$800.
    Net savings, even before the food and the clothes and the bail and the cold medicine and the bus fare and the sports equipment and the ballet lessons (if you’re that kind of parent): $255.20.

  7. 12

    says

    WOW that’s a lot of text messages! My dad learned this lesson the hard way when he gave me my first phone as a teenager! You better believe we got the unlimited plan (and I got a stern talking to) after the first bill came. But I don’t think even back then that I managed to send anywhere close to 2,052 messages in one billing cycle! Very impressive!

    • 14

      Kevin says

      I have 5 phones on my account and have unlimited texting for all the phones. I keep track off who the 2 teenage girls are texting and I think they actually compete for the texting champ each month. Between the 2 of them they have topped out at about 10,000 texts in a month. Thank God for unlimited texting.

  8. 16

    Fran Marie says

    Why does a 12/13 year old need to have a cell phone??

    My kids all got their first cell phones when THEY could put THEIR names and bank accounts on them.

    And WHY would you not want to know why your kid wants to keep you clueless?

    • 17

      says

      My sentiments exactly, Fran. I think no child that is 0.9230769 years old should EVER be given their own cell phone. ;-)

      For the record, I know EXACTLY why my kid wants to keep me clueless – after all, I was a teenage boy once too. :-)

  9. 18

    says

    the younger generation doesn’t talk on the phone as much as we did when the greatest invention was a cordless phone :) i’m sure your son wasn’t texting 1 msg every other minute for 6 hours. it was probably fewer communications back and forth in a flurry of conversations. imagine if your phone conversations were translated into text msgs, each comment being 1 text. “yeah…” “sure” “LOL” and so on…

    unfortunately, the younger generation doesn’t seem as comfortable picking up the phone and just talking. it’s all or nothing when parents make the move to get the phone for them. pre-paid phones might be a good option for parents too.

  10. 20

    says

    “They did a great job talking the Honeybee down from a narrow ledge outside our second floor bedroom” Len I am still laughing. Thanks for the post, and the advice! Teenagers a such a trip, no?

  11. 24

    says

    i love that you made your son pay for the phone or at least some of it himself. this is the best way to teach kids the value of their possessions and a hard earned dollar.

    glad to hear everything worked out and you also learned your lesson on unlimited text for teenagers. this is very good advice.

  12. 25

    says

    This is the kind of thing that’s funny when it happens to someone else. :) Fortunately, my 2 cats haven’t developed opposable thumbs so I don’t have to worry about this. You’ve sure got your hands full with your son, and I’m glad T-Mobile talked Honeybee down!

  13. 27

    Jenna says

    I work with middle school girls 12-13, they are completely addicted to their cell phones. Just wait until your son gets a little older…

  14. 28

    says

    Hilarious – I’m sure my kids will pull the same thing in a few years. I seriously don’t get the texting thing. I don’t pay for the plan because it’s 5 bucks and I don’t text so I have friends that text stupid crap like “Happy Fathers Day” and I have to pay a quarter for every dumb message like that. I know, I sound like an old fart, but either pick up the phone and talk to someone or don’t send insipid messages that cost me money, ya know?

  15. 29

    says

    All the kids know that The Bank of Dad and Mom has an unlimited credit line. That’s why we have a generation who’s forever in debt and never questions the unlimited credit line of their current Daddy & Mommy-The U.S. Gov’t.

    The best thing a parent can do for their kids is to teach them how to control their money and become a contributing member of society. Imagine what our country and economy would be like if everyone (from the President to parents) focused on just those 2 outcomes.

  16. 30

    says

    We also have a near teen with a cell phone. Fortunately, we already had unlimited text messaging as the hubby and I are big users. Huge.

    Still, I was stunned when she outdid us – by a lot – in her first week. 1700 messages sent & received during spring break. Mostly consisting of LOL & :) back and forth.

    Thank goodness we’re not paying for THAT!

  17. 31

    says

    Kids don’t talk, we got Jane 2.0 the lowest minutes but unlimited text/data. Last month’s bill? 12 voice minutes used, and with unlimited text they don’t report usage.
    Sounds like you had your paperwork handy, good lesson for your readers.

  18. 32

    says

    @Jenna: I’m so excited I can hardly stand it, Girlfriend.
    @Darwin: Until last month, we completely blocked texting because I was tired of paying for stupid text messages that people would send to me – and I had to pay for (I think it was 15 cents a message at the time). Talk about a complete WOMBAT.
    @Betty: I completely agree with you on all counts. Re: “The best thing a parent can do for their kids is to teach them how to control their money and become a contributing member of society.” Some kids, like my son, are a lot tougher to teach in this regard that others. I’ve been working diligently with him in this arena for a couple years now and let’s just say we have a long, LONG, way to go. As I’ve written in this space before, the only way it is going to sink in is if he makes lots of mistakes. We’ll see if he can keep his phone this time around.
    @Heather: You better believe it.
    @Joe: That sounds like a really smart way to do it, Joe. I’ll have to monitor Matthew’s voice time and see if that isn’t a better option for us.

  19. 33

    Financial bondage says

    I’m old school. Kids don’t need cell phones. I did not have one. If I had kids I guess i would be a mean parent… lol

  20. 35

    says

    Oh wow!

    Look on the bright side Len, at least he’s probably pretty darn popular, or has at least one or two friends and isn’t a social misfit!

    That amount of texting is impressive!

  21. 37

    says

    Wow. Lucky you don’t actually have to pay all that. A bill like that would have certainly given my parents minor heart attacks.

    I got through college with a prepaid Sidekick – $1.00/day for unlimited text, IMs, and web and $0.15/min. That may have been a great option for your son as well. It allows for him to manage his money and still text like a monster (he’ll definitely get his money’s worth).

    Too bad T-Mobile discontinued the phone.

  22. 38

    Pam Maltzman says

    May I suggest a prepaid cell phone, such as TracFone–with a basic cell phone, not fancy? It runs me about $20 every three months or so (adds 60 minutes, and unused minutes roll over). I only use it when I’m out running errands or otherwise on the road. I don’t do texting.

    Oh, and a prepaid cell phone will help your son learn to manage his money in a small way… especially if he is made to pay for it.

    Their simplest phones are under $15.00. Accessories will run you a bit more. I imagine that TracFone might have some fancier cell phones that will text and take pictures too.

    • 39

      MikeO says

      I had a Trac-phone. I hated texts… Then I realized I was paying a ridiculous 50 cents or something per text. When I started to use it more, it added up REALLY quick. The prepaid cards started to cost more than I pay for unlimed text and data now on Att. (plus the trac phone changed their service and I was getting no signal here) @ all the anti cell phone folks, there’s a few things that have changed to push us parents to this point. The schools will no longer let the kids call us on their (school) phones. There are no pay phones. and I like to be updated so I am not going on a wild goose chase when the plan needs to change, or leaving them stranded. (ie – the ball game was canceled, can you come get us?) or when they went to the State band competition, and got back at 2:00 in the morning, the school office is closed, and they are under strict orders to NOT share their phones with the other students, (due to a couple incidents or fears of pics being transferred/sent or out-law BFF texts from estranged texters of other crazed parents) Yea that happened when one parent forbad their daughter to text her boy friend and so she borrowed someone elses phone and called them. So the parent found out and all manner of ridiculousness ensued. Oh the woes of modern parenting. Hey – Why do we need any phone, or the internet, or cable TV, or cars, our GR GR Grama didn’t have ‘em…

      • 40

        MikeO says

        oops, Sorry Pam, didn’t mean to blast your post, I got carried away and didn’t realize I was actually on a particular person’s reply, senior moment / blog foul

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