Cell-ing To Kids — And Parents

schlesinger -- kid with phone CBS

Eleanor Neal is just 8 years old, but is already part of the cell phone set.

Firefly phones are targeted at kids as young as 5 — and are sold in toy stores, CBS News correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports. But Eleanor thinks she's too old for those.

"Basically all you can do is call your parents," she says. "They're more kiddie phones."

But grown-up phones come with grown-up problems — for grown ups — as 14-year-old Lauren Fodeman and her father Doug found out — about one hour after she got hers.

"We hadn't even left the mall and the phone rings, and we're all shocked, looking at it like 'who is this?'" Doug Fodeman says.

It was a text message. A bad joke.

"It just popped up and said the joke and said like, delete," Lauren says.

Lauren's pretty sure she did delete, but whatever she did, she unknowingly signed up for a subscription service and every month Lauren's father was charged $9.99.

The Internet is loaded with sites offering ring tones and jokes: all sorts of stuff that kids may think is free, because they have to scroll all the way down to the fine print and look closely at the charges. And they don't even need a credit card — the charges show up on the phone bill.

The marketers have deals with all the major phone companies, which get a cut. It took Doug, who runs a Web site devoted to kids and technology, three months to convince Verizon to take the charges off his bill.

"Why should marketers, scam artists, why should anyone have direct access to children over purchasing decisions on a parent's credit card?" Fodeman asks.

Verizon claims that most of their customers want these services, but adds that it has limited the business they do with that one company.

And AT&T has added a Web-based program that allows parents to block purchases from their kids' phones.

"The child is not able to download a ring tone, a graphic, a video clip," Ellen Webner of AT&T says. "They can't purchase anything from that wireless phone."

Eleanor Neal's father went one step further, and started his own phone company aimed at kids.

"We believe that in the next two years over 10 million kids will get phones," says Daniel Neal.

That means big business, but his phone company is a pay-as-you-go service, meaning kids can only spend what their parents approve of (and pay for) ahead of time.


"We can help parents control that spending by putting into place a phone allowance," Neal says.

An allowance that could be used to buy ring-tones and wallpaper and games — without any nasty surprises for the parents.

  • Christine Lagorio

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