T-Mobile is the latest cellular carrier to realize that it's bad business--and bad for families--to present parents with the sticker shock of a multi-hundred-dollar bill the first month a kid text messages far beyond the plan for their cell phone.
The Family Allowances plan, which launches in August, lets parents set a variety of rules and controls over their kids' usage for a rate of $2 per month per line, which T-Mobile describes as "introductory." Other carriers charge more. The service allows limits to be set and modified for how many minutes are used, how many text messages sent and received, and the downloads carried out. Parents can also add specific numbers, like theirs, that may always be called. Limits on calls during certain times of day, and per-line blocking is also included. It works with both metered plans and unlimited plans.
AT&T launched its Smart Limits service in February 2008, which is quite similar but more expensive (at $5 per month), and which won't work with the iPhone, oddly enough. The AT&T plan apparently has more flexibility about time-of-day calling, but can't limit incoming calls (only block them), nor set a specific number of outgoing call minutes.
Verizon has announced such a plan; no word from Sprint yet.
As a parent of two kids, the oldest turning four shortly, I have no interest in either child ever having a cell phone. I know that's unreasonable, but it's a reaction to the always-talking, always-texting kids I see of all ages wherever I go. For emergencies and family communications, cell phones seem highly desirable. Or...for tracking your childrens' whereabouts.