How To Limit Your Child's Data Usage

by: Christy Matte
You think you're doing ok on your data usage, but every month you go over your limit without knowing why. These tips and tricks can help lessen your family's data usage and teach kids a valuable lesson.
kids starting at phones

Adding your child to the family mobile plan has become a new tech-oriented milestone, but for parents, it may also mean higher data costs. Unless you’re willing to pay for an unlimited data plan, you’ll want to have a serious discussion with your kid about data usage.

Realistically, a single chat won’t do the trick for most kids. Instead, you’ll need to model, educate, and regulate — and possibly pay the occasional overage fees when things don’t go as planned.

More: 6 Questions to Ask Before Getting Your Child a Cell Phone

Model the behavior you want to see

Kids model what they see, so if you never put your phone away, you can’t expect your kids to, either. On the other hand, if you set the tone by tucking away electronics during meals and family time, your kids will learn to follow suit.

You’ll need to set guidelines that work both for you and your lifestyle, but here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Collect devices at a designated time every night and charge them in a central location. This allows your child to mentally “check out” from any online activity.
  • Ban devices at dinner and during family activities.
  • Minimize device usage during car rides and other situations where WiFi isn’t available.

Educate your child about data costs

Data usage, much like money, can be a vague concept for many kids. You can tell them to conserve data all you want, but it’s important to explain exactly what you mean. Here’s how:

  • Give your kids a limit on how much data they can use — remember to split any shared data to avoid overages.
  • Explain how different amounts of data are used for various activities, such as streaming music, playing a game, using GPS-based software, streaming videos, etc.
  • Show your kids how to connect to (secure) available WiFi, including any WiFi hotspots your mobile company may provide.

Regulating data

Once you’ve talked to your kids about expectations, it’s time to put some safeguards in place to help prevent overages before they occur. The tools available to you will depend on your mobile carrier, but most have an app that allows you to monitor your data usage at any point during your billing cycle. Additionally, you may be able to:

  • Set up notifications for data usage. Some plans let you set a notification for when you’re approaching your data limit but still have enough data left for basic use. If you can do this on a per person basis, even better. It’s a good reminder to your child to be more mindful about his or her mobile use.
  • Set limits. Some data plans let you turn off data access for a specific line once it has hit a specified limit. This option prevents the rest of the family from being penalized for someone else’s usage.
  • See how data is being used. You can see how your child is spending his or her time on the internet, such as browsing the web or streaming videos. This information can help you discuss safe internet usage with your child.

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Dealing with data overages when they inevitably happen

Despite your best efforts, data overages can still happen. Have a plan in place for if and when this happens, and make sure your family knows what it is.

A few ways to handle overages:

  • Ask your kids to pitch in and help pay for the overages from savings or by completing chores.
  • Reiterate your family rules around data usage.
  • Limit or ban access to the phone until the next cycle begins.

When all else fails

If data usage continues to be an issue with your child, you’ll need to decide on the best course of action. Banning the use of a mobile phone is one option, but if that doesn’t work for your family, you may need to put him or her on a pre-paid mobile plan that only offers a certain amount of data per month. It might cost a bit more to remove your child from a bundled family plan, but it will resolve the issue.

An even less expensive option is to give your child a phone that only allows texting and calling and doesn’t have any smart features. This may be the best option for younger kids who need a phone for safety reasons and don’t require a device for school, work, and other online activities.

Unless you’ve got an unlimited plan, you’ll likely deal with data challenges from time to time. Talking to your kids about data usage and having a firm set of family rules in place can help keep things under control. And as a bonus, your kids might even learn about budgeting and staying within limits — that’s a win for everyone involved.

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Christy Matte is a Boston-based tech writer and contributor for Xfinity Mobile. She has two kids, a software engineer husband, a crazy cat who thinks she's a dog, and a hedgehog who just barely tolerates them all.