Buying your child a smartphone: It’s inevitable (Read: When Should You Buy Your Child a Smartphone?). It’s also an expensive accident waiting to happen. A subsidized handset that may have cost $100 or $200 with a two-year contract can cost $600 to $800 to replace if damaged and uninsured. So you want to take steps to protect your investment. Here are your options.
Photo: Ralph von der Heyden on Flickr
1. Cover your assets. The two biggest enemies of your child’s smartphone are gravity and water. Kids drop things, and if there’s a body of water nearby, it’s almost guaranteed their phone will find it. Unless you’ve got a warranty that covers accidents and water damage (standard ones generally don’t), you’ll have to pay out of pocket for repairs. A shock-resistant and waterproof case can prevent most of these disasters. There are scads of covers available, especially for iPhones, but you generally can’t go wrong with anything from Otterboxor Pelican.
2. Watch your glass. The problem with cases? They turn that sleek oh-so-thin smartphone into a triple decker sandwich that won’t protect squat if your fashion-conscious teen removes it. Hedge your bets by getting a protective cover for the screen, which can reduce the chances the thing will shatter when dropped, as well as protect it from scratches. Zagg makes popular screen protectors for Apple and Android phones starting around $15. The Holy Grail Screen Protectorfrom Sir Lancelot’s Armor is more expensive ($30 to $50) but made from the same materials as bulletproof glass. The company claims it can prevent damage from knives, drills, hammers, and even a pellet from a .22 rifle. (Kids, don’t try this at home.)
3. Buy third-party insurance. All the major wireless carriers offer insurance policies for the phones they sell, but they’re expensive, have high deductibles, and typically cover a limited number of incidents. You’ll do better by getting coverage from third-party warranty services. SquareTrade costs $100 a year per device – less than half what the carriers charge – with a $75 deductible per incident. Protect Your Bubble costs $8 a month, with a deductible ranging from $75 to $120 depending on the model, but it also insures against loss and theft. Most other plans do not.
4. Locate a reliable repair shop. In some cases it makes sense to skip filing an insurance claim and pay for repairs out of pocket, says Jeremy Kwaterski, CEO of CPR Cell Phone Repair, a chain of service centers with more than 170 locations nationwide. He says water damage can typically be fixed for $50, or well within the usual deductible. A cracked screen, on the other hand, can cost anywhere from $35 to $175, depending on the phone and the extent of the damage. One other way to lower both the likelihood and the parental expense of a repair: Tell the kid they’re responsible for the deductible, if not for the entire repair.
5. Wipe if swiped. A damaged smartphone is annoying but not a tragedy; a lost or stolen one can lead to identity theft and other nasty outcomes. iPhone fans can install Apple’s Find My Phone app to locate the missing handset, lock it, and, if necessary, remotely wipe all the data on it. You’re still out one very expensive phone, but at least total strangers won’t have all your kids’ personal information. Google-heads will need to set up Android Device Manager to achieve the same ends.
6. Keep a watchful eye. You may also want to consider installing what uKnowKids CEO Tim Woda calls a “parental intelligence system” that lets you know who your teens are calling or texting, what apps they’re using, and where they’re surfing, then shut things down if necessary. All the major carriers offer basic parental control packagesfor a few extra dollars each month; you can also find tons of apps in the Google Play or Apple iTunes stores. Kajeet phones come with these controls pre-installed. Be sure to talk to your kids about it first, though, or there may be hell to pay later.