Moral Money: our reader discovered her kids were two-timing her phone contract
Dear Moral Money,
I took out a family phone contract to cover my teenagers’ mobile phones. It came with added benefits of parental controls and screening, as well as a discounted tariff. That was nine years ago, and now my children are 19, 23 and 25 – and I am still paying.
I’ve recently found out that two of them have “other” phones that allow them privacy, while continuing to take advantage of the family tariff when it suits them.
I was outraged when I discovered this, and feel like I have been exploited by my own children. Am I overreacting?
Having spoken to you about this, I know that your family has a tradition of giving your children a mobile phone on their 16th birthday. It started when your eldest turned 16. At the time, he’d felt like the odd one out because all his friends had phones, and you wanted him to prepare him for sixth form when he would be travelling further to school.
I understand the first phone wasn’t on a family tariff, and was lost within a few weeks! When you looked into replacing it and having it insured, you discovered the option of adding a child’s phone to your account, and then learned of the discounts for getting your husband’s contract included in the bundle.
It is fair to say you were gradually seduced by the clever marketing of the mobile companies to amalgamate your contracts with one service provider. Over the years you added your younger children’s phones to the family contract.
The phones have been upgraded as the years have gone on. Every 18 months or so you were encouraged to negotiate contract terms with your service provider, and so it has rolled on.
You tell me there were several occasions when you had considered deals that would suit you personally – a phone upgrade you fancied that wasn’t available via the family contract, a better roaming tariff for a particular holiday that wasn’t available either – but you didn’t want to disrupt everyone else’s service supply just because something would have benefited you. Little did you know that some of the group had already struck to make independent deals.
It seems it is the compromises you have made that annoy you the most. You thought you were doing your children a favour and in fact they had already rejected the restrictions of the family contract. It would have been nice of them to tell you they had negotiated their own phone contracts, and thanked you for the support that has helped them transition from dependent to independent.
What actually happened is your eldest son heard his phone ring and got it out to respond. It wasn’t his phone – oh no, wait, it is his phone, but it’s the other one. He answers the second phone while you watch on. When you ask him about it he nonchalantly informs you that both him and your middle child have had their own phones and contracts for months.
The second-rate handsets on the family plan that didn’t get upgraded often enough were not cutting it, and they didn’t want you monitoring all their calls.
It is likely that your children compared phones, and once the eldest had the latest device, the others were going to want to upgrade, too. They probably managed to convince each other it was just normal behaviour and didn’t take time to consider if it might be exploitative or unreasonable. I know my boys rarely gave much thought to anything except music, sport and girls at that age.
I do think this is a classic tale of unmet expectations, and if that is the case then the solution to your angst can be found in lowering them.
Can we really blame the children for keeping the old phones going when it costs them nothing, and all the friends and family were still regularly contacting them on that number?
Equally, being in a position to choose the technology that suited them best was important and where you made a self-sacrifice when you were in the same position they acted in their own interest – were you a martyr, or were they selfish?
Being a parent is full of responsibility and we can’t help but hope we are appreciated but, in reality, much of what we contribute is in the sacrifices we make that the children won’t even realise until they have children of their own.
I think you have a right to feel used, however, it is in changing the expectation that the children wouldn’t play the advantage for their own benefit that your comfort can be found. It’s just kids being kids (or young adults).