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Parental Control Apps to Keep Your Teens’ Data Use in Check

Sept. 8, 2016
Cell Phones, Utilities
Parental Control Apps to Keep Your Teens' Data in Check
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“The children are sucking up all the data.”

That was Jaqueline Smith’s challenge — and is the challenge of many parents who share a family cell phone plan with their teenage children.

For Smith, the culprits were two 17-year-olds and a 19-year-old. And the damage came close to $600 per month.

“We were being charged overages because invariably someone would end up going over their allotment,” says Smith, a consultant in Massachusetts, who has five smartphones and five tablets on her plan.

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Parental controls to the rescue

Parental control apps can help ensure your teen doesn’t hog all the data in your family cell phone plan.

Depending on the app, you can set data limits for each line on your plan. You can also designate restricted times to make sure your teens aren’t blowing up Snapchat — and burning through your data — when they should be studying or sleeping. Although we’re focusing on the data-saving aspect of parental controls, many of these apps have other features, such as the ability to view your teen’s location or see whom they text the most.

» MORE: Family plans save everyone money

Parental control apps by carrier

Verizon, Sprint and AT&T offer parental control apps, for a fee. T-Mobile doesn’t offer an app to control data, but its customers don’t share data, even on family plans.

AT&T

Sprint

Verizon

AT&T Smart Limits

Smart Limits lets you block cellular data on your teens’ phone and will send you a text alert when the line has used a specified amount of data. The app doesn’t automatically cut off the line’s data, though, so it’s up to you to shut off their data if they use their share. With cellular data blocked, they’ll be able to use apps like Spotify and Instagram only when they’re connected to Wi-Fi. You can also set time restrictions with Smart Limits, so Junior isn’t distracted by YouTube videos during math class. This feature can also block texts and outbound calls during a designated time. Smart Limits is available on iPhones and Android devices, as well as via a laptop or desktop.

Cost: $4.99 per month for one device, $9.99 per month for up to 10 devices.

Learn more about AT&T cell phone plans.

Sprint Account Controls and Mobile Controls

Sprint Account Controls isn’t an app, but it gets the job done if you want to block data on a specific line. And, best of all, it’s free for all Sprint customers. You just need to log in to your My Sprint account and click on the “My Preferences” tab to set up alerts and block data usage. You can also block text messages and phone calls, and even restrict certain apps.

Cost: Free.

Learn more about Sprint cell phone plans.

Verizon SMART Family

Verizon Smart Family lets you block certain apps or websites and set filters so your child only sees content deemed appropriate for their age. You can also control how much they use their phone, by setting data, text and minute limits, or restricting usage during certain times. The premium version also has location tracking and can alert you when your child arrives at and leaves a designated location, like school, work or band practice.

Cost: $4.99 per month, per account. $9.99 per month for premium.

Learn more about Verizon cell phone plans.

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Kelsey Sheehy is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ksheehy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @KelseyLSheehy.