DSS's cell phone bill was over $900 - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 10:58 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I opened our Verizon bill yesterday and almost had kittens when I saw the amount due was over $1000.

DSS (age 16) has a line on our family plan, and last month he and his mom went to Mexico. While there, he was able to still use his cell phone and the resultant fees are over $900.

My husband thinks that we shouldn't say anything to DSS because "it would make him feel bad". I say that when you impact the entire household to the tune of almost $1000, you should feel a little bad.

I know that DSS didn't do it on purpose, and we (DH and I) did not think to specifically say to him "Do not use your cell phone in Mexico". But I still feel like he should take some responsiblity.

The money to pay this bill has to come out of our family vacation fund (because that is our most readily available fund to draw from), which means that none of us will be going on vacation this summer. So I don't know how DH plans to explain to DSS why we aren't going on vacation.

I don't know what to do. I know that we can't ask him to pay any of the bill because he has no job, and no opportunity to get a job (he lives at his mom's during the week, and they live so far out in the boonies that he can't even bike to a job safely - even if he could find something out there.) I suggested to my DH that DSS do chores around the house as a form of payment, and my husband didn't think that was a good idea - for whatever reason. I was so annoyed by this point that I let it go.

Any advice or ideas from you mommas (or dads)?

UPDATE:

Thanks for all of your input.

I want to be really clear that when I said "he should feel bad", what I meant was not that his dad and I should lay all the blame on him and tell him he is responsible for the family vacation not taking place. What I meant - and should have said - was more along the line of I know that I feel bad for not specifically telling him not to use the phone while in Mexico. I made a bad assumption that since we do not have international calling on our cell plans that his phone wouldn't even work there, so for me it was a non issue. I feel bad now, and I've learned a lesson. That feeling of regret is not a terrible thing for a young person to experience and I think it leaves a lasting impression. I know now that in the future I have to remind him of things like this. Could I quietly pay this bill and then put our vacation expenses on a credit card so that DSS never knows? Sure. But that is not how we handle our finances. If we have the cash to pay for something necessary (and paying bills in full, on time is a priority to us), then sacrifices have to be made to do that. I don't intend to say "we aren't going on vacation BECAUSE OF YOU, YOU BAD, BAD CHILD!!!", but he will wonder why we aren't taking our trip now (we've been talking about it, it wasn't a surprise), and I think it's just as important for him to understand that there are consequences to all our actions: even unintended, accidental, innocent mistakes.

I also made a bad judgement call because I assumed that he would know not to use the phone in a foreign country. His mom and dad both travel internationally and he knows that he should not call them on their cell phones when they are out of the country. And last year when he was on vacation in the Bahamas with his mom, she took his cell phone away from him (he was still on her plan at that time) and told him he couldn't use it because it would cost more money. I know this because he complained about it at the time.

My DH and I did not call him or text him in Mexico. First, because that is special time for him and his mom and we don't usually talk with him when they are on vacation. Also, because we didn't think the phone would work. And he did not call or text us, because if he did, we would have told him to STOP using the phone immediately.

Finally, out of $900 in fees, $11.99 was voice charges and the rest were text messages/roaming. Every text message sent and rec'd cost $.50, and he sent and rec'd almost 2000 (according to Verizon, I didn't count all of them).

I did call Verizon - you can bet that was the first call I made!! I've called them a couple times and I get the same anwer each time: those are charges that Mexico bills to Verizon, and then Verizon passes on to consumers, and therefore, they won't/can't reduce them. I can't get a straight answer about whether or not they send out a text message when you enter another country.
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#2 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 11:03 AM
 
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Absolutely he should be told the amount. Does he understand how much that is? You don't need to make him feel bad (but I would!) but he needs to be made aware of it. At 16 he needs to start understanding how the world works - roaming charges, trade-offs, money is limited, whatever.

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#3 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 11:09 AM
 
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I guess my thought is to call the phone company and explain the situation and ask if you can either pay a reduced rate (because your son honestly didn't know what he was doing and you didn't have custody of him or the phone at the time) or make payments over time (maybe you could pay $100/month). I would also have DH talk to DSS's mother - she was the adult in charge and should not have let him accumulate so much air time in a foreign country! IMO she is a responsible party in all of this.

As for DSS, he needs to know, but IDK if I would hold him responsible because I can't imagine a 16 yr old understands that the foreign rate on cell phones air time is so astronomical. I'm guessing he had no clue and when he saw that his phone had service, he assumed he was good to go.

ETA: when my family drove through Canada a couple of years ago I had NO CLUE using my cell would cost extra - the service looked and sounded the same to me! DH pointed it out to me.

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#4 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 11:11 AM
 
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I'd personally feel responsible, if I did not investigate what any roaming costs would be and if I didn't tell him not to use the phone and why. I really can't expect a 16 year old that is provided a cell phone and hasn't read the contract to know the minutae details about rate charges. It's my job as the parent that contracted and provided the phone to do that. I know if it happened at my house, I would tell tell the child, but take full responsiblity for not having informed them that using the phone out of the US would result in significant charges.

My daughter went over our plan minutes once, and that is the way I handeled it. She is a very responsible person and felt bad but didn't understand the nights and weekend times verses daytime minutes, once she was informed it never happened again.
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#5 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 11:15 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I guess my thought is to call the phone company and explain the situation and ask if you can either pay a reduced rate (because your son honestly didn't know what he was doing and you didn't have custody of him or the phone at the time) or make payments over time (maybe you could pay $100/month). I would also have DH talk to DSS's mother - she was the adult in charge and should not have let him accumulate so much air time in a foreign country! IMO she is a responsible party in all of this.

As for DSS, he needs to know, but IDK if I would hold him responsible because I can't imagine a 16 yr old understands that the foreign rate on cell phones air time is so astronomical. I'm guessing he had no clue and when he saw that his phone had service, he assumed he was good to go.

ETA: when my family drove through Canada a couple of years ago I had NO CLUE using my cell would cost extra - the service looked and sounded the same to me! DH pointed it out to me.
I did call Verizon - that was the first thing I did! I spoke to an operator and 2 supervisors and they all said that because he was in Mexico, that Verizon is billed by Mexico for the airtime, and that then Verizon passes the charges along to their customers. For that reason, they won't reduce the charges.
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#6 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 11:29 AM
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Yeah, I would tell him, too. Every time I go to another country I get a text from my cell phone company telling me the rates in that country, and I would be somewhat surprised if he didn't get something similar.

Did you have guidelines set up with him about the phone already? I do think both parties are partially at fault here - it would have been wise for you and your husband to remind him before he left that his cell phone plan didn't cover calls in Mexico and that the fees would be quite high, so he should only use it for emergencies... but he also should have had some inkling that things might be different in another country.

I would do some problem-solving with him and try to find a way for him to pay a portion of the fees, anyway... working them off if getting a job really isn't feasible.

 
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#7 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 12:12 PM
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Originally Posted by emelsea View Post
[W]e (DH and I) did not think to specifically say to him "Do not use your cell phone in Mexico".
That seems like the key thing here. You may feel a little stupid for not thinking of this earlier, but don't take it out on the kid. I think it's fine to tell him, but I would not in ANY way put the weight of "no summer vacay" on his shoulders. The phone is on your plan, your SS is only 16, and to 16 year olds who have not had it spelled out, cell phones just exist--bars means you're good to go.
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#8 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 12:13 PM
 
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FWIW, regarding being notified about changes in rates when you're travelling... I'm in Canada and when I went down to Washington and Oregon and used my cell phone I wasn't notified AT ALL that the charges were different when I made my calls. I knew beforehand though so I only used my phone very sparingly but still if I were ignorant of that fact, I would have had no clue at the time I made my calls. So I guess each company is different in how they handle things.

In the OP's situation, I would let DSS know what happened for sure. I think the parents and son should share the responsibility on the charges.

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#9 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 12:26 PM
 
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I can't see getting mad at him if he truly didn't know and wasn't told, but I can't imagine it does any good to not tell him about the bill, either. How will he learn? I'd probably tell him, "We (your parents) goofed. We didn't realize you'd use your phone there, and we didn't warn you what would happen." Unless there is some reason he ought to have known. Depending on the relationship, you could discuss it with DSS's mom, see if she knew he was using it so much, if she warned him, etc.

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#10 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 12:30 PM
 
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I can't see getting mad at him if he truly didn't know and wasn't told, but I can't imagine it does any good to not tell him about the bill, either. How will he learn? I'd probably tell him, "We (your parents) goofed. We didn't realize you'd use your phone there, and we didn't warn you what would happen." Unless there is some reason he ought to have known. Depending on the relationship, you could discuss it with DSS's mom, see if she knew he was using it so much, if she warned him, etc.
I agree with this exactly. I just can't picture a 16 yo having any clue that cell rates are different in a foreign country.

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#11 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 12:30 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Artichokie View Post
I guess my thought is to call the phone company and explain the situation and ask if you can either pay a reduced rate (because your son honestly didn't know what he was doing and you didn't have custody of him or the phone at the time) or make payments over time (maybe you could pay $100/month). I would also have DH talk to DSS's mother - she was the adult in charge and should not have let him accumulate so much air time in a foreign country! IMO she is a responsible party in all of this.

As for DSS, he needs to know, but IDK if I would hold him responsible because I can't imagine a 16 yr old understands that the foreign rate on cell phones air time is so astronomical. I'm guessing he had no clue and when he saw that his phone had service, he assumed he was good to go.

ETA: when my family drove through Canada a couple of years ago I had NO CLUE using my cell would cost extra - the service looked and sounded the same to me! DH pointed it out to me.
I knew this at 15. When I got my phone I understood everything about it, and knew about roaming charges too. I think at 16 he probably had an idea he wasn't supposed to talk that much and did anyway.

I would tell him, and ask him to help pay it back - either by helping around the house more than usual, or with money. If you don't want to hold him accountable for the full amount, hold him accountable for half.

Thats just me though.
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#12 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 12:38 PM
 
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I knew this at 15. When I got my phone I understood everything about it, and knew about roaming charges too. I think at 16 he probably had an idea he wasn't supposed to talk that much and did anyway.
How many years ago was that? When I had my first cell phone at 18, I knew these things, too, but roaming charges were more common. At this point in time, most people are on pretty big networks and pay no roaming/long distance. Ten years ago? Different story.

Kids today also use their phones more during daily life - it is more integrated. When I was that young, having a cell phone was a big deal, each minute was expensive and we were very conscious of making quick calls. Nowadays, the culture is different. The concept of using your phone too much is probably a little foreign.

Also, I paid the bill, so I knew all of the charges involved. If my parents had been paying the bill and did not take the time to explain to me how everything worked, I would not have had a clue.

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#13 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 12:38 PM
 
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I saw this on the main page and had to comment.

I would at least tell him how much the bill was. Even if he had no idea that the roaming would be so expensive (which I doubt), he has to know now. Otherwise, he'll just do it again! Does he understand how much his phone bill is normally? What does he do when his charges for texting, downloads, etc are high?

About putting the guilt for the family vacation onto him, I don't know if I would do that. But he should at least have an opportunity to do chores to make up for *some* of the astronomical cost.

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#14 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 02:06 PM
 
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How many years ago was that? When I had my first cell phone at 18, I knew these things, too, but roaming charges were more common. At this point in time, most people are on pretty big networks and pay no roaming/long distance. Ten years ago? Different story.

Kids today also use their phones more during daily life - it is more integrated. When I was that young, having a cell phone was a big deal, each minute was expensive and we were very conscious of making quick calls. Nowadays, the culture is different. The concept of using your phone too much is probably a little foreign.

Also, I paid the bill, so I knew all of the charges involved. If my parents had been paying the bill and did not take the time to explain to me how everything worked, I would not have had a clue.
Ok, yes it was 10 years ago (exactly almost). But, roaming in country and roaming in a foreign country are totally different things. And just b/c cell phones are big part of our culture doesn't absolve the teen of being a responsible cell user - and at 16 I would bet alot that he could have read the policy, or asked a question.
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#15 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 03:13 PM
 
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I'd at least ask him about it. Are these charges from phone calls or texts? Is it possible the EX was using the phone & some of this is from her?
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#16 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 04:40 PM
 
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at 16 I would bet alot that he could have read the policy, or asked a question.
Is it typical for parents to hand over copies of the contracts they sign to their teenagers? I can tell you I never handed over my cell phone contract or any other one to my daughter, even though I gave her a phone to use on my account. She doesn't have my log in for my account either, so she can't just look up my fees and charges online.
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#17 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 04:47 PM
 
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I don't understand the value of not informing him what happened so that this doesn't happen again. How is he supposed to learn? It's perfectly possible to give him the information without making him feel bad. Wanting to keep him in the dark entirely seems like a strange parental instinct.

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#18 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 04:50 PM
 
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i agree with the others.

the onus is on you. your family slipped up. not dss.

if he wants to contribute to helping with the phone bill then more power to him. but he should not be required to. but he should know. absolutely.

did you guys call him on the phone too? that would collect roaming too wouldnt it?

i would watch and see. i am sure your dss didnt intentionally do it. see if he repeats this ever again.

if you cant go on vacation let your dss know why - without blame. just observation.

this is a huge lesson for all of you.

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#19 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 04:53 PM
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I agree with this exactly. I just can't picture a 16 yo having any clue that cell rates are different in a foreign country.
I guess it depends on the kid - mine certainly did (she's 17 now).

I just asked her - she said she would think most 16 year olds would know that cell phone usage costs more in another country. She thinks most everyone knows about roaming - it's in commercials, on tv and in movies, etc.

I think his mom should have said something too, since she was with him. And I definitely don't see the point in keeping it a secret.

 
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#20 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 04:59 PM
 
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dar i am sorry but your dd and her friends dont count. just like thyra.

she is far too precocious.

do you know even most adults dont understand roaming - what exactly roaming is (we had this huge conversation with a verizon friend). yes they are aware if they go out of the range it costs more. but all the other pieces many adults have no clue.

i do wonder what amount of knowledge the stepson has about phone charges. i mean if he wasnt paying for it would he even be aware of roaming or how much that really costs.

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#21 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 05:19 PM
 
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My 14 year old understand that there are different rates for different things-different times of day, locations, etc.

About 6 months ago, I got a cell bill for $500, our regular charges for DH, myself and 14 yr old dd is $85. Turns out, dd had spent an hour online on her phone. Now, when we gave her the phone, we told her she was responsible for all "extra" useage, like texting, internet etc. She knew there were extra charges, but, she didn't really understand how they worked or were billed.

DH and I talked about it and decided that she had to learn that ignorance isn't an excuse and that if it was her own cell bill as an adult, she would be the one responsible for it. At the same time, we didn't want her to think we were treating her like an adult when she wasn't, so we discussed with her that we would pay half and she would pay half. Also, I explained that I would call the cell company and see if they would reduce the charges, and that if she was responsible for the bill on her own, that's exactly what she would be doing. As it happens, they removed all the charges, and then at my request blocked internet from all three of our phones, which was what I had thought we had done already, that was where my mistake.

My belief is that we are raising our kids to be responsible adults. If your son was already an adult responsible for his own bills, he would have to pay for the whole thing, even if he didn't know there would be different charges. And the only way for him to learn that is if he is responsible for at least some of it. Being sensitive to the difficulties of him getting a job, I would suggest not making him pay for all of it, but I think the best way to teach him would be for him to be responsible for at least some of it.

I won't pretend that I know how to deal with having a child straddle two households, I have sole custody of my oldest, so I don't deal with visitation. But, I do think that your son needs to have the responsibility of earning money to pay at least a portion of the "luxury" bills he encurs-cell phones, car insurance, gas etc. The best way for our kids to learn that it takes money to live life and that they will be expected to be responsible for paying their bills is if they have some ways of earning money and paying bills will still under the safety net of mom and dad.

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ETA: my 14 year old would have been capable of paying her half of the internet usage bill because she already has a part time job working for her grandmother in the family business. At 14, her job options are more limited, so had she not been lucky enough to be working for family, we probably would have worked something else out. However, a 16 year old boy can at least mow lawns or something to earn money, even if he's not able to really get a "real" part time job.
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#22 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 05:26 PM
 
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dar i am sorry but your dd and her friends dont count. just like thyra.

she is far too precocious.

do you know even most adults dont understand roaming - what exactly roaming is (we had this huge conversation with a verizon friend). yes they are aware if they go out of the range it costs more. but all the other pieces many adults have no clue.

i do wonder what amount of knowledge the stepson has about phone charges. i mean if he wasnt paying for it would he even be aware of roaming or how much that really costs.
I kind of take offense to that. I know I have always been the more "responsible" kid of my parents, but I don't think that being 16 and unaware makes it ok for a kid to walk around with their head in the clouds totally oblivious to all things going on surrounding money. Roaming charges are on all cell commercials just about, they are advertised all over the place. He knew they existed, he just didn't bother to find out how they applied to vacay in mexico.

My brothers have goofed before, and they have always been held accountable - b/c they are smart enough to know that there are consequences to acting irresponsibly. I know that MDC is all about AP parenting - but we want children who can pay all their own bills and live productive lives of their own someday. A 16yo is old enough to be held accountable for not double checking things.
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#23 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 05:55 PM
 
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I guess I'm kind of confused. How do you not know you would be paying extra charges if you are in a different country? I would understand if the kid was 10 but the OP said he was 16. To me, I think that is old enough to take responsibility for the mistake. I think he should be told and definitely make some sort of contribution to the payment. Whether by chores or whatever.
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#24 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 06:32 PM
 
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I think a lot of kids only remember flat billing. When I was a kid, calling long distance was a BIG DEAL because it was expensive. Now, I can call my ILs for free in the UK. Cell plans have flat fees. If I were a kid growing up with that kind of phone knowledge, I might not think...hey, wonder if there are extra fees? From Mexico? There are no extra fees if you go to say, Texas and it's right there so...I mean, really a kid might not even think of it. THE ADULTS didn't, did they?

I think he needs to know because if he doesn't know now, he won't know if there's a next time and if he does it once and no one mentions it, you certainly can't blame him if it happens again. Also, it sounds like this means he's not going on a family vacation this summer because the money is no longer there, that's a pretty direct consequence.
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#25 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 06:41 PM
 
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Let's see... I was born and grew up in a place where we graduated high school at 16 and started work and universities. At 16. So you can guess where I'm going with this, right?

I would definitely tell him so that he realizes the cost and it does not happen in the future. I would also make sure that he understands exactly what his cell phone service covers and what's extra. I would also make sure that he realizes that from now on these kinds of expenses are on him.

The intensity of the discussion and how much to hold the kid accountable for this particular incident would depend on how you answer these questions:


* Did you have any kind of discussion regarding cell phone fees when you gave him the cell phone? If not, your mistake. Learn from it.

* Were there any issues with him ever incurring extra charges in the past?

* Does he show any remorse when he is informed of the bill amount?

In our case, I have zero doubt that DSD (17) would know that using the phone in a foreign country is more expensive. She has traveled, and this has never been an issue. I am certain she would have known this a year ago just as well (even two years ago). Then again, we are not afraid to discuss the bills with her, so you have to judge for yourself and your situation. I am convinced that whether he realized that it's more expensive or not, he should be told about the amount, and asked for an opinion on how to take care of the bill. He might not be able to actually offer money, but hopefully the "OUCH, I can't believe I did that!" will kick in, and he'll offer to help out.

Best of luck! Would love to hear your update.

P.S. I would not guilt him about the vacation, unless he is completely blowing the whole thing off, or asking directly "Why aren't we going on vacation this year?". I'd simply reply "We have a few extra expenses we have to take care of this summer "

P.P.S. I think very few 16 y.o. wouldn't realize that cell phone coverage in a foreign country is extra.

New endeavor coming soon...
Raising Alice in Wonderland (DSD, 17), and in love with a Superman
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#26 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 07:02 PM
 
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As someone who was a teenager pretty recently and has a teenage brother... I find it hard to believe a 16 year old wouldn't know that different countries aren't covered. My mom has never told either of us that but we have seen enough commercials to know that other countries are generally not included.

Even if he sincerely had no clue, I feel it is important for someone close to being an adult and possibly on his own to know now that cell phones cost a LOT out of country (and any other extras!) unless it is in the plan. almost a grand is a huge deal and he should know. Not to feel guilty or to blame him for the missed vacation... but to know what to expect when he is lookign for his own cell plan. He should also have the option to help make up for it... he might WANT to do chores even if he isn't expected to. I know I would have wanted to help out. Even if my parents took the blame, it was still my actions causing the problem and considering I get so much else from them... it doesn't hurt to give to them. He might feel similarly... or he might just learn to know that there are details to everything and he needs to be more careful... he won't always have parents to help him out with his bills.

I also think it is a good idea to give him a chance to explain. maybe for some crazy reason he needed to make a call.. maybe his mom borrowed the phone... who knows? I'd think he should have known to tell you but then if he didn't know cell phones are for in country only it isn't a surprise haha. However, WHY he made the expensive calls might change your feelings on the matter... and if it was just because he wanted to talk to a buddy then its a chance to explain to him that sometimes fun calls aren't an option and to either send post cards in the future or wait til he is home. Again, no need to lay on the blame or guilt.. but it IS a learning experience and that definitely offers up different options than using the phone... no one NEEDS to make fun calls to buddies while on vacation
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#27 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 07:46 PM
 
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I just think it's weird that everyone wants to punish the kid for not knowing, but no one questions the adults who didn't seem to think about it either...till they got the bill. If grown ups can space on that one, why not a kid?
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#28 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 08:17 PM
 
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I'm also confused about why international service was even turned on on the phone -- most companies make you specifically request that so you'll know it costs more. And, as someone who has used her cell phone in many foreign countries, let me also add that it's usually not more than $1/minute in Europe, and in Mexico and South America maybe $1-$5/minute tops. And along the US/Mexico border it switches back and forth usually without consequence. So my point here is that $900 means a LOT of minutes! How long were they there? Did you talk to him? How much calling would he possibly do on vacation? Seems exorbitant to me.

ETA: Or were these internet charges? That could do it.

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#29 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 09:13 PM
 
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I just asked my 14 yr old ds and he wouldn't have known that the charges are higher in a different country. Of course, he just recently graduated from a tracphone to a real line and started texting so he might be a bit behind the times.

I just don't see it as a common sense type thing. If dss didn't know about roaming fees, how can you hold him responsible? Of course, he needs to be told about roaming fees and I would also tell him how much his phone calls cost but I would leave the vacation out of it. Hopefully he will offer (or could be prompted) to help pay some of it off with housework or babysitting or lawn mowing or whatever.
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#30 of 78 Old 07-07-2010, 09:21 PM
 
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Just to reference the comments on commercials, in this house, we don't watch commercials. Everthing we watch is recorded on tivo, and we FF passed every commercial. My daughters tv watching consists of approximately an hour a day of television and it's all prerecorded. She isn't into tv.
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