Verizon releases new 'Just Kids' plan, joins efforts to keep kids safe online

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Verizon Wireless is unveiling a new phone plan called "Just kids," meant to put controls like limited contacts, data, and phone calls in your hands, while getting a phone in your child's hand. Cyber security experts say it's just one option for parents with kids entering the age where they want to be online.

Common Sense Media reports kids younger than eight spend almost an hour a day with a mobile device. Cyber security experts say it's inevitable in our time, so parents need to be proactive instead of reactive.

"It feels like we’re constantly balancing as parents somewhere between screens and no screens," said Theresa Lyons. She's one of many Columbus parents taking the proactive approach, learning how to introduce their kids into the digital world.

"My oldest turns 10 next month, so we’re kind of navigating this arena," mom Lisa Gillispie added.

Verizon's new "Just kids" phone plan is the company's answer to some of Theresa's and Lisa's concerns. The plan comes with 5GB of data with safety mode turned on and talk and text with 20 contacts you set. It also includes the company's Smart Family service, which tracks your kids' phones, sets app and content filters, and limits screen time.

The non-profit Family Online Safety Institute, based in Washington D.C., told ABC 6 they support the plan; adding it's just another way for parents to keep an eye on their kids online. "We're highly enthusiastic about it," FOSI founder and CEO Stephen Balkam said. "It’s an attempt to deal with the situation where kids are getting phones at a younger and younger age."

While "Just Kids" is a tool, Balkam added the best defense and prep is for parents to simply talk wither children about the dangers out there. But he says the best defense and prep is to simply talk with your kids. "This is a conversation you’re going to have to have at every stage of their development because you’ll start with strict controls, strict training wheels as it were, and eventually those training wheels will come off," Balkam said.

GIllispie's already on that step with her oldest daughter, as she considers a cell phone for the 10-year-old. "Technology is here to stay for sure so we need to help our kids navigate it well and be smart about it," Gillispie said.

Common Sense Media reports kids under eight years old spend more than two hours a day on average in front of a screen in general. The cyber security experts we talked with say even if you're not ready to get your kids a phone or tablet, it's a smart move to get them introduced to tech and make them feel safe coming to you with questions.

The World Health Organization has also released guidelines stating infants under one year of age should not have any screen time; while those age 2-5 should be limited to no more than one hour.