Whenever you see a small child (or even a preteen) with a cell phone, you might have a first tendency to exclaim something along the lines of, “Why does that kid need a cell phone?! I didn’t have a cell phone when I was that age! I didn’t have a cell phone until I was [insert age here]!”
But the fact remains that more and more children have cell phones these days, and for good reason. Cell phones can help children remain connected to their parents when traveling to and from school, when at a friend’s house or when staying with relatives.
However, for all of the good cell phones offer, if used improperly, they also can allow children to access some pretty age-inappropriate stuff, as well as allow dangerous individuals to access your child.
How can you make sure your child’s cell phone experience is positive and productive, versus potentially harmful?
But First, Does My Child Need a Cell Phone?
The answer to that question is a tricky one. Whether or not your child really needs a cell phone can’t be based on age, as so many parents would like to believe.
Does your child:
- Spend a lot of time away from you?
- Does your child have multiple caregivers?
- Do you worry that your child may need to contact you, and you’d rather they not need to ask another adult in order to do so?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it might be time for your child to get their first phone, whether they’re six years old or 14.
But What If My Child Doesn’t Actually Need to Contact Anyone?
It could be the case that your child doesn’t actually need to contact anyone. Maybe they really like playing games and watching streaming services on your device, and you’re tired of sharing your phone or iPad with them.
If that’s the case, don’t feel like you necessarily need to buy them their own cell phone. You can easily buy them a small, kid-friendly tablet (many come with easy-to-access parental controls) or other devices (like an iPod touch) that gives them the tech capabilities they crave, without putting them in contact with the outside world.
They get entertainment, and you get peace of mind.
Protecting the Phone From Your Child
Before we get into buying the right phone for your child, and what features will protect your child from the dangers that await on the other side of the world wide web, let’s look at protecting the phone from your child.
After all, kids are notorious for breaking, losing and otherwise destroying many items before they reach adulthood, and cell phones are rarely inexpensive.
A good rule of thumb is not to buy your child a high-end, brand-new-model smartphone unless they’re well into high school, and you trust that they are responsible enough to own such a piece of tech.
For younger kids, go with something a little cheaper (think up to $400).
Then, look into protecting that phone. Go with a sturdy, rugged, waterproof case that’ll ensure the phone lasts through lots of dropping and potentially throwing and maybe even a trip through the laundry.
You may also want to consider purchasing insurance for your child’s phone, so quick fixes or even replacement don’t necessarily require a huge amount of money.
Service Plan Options for Your Child’s Phone
Before you hand over that cell phone to your child, you’ll want to outfit it with the best type of service plan for your family’s needs.
Many parents choose to give their younger child a cell phone with WiFi access only — no calling capabilities, no text messaging, no data. That doesn’t necessarily mean no contact, though.
Families with iPhones can all talk together (and to other iPhone users) over WiFi when using FaceTime or iMessage. Likewise, families with Android phones can talk to other Android users via Google Hangouts. There are also many video calling and text messaging apps that will allow you and your child to converse, without putting them on a service plan.
Want to add your child to your line? If you have limited data, see if you can go into your provider account and limit data for your child’s line specifically (so they don’t end up using every last bit of data you have within the first week of the month).
You can also purchase limited service plans that allow your child a certain amount of call minutes, text messages and data per month.
Safety Precautions for a Child’s Phone
Okay, you’re still not ready to hand that new cell phone over to your child just yet. After you have the phone child-proofed and set up on the service plan of your preference, you’ll want to take the necessary safety precautions to protect your child from the potential threats lurking in the outside world.
Android and iOS cell phones have parental controls in their software already. All you need to do is go into the cell phone and activate the controls you want, whether that’s disabling the ability to purchase apps or limiting screen time, or even receiving a report on your child’s cell phone usage.
Questions to Ask About a Kids’ Cell Phone
Before purchasing any cell phone, ask about its capabilities. Can your child’s new cell phone:
- Access the internet?
- Allow you to track your child’s location?
- Download apps?
- Limit screen time?
- Take photos and videos?
- Access popular entertainment streaming services, for either music or video?
The Best Cell Phones for Kids
It’s time to get into the best phones for kids. When making your decision, remember — every child and every family is different. Your needs aren’t the same as another family’s, and you may find that your first child is ready for a cell phone at a young age, while your second child has to wait a little longer.
Whatever choice you make, make it with your child’s best interests at heart (and try to avoid any snowplowing tendencies on your own part).
If you want to go even more budget-friendly, you might want to consider this Nokia phone available from Amazon for $50, which looks like a blast from the past, with its classic Nokia design.
The phone is best suited for younger children (think the under-10 crowd). The long battery life ensures it can stay charged for nearly a month. There’s a camera feature and Bluetooth capabilities. The phone comes in multiple colors and has a headphone jack.
However, the phone can access all the normal websites and social media apps that are accessible on any cell phone, so you’ll have to enforce the parental controls yourself.
This $100 Motorola phone is another good “first” cell phone for many children, as it comes with all the basics, but not a lot of the frills that newer, more expensive phones have.
It can call, text and access the internet. It runs on Android operating systems. It’s waterproof and durable, so it can withstand some drops and falls.
This phone isn’t great for gaming, either, so if you want a phone that won’t suck your child in with all the latest gaming apps, then you may find it attractive.
For the smallest cell phone users, this phone allows calling and texting to parent-programmed contacts only. There’s no internet access and no apps.
The phone comes with an SOS Button, geo-tracking in real-time and voice monitoring.
It really can’t do much in terms of tech features, but the phone does go all out when it comes to putting the user’s safety first.
The best part? It’s less than $100.
Let’s face it — if you’re buying a cell phone for a teen, they’re likely going to just roll their eyes at anything that’s not an iPhone. It is a status symbol, after all, and status is everything to a growing teenager.
If you buy your teenager an iPhone, you’re going to want to get a protection plan or insurance, as iPhones are all too easy to break. Apple is notoriously bad about being over-the-top expensive when it comes to repairs.
Additionally, keep in mind that an iPhone will have all the same features and functions that your own phone has, so you’ll want to program in any desired parental controls before you hand over the phone to your child.
So your teenager wants an iPhone, but you can’t quite afford a newer iPhone SE? If that’s the case, go with the iPhone 8. It’s not horrifically old, but you can usually find one for around the $250-$300 mark.
The phone will come with all the features your teen wants and tons of choices when it comes to cases. Just keep in mind that this phone likely won’t last for the long-haul, as it’s currently discontinued, so OS support is limited.
At $350, this affordable phone offers the bare basics of phone usage but comes in a cool package and design that ensures your child won’t be embarrassed to use the phone in front of their friends.
The minimalistic phone features calling and texting and basic functions like alarms and a calculator. It runs on 4G LTE but doesn’t have any capabilities to access either social media apps or the internet at all.
Beyond this, it has a stellar battery, lasting up to three days.
The Gabb Wireless Z2 phone looks like a Samsung Galaxy, but is only $100 and has minimal features to meet your child’s minimal needs.
Features include GPS tracking, a music app, Bluetooth connectivity, unlimited texting and a camera. There are 14 apps pre-installed on the phone in total. There’s no contract for a monthly service; you just pay for the phone and texting on a month-to-month basis.
And, if you like the Gabb phone, you’ll want to stay tuned for the brand’s other products, including an upcoming Gabb Watch, to match your own Apple Watch.
Want Something That’s Not Quite a Phone for Your Youngest Kids?
There are a few other not-a-phone options for your youngest children that come with some handy features if your main concern is just being able to reach your child in an emergency.
The Gizmowatch Disney Edition Kids Phone Watch, for example, allows you to GPS track your child, as well as call and text them. You can set up GPS limits, and if your child happens to cross that boundary line, you get a notification. You can even set up step-tracking features to remind your child to get enough exercise.
The only downside is that the Gizmowatch, with all its smartwatch-like capabilities, is only available to those on a Verizon plan.
Similarly, the TickTalk 3 Smart Watch for Kids works on a 4G Network and looks like a smartwatch as well. It allows your child to send text messages, voice messages, photos and even emojis. It can also work within a group chat, so your child is included in all the adult group chat shenanigans. There’s GPS tracking, video and calling, too.
However, the TickTalk smartwatch also only works with limited providers, in this case, T-Mobile and AT&T.
Picking the Best Cell Phone for Your Child
There’s a lot to consider when picking a cell phone for your child, and you have a ton of options to choose from. All you have to do is decide what’s best for your child and your family, and what makes the most sense for your safety concerns and your child’s intended usage.
You may also be interested in: The 9 Best Smartphones Of 2020 [For Every Type Of Person]
The 7 Best Cell Phones for Kids