It’s tough when your kid comes home from school and says “all the kids have phones but me.” It’s tough when your child is running late and you don’t know where they are. And above all, it’s tough parenting alongside today’s digital challenges.
If you’re thinking about getting your child a phone, remember that it all comes down to safety. That’s why we’ve put together the ultimate guide to starter phones for kids, for caring parents like you.
What is a good age to get a phone for your kid?
In most cases, children between the ages of 12 and 13 years old are mature enough to handle the responsibility of having a phone. Children are more likely to stay home alone, walk to a friend’s house, and participate in after-school activities around this age.
Cell phones can help children navigate new situations (like those listed above) and ask for help if needed. For example, in the event of an emergency, children can use cell phones to call 911 or a parent. Parents can also contact and locate their children if they have tracking-enabled smartphones. Plus, cell phones make drop-off and pick-up situations much easier for both parents and children.
What about younger children?
Most experts don’t recommend giving children younger than 12 a mobile phone. However, some parents do purchase phones for their young children anyway. This is why it’s important to take your child’s maturity level into consideration before buying or giving them a phone.
Is your child ready to have a phone?
It’s tough to know exactly when a child is ready to handle having a phone. But the good news is there are some ways to help uncover the answer to this question.
Is your child responsible?
If your child can manage homework, take care of a younger sibling, and keep a clean room, it’s likely they’re responsible. Another great sign your child is responsible is that you trust them. And responsibility is one of the biggest factors to take into consideration when debating whether your kid is ready to have a phone of their own.
How does your child handle money?
Does your child lose their lunch money often or spend it on other things? Can your child save up their allowance to make bigger purchases? How does your child spend money they’ve been gifted vs. money they’ve earned? The way your child handles money may be an early indicator of how they will handle a phone.
Does your child frequently lose things?
Children who frequently lose their belongings may be more likely to lose their phones, too. So if your child can’t manage the things they already own, they may need some more time and practice before getting a phone.
How does your child respond to screen time limits?
Children who respect screen time limits with televisions, tablets, and computers may be ready to handle a phone. This is a sign your child may be able to develop a healthy relationship with their phone and avoid excessive use with fewer issues.
Do you trust your child?
Some parents trust their children with money, staying home alone, and other “big kid” responsibilities. Other parents know their child isn’t ready for taking these big steps. Take a moment to check in with your parental instincts and whether you think they’re ready.
Does your child already have a phone? Or will this be their first one?
If your child already has a phone, observe their behavior. Ask yourself questions like:
- Has my child ever lost their phone?
- Does my child take issue with screen time limits?
- Have I noticed any significant changes in my child’s behavior since they got their phone?
If your child already has a phone and you feel they’ve developed an unhealthy obsession with it, perhaps they need some more support. Talk with your child about what it means to have a phone, and teach them how to use one in a healthy way.
What to consider before choosing a phone for your child
Shopping for a phone is a big undertaking. Not every phone has the same features, and how do you know which features are best for your kiddo? Use the prompts below to uncover what you need in a phone for your child.
Do you want your child to have internet access?
The internet is a great place for kids to learn, create, and explore. But it can also be a dangerous place with content you don’t want your child to run into.
How important is location tracking to you?
Some phones have GPS tracking, others don’t. Take a moment to think about where your child goes each day and how worried you may feel if they aren’t where they say they are.
Is your child allowed to download apps?
The App Store and Play Store have tons of free and paid apps designed just for kids. However, not every parent is ok with their kid scrolling through Instagram or chatting on Discord.
Do you want to limit who your child communicates with?
Unfortunately, bullies, predators, and problematic friends can make their way into your child’s messages. This could be text messages, phone calls, or even direct messages on social media apps.
Are you going to monitor your child’s digital communications?
Digital communications include direct messages, SMS messages, MMS messages, and so on. Children may talk about being bullied, drugs, alcohol, and other sensitive topics with friends (or sometimes strangers) through these digital communications.
Will your child have screen time limits?
Phones (and especially smartphones) have a way of distracting children when they should be sleeping or doing homework. Not to mention, too much time on social media apps may not be the healthiest activity.
Do you want your child to take photos and videos, watch shows, and listen to music on their phone?
There’s arguably nothing better than a solid Spotify playlist. That’s why plenty of parents encourage their children to engage in culture and consume content. But at the same time, not all content is appropriate for kids.
How much are you willing to spend on a phone for your child?
Some smartphones cost upwards of a thousand dollars. Not to mention, phones can be pricey to fix in case of drops and normal wear-and-tear. We recommend parents purchase cases, especially for phones with larger screens.
As well, how much you spend on a phone may depend on how old your child is. If this is your pre-teen’s first phone, it may not make sense to buy a brand new iPhone. But it could make sense when it comes time to upgrade your trustworthy teenager’s phone.
Monthly starter phone costs
Another thing to consider when you’re thinking about buying your child a phone is monthly costs. Here are three popular payment options for parents:
- Add your child’s phone to an existing family plan
- Get a new plan just for your child
- Sign up for a “pay as you go” plan
We recommend the first option because it gives you access to your child’s phone records. Plus, many major phone carriers offer a discount for adding an additional line to an existing plan.
Getting your child their own plan may help them feel more independent. However, you then don’t have access to their phone records should you need them. And new plans can cost up to $100 a month or more depending on data plans.
Lastly, the “pay as you go” method seems attractive at first. But children can quickly rack up tabs between text messages, phone calls, and in-app purchases. This method can lead to unexpected bills and surprise costs.
What are the best phones for kids?
Traditional flip phones & candybar phones
Flip phones and candybar phones are affordable options for kids, especially as a starter phone. They usually have small screens and bodies made of plastic, which reduces the risk of damage. But, they both have limited functionality — which can be good and bad at the same time.
Basic phones like these generally don’t use any kind of operating system. This means they’re neither Android or iOS. It’s a great way to keep kids from downloading apps you don’t want them to. But it also means most basic phones won’t let parents install parental control apps.
Nokia 225 4G
Consumer Cellular Doro
Average Price Range
$20 – $50+
Few “cool” features
Can’t download parental control apps
Child may not like it
Phones designed specifically for kids
If you want your kid to have a child-friendly smartphone experience, this may be the ticket for you. Brands like Gabb and Pinwheel make smartphones designed just for kids. But they don’t have web browsers, app stores, games, and so on.
They’re more affordable than traditional smartphones, but not as affordable as flip phones or candybar phones. And since these phones have larger screens, parents should invest in cases and screen protectors.
Average Price Range
$50 – $250+
Most models are more affordable than traditional smartphones
Some manufacturers require a separate cell phone plan
Some models come with basic built-in parental controls
Some models can’t download advanced parental control apps
Longer battery life on average
Some features may only work with WiFi
Smartphones are a great way to introduce your child to technology. But they’re a huge responsibility (and they can be expensive). Luckily, many Android smartphones run at more affordable prices than iPhones.
Plus, because of Android’s operating system, there is a wider selection of downloadable apps. This includes parental control apps!
Average Price Range
Usually more affordable than iPhones
More expensive than flip phones, candybar phones, and “kid phones”
Wide variety of apps and features
Internet access, cameras, and social media apps
Compatible with most major parental control apps
More vulnerable to malware and viruses
iPhones have a lot of brand recognition and for good reason. They’re great phones and they’re compatible with other Apple devices. But … they come at a cost that’s oftentimes higher than most other smartphone makes or models. Plus, some app developers only release apps on the Play Store because of the way that Apple’s iOS works.
However, iPhones are known for their security features, user-friendly interfaces, and fast performance.
iPhone 13 Mini
Average Price Range
Fewer apps and widgets
Compatible with other popular Apple devices
One of the most expensive phone brands on the market
Lower quality of battery life
Used Androids make for great starter phones because you get all the features for half the price (literally). Plus, some reputable carriers offer refurbished and certified-used Android phones so you can buy with fewer risks.
Not to mention, if you want to pass down your old Android to your child, it’s easy to swap out SIM cards. This way you know where the phone came from, and there’s no extra cost.
Average Price Range
Easy to swap out SIM cards
May come with scratches
Affordable alternative to buying new
Some phones are “locked”
There’s usually no warranty
If you, your spouse, or an older child has an older iPhone, it might be a great choice as a starter phone. Not only are older iPhones more affordable than buying new, Apple’s operating system supports devices dating back to the iPhone 6.
The bad news is that older iPhones require frequent charging. And, like newer iPhones, the App Store has some limitations when it comes to parental control apps.
iPhone 8 Plus
Average Price Range
Way more affordable than buying new
Poor battery life
iOS updates support all devices after iPhone 6s
No service guarantees
Compatible across Apple devices
Less memory space
Ensure your child’s safety
Your parental control options depend on the phone you choose for your child. For example, you can install advanced parental control apps on some phones, but not others.
Some phones are compatible with basic parental control apps. Others come with pre-installed parental control features (usually at a higher cost). So let’s explore the difference between basic and advanced parental control options.
Basic parental control options for starter phones
Basic parental controls are ideal for younger children who have limited internet access, and few contacts. Think letting your second grader borrow your iPad to play an educational game.
iOS Screen Time and Google Family Link are great options for parents who don’t need a bunch of tracking tools. Plus, some phones and tablets have basic parental control apps pre-installed upon purchase.
Advanced parental control options for starter phones
For older children and teenagers, basic control apps may not cut it. They know more people, they know how to use the internet, and they’re more likely to encounter sensitive situations.
This is where advanced parental control apps like MMGuardian come in with sophisticated features like:
Message monitoring for texts and social messaging apps like WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger.
Comprehensive reports about your child’s web browsing behavior.
Automatic safety alerts for messages about bullying, drugs, violence, and other problem areas.
Web filtering and safe browsing locks to block adult content.
Time limits to prevent your child from scrolling when they should be doing homework or sleeping.
Advanced app controls to block SnapChat, Instagram, WhatsApp and more.
Call and SMS blocking to keep bad influences and bullies from contacting your child.
Location tracking so you know exactly where your child is every minute of every day.
Are you ready to learn more about MMGuardian’s advanced parental control features? Get more information about the app’s benefits, pricing, and more here. Plus, get a FREE 14-day trial to unlock MMGuardian’s full potential and protect your child online.