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Should you get your kid a phone? Here's a look at your options
If your children are anything like mine, they probably started asking for a phone shortly after they started talking. Before we talk about the best phone for kids, the real question is if they’re ready for a phone. The answer is complicated.
A 2019 survey suggested nearly 65% of American preteens had a phone of their own, though it seemed like many of them primarily used it as a gaming device. There’s even a whole campaign devoted to waiting until your kids are a bit older, dubbed Wait until 8th (as in 8th grade). With so many conflicting opinions, it’s hard to know when kids should get a phone. Let’s dive into the subject a bit, and then we’ll talk about the actual options.
Just want to know what some of the best phones for kids are? Scroll down to the bottom.
At what age should kids get a phone?
The truth is there’s no right age to give your kid a phone. Social pressure and the need to fit in with the crowd will have your kids asking from a pretty early age. That said, the most straightforward answer for a long time was to wait until your kid becomes a teenager. At least that is what tech mogul Bill Gates does, arguably one of the biggest supporters of tech.
We don't have cellphones at the table when we are having a meal, we didn't give our kids cellphones until they were 14, and they complained other kids got them earlier. Bill Gates
Around this age, your kids probably hang out solo with their friends more often and maybe even take public transportation alone. That means there’s a genuine need to keep track of your kids and ensure their safety.
Once your kids become teens, they might have a part-time job or other means that allows them to help with the bill. That makes them slightly more likely to take care of their device since it actually costs them something!
Of course, there are genuinely legitimate reasons you might want to consider getting a phone for kids when they are younger than 13.
Why kids under 13 might need phones
If you have a relatively simple schedule for your children, there’s no huge need for a phone. Things get a bit more complicated once you start adding girl/boy scouts, sports, and other activities. If you have little reason to change pick-up times from these events, just having the school or organization’s number is probably enough. But if you have an irregular work schedule yourself, you might want an easy way to quickly communicate with your kids if their plans need to change.
Another great reason is if you aren’t the sole caregiver. Let’s say you are a divorcee. While you can certainly communicate with your ex, sometimes that can invite more drama than you’d like (trust me, I’ve seen it!). In these cases, sometimes having a way to communicate with your kids directly makes a lot of sense.
The long and short of it, if your kids are going to be away from you or a trustworthy adult, a kid’s phone is worth the investment.
So, when should you get kids their first phone?
As you may have assumed, the answer isn’t straightforward, and expert opinions vary. Our best advice is to get kids their first phone when it’s necessary, or when you feel they are mature enough to handle the power of the internet. If you feel like a telephone is needed but don’t trust a kid with a smartphone, you might also want to consider getting them a dumb phone. This ensures communication with your kids stays active, without giving them full access to the dangers of the internet.
Of course, you can still limit a kid’s engagement with the internet, even with a smartphone. Let’s show you how it’s done.
How to monitor a kid’s phone
One concern you might have about getting a phone is if your kids will use the device responsibly. According to ChildGuard.com, internet crime and abuse statistics paint a pretty grim picture of what can happen if proper precautions aren’t taken.
As much as 48% of teens say they’ve been in a car when the driver was texting, which is a startling statistic. 71% of teen girls and 67% of teen boys have sent or posted sexually suggestive content to a boyfriend or girlfriend. Let’s not forget about sexual predators or cyberbullying, either.
While all those scenarios are worrisome, they can be rare. What’s more worrying is what your kid will do with unlimited access to the internet. We all know there are plenty of distractions online, which may hinder a kid’s performance while doing homework. Additionally, 70% of children seven to 18 years old have accidentally encountered online pornography, often through web searches.
All that said, you surely want to keep an eye on what your kid is doing online. Let’s show you how to protect them as much as possible.
Google Family Link
There are several ways to monitor your child’s activity, including Google’s Family Link system. We have a great guide on setting it up and using it, but what is it exactly? In short, the free service lets you set up restrictions, including control over messages, time limits for usage, control over apps, and even a basic content filter. It also has a way to track your kid’s phone, which is super helpful.
It's probably not enough to just buy a phone for your kid. You'll want a way to monitor activity too.
I’ll be honest, while Family Link is a great starting point, it doesn’t give you complete control over their viewing habits and is sometimes easy to find workarounds for. Instead, I’d consider Google Play Link one tool you should use in a utility belt of child safety tools. I’d also recommend getting a child browser for younger kids instead of letting them use Google Chrome or another traditional browser.
Kids Safe Search is one I have used on my daughter’s phone and my son’s tablet, but there are plenty of options out there, so do some research using Google Search and Google Play to figure out what’s best for your needs.
You might also want to consider a more comprehensive kids’ security suite, like Norton Family parental control. Of course, all of this depends on how responsible your kids are and how much of a control freak you happen to be. (I happen to be a helicopter dad, and I’m okay with it.)
What is the best phone plan for kids?
Before we talk about the best phone for kids, you might wonder what’s the best phone plan for a kid. I highly recommend you don’t just rush out and add them to your family plan. For one, kids aren’t responsible. They are likely to do things that can drive up a traditional bill, and it’s almost inevitable they will break or lose at least one phone. My teen daughter hasn’t seen her phone in at least a month or so, and I’ve shut off the line for the time being and likely won’t turn it back on for a while.
If you are locked into a traditional plan, it’s not always easy to cancel. While there’s no right plan, I highly recommend using a prepaid option such as US Mobile, Google Fi, or one of the countless other options. These make for the best kids’ phone plans because they are typically very affordable. And you can usually customize the plan to meet your kids’ needs.
We started my daughter out with FreedomPop since it had a free base plan. Eventually, we upgraded to a paid plan (before I canceled after she lost her phone), but we only paid around $100 a year for it, and it was more than good enough for her basic needs.
What are the best phones for kids?
Okay, now we are finally ready for the central question: what are the best phones for kids? The answer to this depends, once again.
Unless you have a very young child, getting a specialty phone designed for kids is probably unnecessary. This is good because most of these options require a traditional plan, are overpriced, or will be something your kids grow out of fast.
Before we move on to the actual best list, it’s worth repeating: your kid will probably break or lose whatever phone you give them eventually. If you have a teen willing to save up and buy the device themselves, it’s up to them if they want one of the best Android phones or even an iPhone. We recommend a cheap phone for everyone else, such as one of the options you’ll find below.
The Palm Phone is something a little bit different for your kids. It functions as a fully-fledged smartphone with plenty of apps, but it’s small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. You’ll only find a 3.3-inch display on board, which is perfect for preventing the phone from taking over your little one’s time. It packs a 12MP rear camera and an 8MP selfie shooter, so at least there’s some flexibility to snap photos. While it was an expensive device at launch, it can now be had for a very reasonable price.
Motorola Moto G Power (2022)
The 2022 Moto G Power is a perfect first smartphone for your kiddo. The plastic body ensures the phone can take some abuse if dropped. A super-accessible price tag makes it so your wallet won’t feel the blow too much if the phone breaks.
It features a 6.5-inch HD+ display with a 90Hz refresh rate, a Mediatek Helio G37 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64-128GB of storage, a massive 5,000mAh battery, and Android 11. It’s not Motorola’s most powerful device. If you have a kid you know will likely lose or break their first phone, though, it’s a safe bet.
While the Moto G Play is technically a good deal, too, the newer Moto G Power is a much better phone that costs only a bit more. If you can spend a bit more, you should also look at the 2022 Moto G Stylus, which also has a large 5,000mAh battery, better overall specs, and an included stylus.
The Pixel 6a is one of the more expensive devices on this list, but it might be worth upgrading. Needless to say, it’s probably best for the more responsible children around, as it isn’t exactly cheap either. It has a $449 MSRP.
If you can justify getting your child this phone, he will be ecstatic to own it. It has good performance, superb cameras, a larger 6.1-inch OLED screen for media, and an overall great experience.
Apple iPhone SE
Let’s be honest; there is no option beyond the iPhone for many teens. I’ve seen this with my older nephew; he lives and breathes iPhones because it makes him seem cooler. While your preteen probably won’t care what phone you get them, older teens will be pickier. And let’s face it, teenagers love their iPhones. Our pick, the iPhone SE (3rd generation), is pretty highly recommended even by Android sites like this one.
Looks and reputation aside, the iPhone SE is actually a pretty good phone for kids (or adults). It offers excellent performance, featuring an Apple A15 Bionic chipset. The screen is great, albeit small. Apple is known for its designs, and the newer iPhone SE doesn’t disappoint. It offers glass and metal elements around the body. Not to mention the iOS UI is known for its simplicity. Your kid won’t have to break his head figuring out Android.
Your old phone or something bought second hand
The reality is almost any phone will work as a kid’s phone. No matter which way you go, check reviews online and ensure that the low price tag doesn’t mean awful performance.
If your kid is older, be sure to involve them in hunting for the right phone. This will make them more invested in the device and hopefully treat it with respect.
With that in mind, one of the best phones for kids might be any old phone you no longer use. Just ensure it’s still performing “well enough” and works with the MVNO you are interested in. Alternatively, you can check out our guide for buying a used phone if you don’t have one lying around.
Is your kid a phone killer?
We couldn’t leave without redirecting you to some recommendations that stand a higher chance of surviving anyone’s torture. If your kid is particularly bad at taking care of technology, you might want to invest in something much more resistant. We have a nifty guide for finding the best rugged smartphones in existence. Many of these go beyond the IP ratings and even get military-standard certifications.
This depends on your needs, but most people tend to agree that kids should have a phone after entering their teen years. This is when they start going out of the house more, or participating in activities. More communication with your kids is paramount after these factors come into consideration.
It’s not necessarily bad, but it does open the doors to negative situations. A smartphone can create distractions, affect social behavior, and possibly expose your kid to the world of bad things the internet can store. That said, you can always monitor your kid’s usage responsibly and make sure they use their smartphones according to your standards.
Children tend to be a bit more careless with gadgets, which is why most people prefer to buy them affordable smartphones. Either that or a rugged handset. It’s not really a good idea to get kids a high-end device, unless they are responsible enough to handle one. That said, we would say anything between $150 and about $400 is a good investment for a kid’s smartphone.
There are many apps and services for monitoring your kid, but the most common for Android users is Family Link. If you want to have more access to what your kids do, you can also check out some of the best spy apps here.