If your children are anything like mine, they probably started asking about a phone nearly as soon as they started talking. Before talking about the best phone for kids, the real question is if your kids are ready for a phone or not. The answer is complicated.
A recent survey suggested nearly 65% of American pre-teens had a phone of their own, though it seemed most of them were mostly using it as a gaming device in reality. Then there’s a whole campaign devoted until waiting until your kids are a bit older, dubbed Wait until 8th (as in 8th grade). With such a variety of different opinions, it’s hard to know when should kids get a phone, but 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.
What age should kids get a phone?
The truth is there’s no right age. Social pressure and the need to fit in with the crowd will have your kids asking from a pretty early age. That said, I think the most universal answer would be when your kid becomes a teenager. It is at this point they are probably hanging out solo with their friends more often and maybe even taking public transportation around your city by themselves. That means there’s a true need when it comes to keeping track of your kids and ensuring their safety. It’s also an age where kids might have a part-time job or other means that allows them to help with the bill, which makes them at least slightly more likely to take care of their device since it’s actually costing them something!
Of course, there are truly legitimate reasons why you might want to consider getting a phone for kids when they are younger than 13.
Why kids should have phones
If you have a relatively simple schedule for your children, there’s not a huge need for a phone. Once you start adding girl/boy scouts, sports, and other activities? Then things get a bit more complicated. If you have little reason to ever need to change pick up times from these events, just having the school or organization’s number is probably enough. But if you have an unstable work schedule yourself, you might want an easy way to quickly communicate to 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 way 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 you can easily reach for extended periods, a kid’s phone is worth the investment.
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 dumb 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 so I’ve shut off the line and likely won’t turn it back on for at least a year or two even if she finds it eventually.
If you are locked into a traditional plan, canceling isn’t as easy. While there’s no right plan, I highly recommend going with 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 easy to ditch if you need to, and you can even often suspend lines temporarily without losing a number (depending on the carrier) in the event a kid loses their device or you want to take away privileges for a month.
We personally started my daughter out with FreedomPop, since it had a free base plan. Eventually, we did upgrade 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.
How to monitor a kids phone
One concern you might have about getting a phone is if your kids will use them responsibly when it comes to messaging and the Internet. According to ChildGuard.com, internet crime and abuse statistics paint a pretty grim picture of what can happen to your child if proper precautions aren’t taken.
To name a few stats, 48% of tweens/teens say they’ve been in a car when the driver was texting. And 71% of teen girls and 67% of teen boys have sent or posted sexually suggestive content to a boyfriend/girlfriend. Additionally, 70% of children 7 to 18 years old have accidentally encountered online pornography, often through web search. Let’s not forget about sexual predators or cyberbullying, either.
So you might be wondering how to monitor a kids phone. Thankfully, there are several ways to monitor your child’s activity, including Google’s Family Link system. We have a great guide on how to use and set up Google Family Link, but what is it exactly? In short, the free app/service lets you set up usage restrictions including control over the messages they can see and the people they can contact, time limits for usage, control over the apps they can download and use, and even a basic filter for keeping out some bad websites. It also has a way to track where your kids phone is at, which is super useful.
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 to be one tool you should use in an arsenal 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’s 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/or how much of a control freak you happen to be. (I happen to be a helicopter dad, and I’m okay with it.)
We’ll be sure to explore this topic further in future articles, so stay tuned for that!
What is the best phone for kids?
Okay, now we are finally ready for the central question: what is the best phone for kids? The answer to this depends, once again.
Unless you have a very young child, it’s probably not necessary to get a specialty phone designed for kids, which is good because most of these options require a traditional plan, are overpriced, or simply will be something your kids grow out of fast. That said, there is one unconventional device we recommend that might be useful for those with very young kids that are in a situation where some kind of tracking or communication system could come in handy. It’s called the Republic Wireless Relay, and we’ll talk about it more shortly.
Before we move on to the actual best list, it’s worth repeating: your kid is going to break and/or lose whatever phone you give them eventually. It’s just a matter of when. If you have a teen that is 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. For everyone else, we recommend a cheap phone, such as one of the options you’ll find below.
While we won’t list any options here, another option is to simply get a flip or feature phone. The model doesn’t really matter at this point, as just about any modern flip/feature phone will get the job done. These devices are going to be cheaper and will have limited functionality, so your kids will basically only be able to call or text with them. Of course, most feature phones don’t have parental controls, so you won’t have an easy way to monitor where the phone is or who they are communicating with.
From the MVNO Republic Wireless, the Relay is sort of like a speakerphone walkie-talkie. The Relay is also GPS tracker and will even allow your kids to call you or approved friends/family, but there’s no way for kids to add new numbers without parental involvement. There’s even a basic feature for listening to MP3s. The Republic Wireless Relay is under $50 on Amazon, though it requires a $10 a month plan from Republic Wireless.
2. Motorola Moto E6
The Moto E6 is a perfect first smartphone for your kiddo. The plastic body ensures the phone can take some abuse if dropped, and the $100 price tag makes it so your wallet won’t feel the blow too much if the phone breaks.
The Moto E6 is also an all-around decent option. The phone features a 5.5-inch HD+ display, the Snapdragon 435 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of expandable storage, a 3,000mAh battery, and Android 9 Pie. It’s not the newest or the best, but if you have a preteen or teen that you know is likely to lose or break their first phone, it’s a safe bet.
3. Pixel 4a
At around $349 the Pixel 4a series isn’t straight cheap, but for a teen that has shown they are responsible, it could be worth the purchase. The most impressive thing about the Pixel 4a is that it offers almost the same camera experience as the regular Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. The hardware, coupled with Google’s superb camera software features like the ever-impressive Night Sight, serve up photos far beyond what you might expect from phones in this price range. So if your kid loves taking selfies and pictures with friends (pretty much every teen ever), this is a great device.
The new Pixel 4a packs the Snapdragon 730G chipset under the hood along with 6GB of RAM, giving it plenty of performance for even keen users. It keeps the headphone jack, too, while it’s actually a drop in price over the already good Pixel 3a.
There are a few omissions, though, which are expected due to the price tag. There’s no wireless charging or an IP rating. The phones also have plastic backs and simple fingerprint unlocking, but that keeps it accessible. It’s a great device at the price point, and goes head-to-head with the iPhone SE 2020.
4. Apple iPhone SE, iPhone 8 or higher
Let’s be honest, for many teens, there is no option beyond the iPhone. I’ve seen this with my own older nephew, he lives and breathes iPhones because it makes him seem/look cool. While your preteen probably won’t care what phone you get them as long as it works, older teens are going to be pickier. And let’s face it, teenagers love their iPhones.
iPhone SE is pretty highly recommended even by Android sites like this.
If you’re just happy with a cheaper iPhone, my recommendation is to not get anything much older than an iPhone 8. You don’t really need to look beyond the $400 iPhone SE, which packs latest Apple hardware in a small, trusty package. And that price is cheap and will avoid disappointment: if your kid is gifted an iPhone 6 they’re going to feel just as left out as they might with an Android device. Whether you should give into your kid’s peer pressure is up to you, but just keep in mind anything older than an iPhone 8 is probably the cut off for what is acceptable in mid-2020, ahead of the iPhone 12 later in the year.
What’s interesting is the price. Apple has stopped selling the iPhone 8, replaced with the $400 iPhone SE. But, sellers on eBay and Swappa offer phones like the iPhone 8 for great discounts, now around $250-$300, so do take a look. Don’t forget to get a case, too. The front and back glass of the iPhone 8 don’t do well against concrete.
5. Your old phone or something bought second hand
The reality is almost any phone will work as a kids phone. The same advice that goes to buying a cheap phone applies: check reviews online and ensure that the low price tag doesn’t mean awful performance.
Also if your kid is older, be sure to involve them in the hunt for the right phone. This will make them more invested in the device, and hopefully will mean they are more likely to treat it with respect.
So with that in mind, one of the best phones for kids might just be whatever old phone you are no longer using, as long as it’s still performing “well enough” and works with the MVNO you are interested in (if that’s the route you are going, which we recommend.)
Conversely, hit up Swappa if you don’t have a used phone of your own. You can find some amazing deals there on phones that are just a few years old, especially for Android devices, as they tend to depreciate faster than iPhones.
JUST REMEMBER: Before buying a second hand phone, check out old reviews to make sure it’s actually worth buying.