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 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 like many of them primarily used it as a gaming device. There’s also 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 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.
At what age should kids get a phone?
The truth is that 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, the most universal answer for a long time was to wait until your kid becomes a teenager. At this point, they are probably hanging out solo with their friends more often and maybe even taking public transportation 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. That makes them 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 under 13 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, 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 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 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 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 typically very affordable, and you can usually customize the plan to meet your kids’ needs.
We personally 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.
How to monitor a kids 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.
To list off some startling stats, 48% of 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 or girlfriend. Additionally, 70% of children 7 to 18 years old have accidentally encountered online pornography, often through a web search. Let’s not forget about sexual predators or cyberbullying, either.
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 how to set it up and use 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 where your kid’s phone is, 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 how much of a control freak you happen to be. (I happen to be a helicopter dad, and I’m okay with it.)
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, 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 might need a basic tracking or communication system.
Before we move on to the actual best list, it’s worth repeating: your kid is probably going to break or lose whatever phone you give them eventually. 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 them 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 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. It’s also a GPS tracker and will allow your kids to call you or approved friends and 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 an even $50 at Target, though it requires a $10 a month plan from Republic Wireless.
2. Motorola Moto E
The Moto E is a perfect first smartphone for your kiddo. The plastic body ensures the phone can take some abuse if dropped, and the $150 price tag makes it so your wallet won’t feel the blow too much if the phone breaks.
The Moto E is also an all-around decent option. The phone features a 6.2-inch HD+ display, the Snapdragon 632 processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of expandable storage, a 3,550mAh battery, and Android 10. 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, 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 still serviceable 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 them 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 cooler. 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. Our pick, the 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 the latest Apple hardware in a small, trusty package. Older iPhones are nearing the end of their life cycles anyway, which could lead to problems down the road. However, you probably don’t need to give in to the peer pressure for a brand-new iPhone 12 either.
What’s interesting about older iPhones 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 kid’s 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.
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 Decluttr 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 to check out older reviews before you buy a secondhand device.