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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 or not. 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, 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 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 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 genuine need when it comes to keeping track of your kids and ensuring 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 truly 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 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, 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 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.
As much as 48% of teens say they’ve been in a car when the driver was texting, which is a genuinely startling statistic. 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 web searches. 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 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 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 unnecessary to get a specialty phone designed for kids, which is good because most of these options require a traditional plan, are overpriced, or will be something your kids grow out of fast. That said, one unconventional device we recommend might be useful for those with very young kids who 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 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.
While we won’t list them here, another option is simply getting a flip or feature phone. The model doesn’t matter at this point, as just about any modern feature phone will get the job done. These devices will be cheaper and 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 the phone or who they are communicating with.
1. Palm Phone
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.
2. Motorola Moto G Play
The Moto G Play is a perfect first smartphone for your kiddo. The plastic body ensures the phone can take some abuse if dropped, and the sub-$200 price tag makes it so your wallet won’t feel the blow too much if the phone breaks.
It features a 6.5-inch MaxVision HD+ display, the Snapdragon 460 processor, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of expandable storage, a massive 5,000mAh battery, and Android 10. It’s not Motorola’s most powerful device, but if you have a preteen or teen you know will likely lose or break their first phone, it’s a safe bet.
3. Pixel 4a
At around $349, the Pixel 4a series isn’t truly cheap, but it’s definitely worth the money for a teen who has shown they are responsible. The most impressive thing about the Pixel 4a is that it offers almost the same camera experience as the larger Pixel 4a 5G. 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.
However, there are a few omissions, which can be expected at the lower price tag. There’s no wireless charging or an IP rating. The phones also have plastic backs and simple fingerprint unlocking, which keeps them accessible. It’s a great device at the price point and goes head-to-head with Apple’s rebooted iPhone SE.
4. Apple iPhone SE, iPhone 8, or higher
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 as long as it works, older teens will 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 looking for a cheaper iPhone, you won’t want to get anything much older than an iPhone 8. This is mainly because carriers are retiring their older networks, so you could have to update twice in short order. You don’t need to look beyond the $400 iPhone SE, which packs the latest Apple hardware in a small, trusty package. However, you 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 and replaced it with the $400 iPhone SE. But, sellers on eBay and Swappa offer phones like the iPhone 8 for great discounts, now around $175-$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, and you don’t want to upgrade your kid’s phone before you’ve paid for the last one.
5. 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 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 fantastic deals there on phones 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.