You've decided to take the plunge and "connect" your child. There are a lot of great reasons to get your child a cell phone, but the primary reason is to be able to communicate with them when you're apart. When kids have a phone, you don't have to worry (as much) about where they are, what they're doing, how they'll get in touch with you in an emergency, or how you'll ever be able to track them down in a crowd. The solution is in the palm of your hands. As an added bonus, you can also "see" where they are at any time through the phone's GPS locator, a valuable parenting tool.
However, having a phone is a big responsibility (and a huge expense), so it's important to be thoughtful when selecting a device. Here are some of the key things to consider when choosing a cell phone for kids.
Monthly service cost
Giving your child a phone means an increase in your monthly phone bill. With some carriers, you pay an extra line fee, plus the costs of a basic plan, and then an additional cost for data. Consider the extra expense and whether your child will help cover the cost. (Perhaps he or she can pick up a couple of extra chores to work it off — a win-win!) Or, look into a plan with minimal fees. With Xfinity Mobile, you can add another line for no cost as part of your Xfinity Internet service. Any line on your Xfinity Mobile plan gets free minutes and texts, and, if you do need cellular data, you can pay for as little as 1 Gb of shared data. Look into your options, and consider a plan that makes sense for your child’s level of usage.
Price of the phone
Since most children aren't known for taking great care of their personal possessions, you'll probably want to go for the least expensive cell phone option (and get cell phone insurance). Luckily, there are great phones available that won't mean dipping into the college savings fund. Furthermore, you can even try to repurpose one of your older phones.
Choose a cell phone that can stand up to a child’s use, and one that will be easy to manage among your family’s other devices. Consider these smartphones for kids:
If you're an Apple family, it's definitely worth investing in an iPhone for your child so you can sync it with your other devices. It will make setting it up and managing it much easier. Plus, there are some great features built in to iPhones that will help you track your child's location (such as "Find My Friends"), as well as share apps between phones ("Family Sharing"), and share movies and music through services like iTunes and Apple music. Apple also recently introduced some much-needed parental controls. Here are the models to consider:
- iPhone SE: This is the most affordable, smallest iPhone, making it easier for smaller hands to use. It uses old tech compared to Apple's newer phones, but it's still supported by Apple and offers all the great features iPhone users know and love.
- iPhone 7: If you need something a little bigger and you're willing to pay a little more, skip the iPhone 6 and go to the iPhone 7. For just a little more money, you're getting a phone that will be supported for much longer, offers a faster processor, and is water-resistant. Plus, it has a fantastic camera. (The only caveat is no headphone jack; however, you can get a "dongle", so your child can still use headphones if wireless doesn't work for you.)
If you're an Android user, you'll likely want to have your child using one, too. The Android OS has long had robust parental controls as well as many apps you can download to monitor usage, add screen time limits, and track who your child is texting and calling. Here are some child-friendly options:
- Moto E5 Play: This is a newer, inexpensive Android phone. Solid and well made with a textured plastic back (which stands up to rough handling), it comes with an 8 MP back camera and a 5 MP front camera - more than enough for thousands of selfies.
- LG Stylo 4: LG's new Stylo 4 is a little fancier, but still a good deal. With a sharper screen than the E5, a slightly better camera and a removable battery, it's a good choice for the more tech-savvy teen or tween. Plus, with surround-sound through the built-in speaker, your child can watch videos and listen to music easily through the phone without needing headphones (so you don't need to worry about volume levels hurting little ears). Just keep in mind that the phone comes with a stylus pen - keeping track of it may be a losing battle.
If you don't want any apps, you can opt for a basic text and talk only phone (with no data), although these are increasingly difficult to find. While there may be more inexpensive options to choose from, you'll want to make sure you go with a phone that can upgrade to the latest software. (It's crucial to be able to run the latest operating system - both for security purposes and for some of the newer parental control features you'll want to use.) Furthermore, the benefit of saving money on an inexpensive device is undone if you have to replace it because it can't upgrade.
Tips for managing your child’s phone use
Once you find the phone that’s right for your child, keep a few things in mind to successfully manage its use:
- Parental controls: If you want to limit your child's access to social media and the Web, you can lock down an iPhone or Android phone using parental controls. Apple recently announced sweeping new parental controls that will give parents a weekly activity report, showing how much time is spent using the device, specific apps, and so on. A new "Downtime" feature will let you limit usage to apps by category at certain times, so you can keep critical apps (like homework helpers) going while avoiding the ones you don't want them using. Apple also makes use of screen time allowances.
- Phone protection: Whatever phone you get, be sure to choose a rugged case, preferably one that’s waterproof, to extend the life of the device. Otterbox and Lifeproof both have good options.
Getting a phone for your child can offer you peace of mind, and your child a new sense of freedom and responsibility. Make a thoughtful choice when selecting a device, and it can be a positive experience for the whole family.