Parenting in the time of smart phones is a mixed bag, because it’s difficult to tell just how much tech your kid is ready to handle. But as the best phones for kids show, there’s a whole selection of child-friendly mobile devices that have parental control in mind. To help you make the right choice for your family, Romper spoke with technology experts, an early childhood educator, and a pediatrician to get advice about buying cell phones for kids.
Best Age For a Kid’s First Cell Phone
“The recommended age for a first cell phone is in the teenage years (age 16), although the average age that children are given phones is 10 years,” Ann McKitrick, MS , an Early Childhood Educator & Parent Coach with Nurtured Noggins, tells Romper via email. Knowing your own kid is crucial, too. In addition, grade-school children who have cell phones may be at a greater risk for cyber bullying, according to a 2017 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics. “This is likely due to a lack of maturity in this age group which is an important consideration to delay cellphone use to when your child is older,” pediatrician Florencia Segura M.D., FAAP of Einstein Pediatrics, tells Romper. Really, when it’s time to think about whether your kid needs a cell phone, first consider your child’s maturity level, as well as their ability to respect limits you set.
Safety & Ground Rules
How do you give your kid a phone without their overall screen time going through the roof? Setting some ground rules for phone use can help significantly. “I think parents really need to model intentionalism, which means using the phone as a tool without letting it become a tyrant,” as Bill Brady, co-founder & CEO of Troomi Wireless, a mobile phone company designed for children, tells Romper. “As soon as a device becomes the default for a child’s time and attention, we dramatically increase the risks of content addictions, cyberbullying,” and many more stresses. Having house rules (such as no cell phones in your kid’s bedroom, or time limits) can help prevent these potential issues before they start.
“There are tons of parental control software apps on the market, but the best parental control app is a parent who constantly checks their kid's phones,” as Burton Kelso, Chief Technology Expert at Integral (and a father) tells Romper. Although there are great parental control apps that help limit your kid’s app and web browsing activity, there is “no all-inclusive app that can monitor everything your kid does on their phone such as conversations that are conducted on social messaging apps,” says Kelso. On the other hand, it’s possible to buy an extremely simple phone (say one with no internet access) to help circumvent these issues for at least a few more years.
You don’t have to spring for a fully loaded iPhone for your kid’s first device, but remember that there will be some recurring costs to operate even the most simple phone. “Parents should also have a good understanding of data usage rates and what types of activities on the phones will use the most data,” says Kelso. (If your kid forgets to switch from mobile data to the Wi-Fi network for browsing at home, for instance, then you might get a pricy surprise on the next phone bill.) “A simple trip to your cellular provider or a conversation with a tech expert should be mandatory if you're a parent who hasn't a clue about smartphone basics.” In general, low-cost cell phone plans include the Unlimited Starter from AT&T at $75 per month for one phone, or the Start Unlimited Plan from Verizon at $80 per month, according to Consumer Reports. Plans for simpler phones, including the Gabb Z2, can start at $19.99 per month. In other words, the total cost of your kid’s phone can vary wildly depending on what type of carrier, plan, and phone you choose. But for many parents, the ability to reach your child at any time or place is priceless, so here’s some of the best cell phone choices for kids.
We only include products that have been independently selected by Romper's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.