I've been researching and writing about consumer electronics for over 13 years.
Thinking about Getting Your Child a Cell Phone?
There are hundreds of millions of cell phones in the US. The vast majority of us own one, allowing us to stay in contact, providing a sense of security and immediacy, and giving us really cool features like watching TV and videos, sharing pictures, enjoying music, accessing the internet, and much more. Kids too are attracted to these small, useful, yet entertaining gadgets. However, before a parent jumps in to buy a kids cell phone, there are a few things they should consider.
Why Consider Cell Phones for Kids?
The right cell phone and the right cell phone plan does offer additional security for your child.
Here are a few examples:
- Cell phones provide easy 911 access.
- Cell phones can provide quick communication between parents and their children.
- Some phones or software provide a GPS locator function to help parents keep track of their children.
- Many kids just really, really want one and at some point, you may decide to give in.
What Are the Disadvantages and Dangers?
There are a number of concerns parents may have about giving a cell phone to kids.
- Kids aren't likely to track their talk time. Exceeding the plan limits and ending up with an exorbitant bill is certainly a possibility. Going beyond texting limits is particularly problematic with older kids.
- Providing a child with a cell phone that has video/photo capabilities and web access can expose them to content that parents might otherwise restrict.
- Spyware, predators, bullies, and spammers gain access to kids through cell phones. Younger children and less savvy kids may not be aware of such dangers. Kids need to be taught about communicating/interacting appropriately online and on their cell phone. "Don't talk to strangers" is still a valid rule.
- Kids may also download unwanted programs, apps, and so forth
- Some kids will get really absorbed by the phone and spend too much time on it, especially at the wrong time.
Parents Need to Be Aware
- Bully Online Article
Parents should read this and talk to their kids.
- BellaOnline Article
More information about how children could be potentially exploited via cell phones.
Finding a Kid-Safe Phone and Plan
First, before you panic, realize:
- There are some phones that allow parents to restrict who a child may call or be contacted by. This is the best defense against predators, spam, and bullies. In addition, most cellular providers have programs to help with this.
- Some kids cell phone plans allow parents to place limits on talk time, downloads, purchases, and text messaging; for instance AT&T's SmartLimits, T-Mobile's Family Allowances, and Verizon's Safeguards and Control. Many providers also assist in blocking messages, e-mails, and so forth.
- The various cellular providers offer prepaid cell plans which allow parents to put a limit on talk/texting time which helps control spending. Prepaid phones are often good for older kids/teenagers who can have fewer restrictions but need limits on spending.
- Increasingly, there is software available that can help parents monitor cell phone activity if necessary. They can restrict usage time, block callers, messages, track location, filter web content, notify parents of activity, and so forth.
What Software Can Help Parents Protect Kids with Cell Phones?
If cyber-bullying, predators, and inappropriate web content is your primary concern, then software like NetNannySocial and NetSanity can help. They can allow parents to monitor, filter, and block content.
If more supervision is required there are certainly plenty of other options. MMGuardian, for example, allows parents to set time limits, block apps, calls, messages, filter websites, locate and track their kids, set alerts, and monitor activity.
If parents have a teen who is driving there are options to assure that phone use doesn't occur at that time. Programs such as DriveSafeMode are available to block phone functions and can notify parents if they are disabled.
Choosing the Right Cell Phone for Kids
With all of this in mind, now comes the time to choose the phone you want. The right phone is the one that offers the features you feel are important and yet provides the limits that you as a responsible adult want for safety and budget reasons. As a parent, you know your kid the best and have to choose based on their level of maturity.
A Few Recommendations for the Youngest Kids
For the youngest kids, parents might be interested in low cost, basic phones. Something like the Nokia 3310 or Samsung Convoy 3.
If you have a preschooler that you just need to have contact with and perhaps geo-location, there are smartwatches that might suffice. LG has the GizmoGadget smartwatch through Verizon as an example.
Of course, another possibility with the youngest kids is to consider a non-phone option. Relay is a device that allows voice communication with friends and family without the connectivity of a modern cell phone. There's no browser and no screen but they can enjoy music and play a few games.
For school-age kids, smartphones start to be more appropriate. Kurio offers a number of parental controls built-in such as monitoring, filtering, emergency features, and GPS location. Plus it's not a bad looking smartphone.
Another affordable option for kids beyond 10 or 12 might be the MotoG4 Play. It's affordable, simple, has a nice display, a front and back camera, and of course has access to Android parental controls (like KidsMode).
Recommendations for Kids Who Are a Bit Older
Prepaid cell phones put a cap on usage and bills and are often a great choice for teens. They offer basic phones and affordable smartphones with plenty of good texting options and entertainment features for kids that are more mature and tech savvy. Major carriers like Verizon and T-Mobile have them, but Boost Mobile, Straight Talk, Tracfone, and others do as well.
If you have a tight budget the LG Tribute HD is affordable, as is the Samsung Galaxy J3 Emerge. If you're willing to spend more the MotoG4 Plus is fast, has a great display, and captures great images. Yes, of course, you can use those parental controls too.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2008 Ruth Coffee
Was This Article Helpful? Let Us Know!
spencerharry80 lm on February 16, 2013:
The list of smart phones is amazing & the lens is beautifully made.... Thanks dear
anonymous on November 30, 2012:
dang i wish i had a iphone! im 11 :(
OUTFOXprevention1 on November 28, 2012:
Cell phones are needed more and more for mobile kids. Thank you for the lens.
anonymous on November 09, 2012:
anonymous on October 31, 2012:
great lens :)
spids1 on October 06, 2012:
Great lens very well written.
Hannah Writes on September 25, 2012:
My twins will,get a phone when they go to middle school in two years. I wonder what technological advances there will be!
anonymous on September 23, 2012:
anonymous on August 30, 2012:
Buy an iPhone and limit everything
anonymous on July 01, 2012:
I got my 10 year old the lg ally and she loves it. I got it for her when I had been 38 weeks pregnant and it wasn't a lot of stress for me or my baby
SallyForth on February 26, 2012:
I really like the Migo for little kids. I'm thinking about getting my niece one for her birthday (with her parents' permission, of course).
anonymous on February 21, 2012:
My team and I are working on a new kind of service - an app that takes over any Android phone and turns it into a kid-friendly smartphone with GPS location and full parental control from the web.
If you've been thinking of giving your child a phone but are hesitating and think you'd like to have some control over how your child uses their phone, our service might be right for you.
If you're interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll get you set up in under 5 minutes.
anonymous on January 19, 2012:
Both my teenage boys have prepaid tracfones and if they go over their limit they have to buy minutes themselves or go without, this teaches them responsibility and budgeting skills.
anonymous on January 02, 2012:
Nice post, really at present time internet trend growing day by day and all these technical gadgets like cellphone and i pods are used mostly by the kids and youth. internet Filter and other tools now become popular to reduce internet harmful effect and protect current generation from it.
anonymous on November 11, 2011:
Take a random tween, age 8-12, place them in front of a rotary phone and observe at the blank stare of bewilderment. Yes, gone are the days of the landline, pushed aside by the next wave of technological advancement. Mobile phones are quick displacing landlines in many homes; accompanying this movement is the fact children regularly use and know how to use these cell phones. The mobility of cell phones means it is possible to be anywhere and have the necessity, or ought to I say the convenience, of a phone. free government cell phones
markettrol on November 05, 2011:
yes....my neice has a six year old, and was thinking about a phone for him.....she is a working mom and I think a cell phone with security and parental locks is a good idea.
blazingzone lm on August 24, 2011:
Thanks for all the info on what phone to get for my kids. i should be able to relate one of the phones u mentioned to them.
anonymous on July 31, 2011:
We just bought the Virgin LG900G for our twin sons and I was really pleased with the price and the phone. I am not impressed that we can not shut off the internet access. I also prefer to lock their call list so that they can only call certain numbers and receive calls from their call list. You can't do that from this phone. We might be taking them back because I don't think they need that much freedom for their first phones.
Just wanted to share that info in case it helps someone else choose a phone.
magento-templates on March 31, 2011:
thanks for useful info!
anonymous on November 17, 2010:
Hey, Nice information. I was need a better cell phone for my 10 years old kids. Thanks for providing such a useful information.
Ruth Coffee (author) from Zionsville, Indiana on September 21, 2010:
@Janiswedding: I do mention prepaid cell phone above as a way of capping/controlling spending and certainly they offer some basic phones that can allow you to eliminate the issue of web access for younger kids. I don't think you're on the wrong track. I only have prepaid phones in the section on phones for sale, so perhaps I should mention them more specifically higher on the page. If you miss it, others will as well.
Janiswedding on September 21, 2010:
Thanks a lot for all that info. I'm looking to getting my 16year old a phone, and seeing that I'm on a tracfone, I was going to get him something similar, maybe just cheaper. Now I'm quite happy with tracfone, prepaid, cost of phone, and especially the dmfl. But I see you make no mention of this option in your lens. Is there a reason for this. Am I on the wrong tack here going for a tf?
Draconius LM on August 22, 2010:
Great Lens full of great information am lensrolling it to my Blackberry and other phone review lenses
grantdelmark on January 03, 2010:
Nice job! Excellent information! I am a kid myself, and got a cell phone a couple of years ago. This is the way to start out! And you are right about kids accidentally over texting (I speak from experience)! Keep it up!
Tiddledeewinks LM on September 04, 2008:
Another informative lens! I like the security of knowing with a cell phone my teens can stay in contact with me when needed.
enslavedbyfaeries on May 13, 2008:
Great lens with helpful information on sorting out the best options. Kajeet has worked out wonderfully for my daughter and I feel in complete control with the restrictions I have on her plan.
Barkely on January 31, 2008:
Ohh, my son so wants a cell phone! You have some great info here. He's still not getting one for a couple more years, LOL.
rockycha on January 18, 2008:
Great Topic! Excellent depth!