Giving your child their own smartphone is a big decision for parents to make. After all, it’s an easy way to stay in touch with them, but there are tons of risks to consider as well, like online safety. To help you make the decision for your kids, we dove in and explored the pros and cons of doing so.
For the sake of this discussion, we are defining “kid/child” as anyone under the age of 10, and “tweens” as those who are either 11 or 12. While this article focuses on advice for parents of kids, it can just as easily apply to tweens as well.
Of course, we know each family has their own rules and ideas regarding kids using technology. As such, the ideas we discuss in this article are only meant to be suggestions, and are designed to act as a jumping off point for facilitating discussions with your own kids about your family’s unique phone usage rules.
Now that we’ve defined what a basic phone is and briefly talked about what features these types of phones can have, let’s dive into the nitty gritty. Here are the pros and cons of giving your child a basic phone (rather than a smartphone):
known as “iMessage lock-in.” iMessage is Apple’s proprietary chat app, and all Apple users’ chats show up as blue (apparently good), while non-Apple users’ chats show up as green (apparently uncool). Oftentimes, non-iPhone users are left out. This is also something to keep in mind if you choose to get your child a smartphone.
to show you exactly where your child is. This is great if they get lost somewhere, or if they lose their phone and you need to recover it.
With a smartphone, your child can also easily connect with their friends and classmates. Whether they’re discussing stuff for school or just chatting, smartphones make it easy to talk to anyone they want to. Through each smartphone’s app store, kids can download fun games and a variety of apps, whether for leisure or productivity. They might want to watch cool videos on sites like YouTube, listen to the latest music, or find an educational game or app that helps them do their homework and otherwise prepare assignments.
Smartphones are also a great way to help develop a sense of responsibility. Because it’s their phone, they’ll need to keep track of it and keep it charged every day. Your child can also start building a sense of independence by using a smartphone’s productivity apps, like the alarm clock, calendar, or to-do lists. Having a smartphone will make it so your kid doesn’t feel out, as most kids have smartphones these days; to some degree, it’s a peer-pressure status symbol.
Lastly, by learning to use a smartphone at a young age, your child is learning to use technology that’s central to modern day life. It’s a ubiquitous and necessary technology they’ll have to know how to navigate at some point, and is no different than them needing to learn how to type or use the internet. By learning how to interact with device interfaces and apps, they’ll be set up for success in today’s technology-driven world.
Where basic phones have limited functionality and limited access to apps and the internet, smartphones, by default don’t. This can be a point of concern for parents. Likewise, parents may also worry about how many hours a day their child spends on their smartphone and whether or not they know how to safely use it. But thanks to parental control apps and services like Screen Time and Digital Wellbeing, it’s easy to track your child’s device use and teach them how to use it responsibly.
With(available for both Android and iOS devices), you can set up internet filters, block certain apps, get reports on daily and weekly usage. Some apps can even track where the phone is or send you a notification when your child enters or leaves a set area (like home or school), which is a handy way to keep an eye on them when you’re away at work, or even to find the phone if your child accidentally left it somewhere.
Apple’sfeature works on iOS devices and tells you how much time your child is spending online and in apps. It also lets you set limits on how many hours a device (or specific app) can be used each day, as a way to encourage downtime and discourage digital addiction. You can also have your say on which apps are always allowed (to call or text you in an emergency, for example).
Similarly, Android’sfeature has a variety of parental controls, unplugging features, balance features, and productivity features to help kids and adults alike learn how to use their smartphone responsibly and safely, without spending on it each day.
, because they can cost well over a thousand dollars now, but an older or more budget-friendly smartphone isn’t a bad idea at all. For $400 or less, you can get your kid or tween a respectable phone with lots of great features and powerful functionality.
Of course, you can also opt for a simpler (and far less costly) “dumb” phone; that is to say a phone that really only has basic call and text functionality. Typically, these only cost around $75-$100 a pop.
You’ll also need to consider the phone’s monthly service plan. While most smartphones typically work on any major carrier network, this isn’t always the case for basic phones. Some can be purchased with unlocked SIMs that work on a limited selection of 4G carrier bands or over Wi-Fi, but most require you to sign up for their proprietary network. These plans cost anywhere from $10-$25 per month for simple text or call-and-text plans.
As for choosing the right phone for your child, we recommend simpler non-smartphone choices for younger kids. These have fewer features as well as fewer risks. If they want to play mobile games, access app stores, or go online, this option forces them to use a family tablet or computer instead, which will likely be with your permission and supervision.
Likewise, for older kids, smartphones are often a better choice. These phones cost more and grant your child access to more features and apps, but are also a great way to build up trust and responsibility with your kid.
Theis a simple phone that features large backlit buttons and a display that is not a touchscreen. Dedicated arrow buttons make it a cinch to navigate the phone’s simple menus, which include Text Messages, Contacts, and Photos & Videos. It also has a dedicated Urgent Response button for emergency help 24/7 and Amazon Alexa integration. Monthly plans start at and don’t require a long-term contract.
Thelooks exactly like a smartphone, and even has a large 5.45-inch display, along with a headphone jack, a fingerprint scanner for security, GPS location services, and both front (5MP) and rear (8MP) cameras. By default, the phone has no internet access, no games, and no social media; instead it offers access to texting and phone calls, a calendar, a camera, and apps for listening to music or watching videos you’ve uploaded or recorded using the phone. at $19.99 per month for Unlimited Talk and Text-Only Messages, but there’s a $24.99 per month plan for Unlimited Talk and Image & Group Text Messages.
For just $350,is a remarkable smartphone. It’s got a best-in-class camera, solid battery life, plenty of storage, and great hardware to boot. The phone is relatively small but still boasts a 5.8-inch display, making it great for smaller hands. Of course, the gives users access to Google’s suite of productivity tools, like Gmail, Duo, Messages, Calendar, and Camera, along with the Google Play Store (where you find and download apps) and Google Chrome (an internet browser). And, as we noted above, the phone gives you access to Android’s feature for parental controls and other responsible usage features.
Alternatively, if you’re anfamily, we recommend snagging the for $400. Its compact design is great for small hands, and its use of Touch ID over Face ID makes it easy for kids to use. It’s got a sizable 5.4-inch edge-to-edge display and terrific front- and rear-facing cameras, plus access to Apple’s App Store and Safari (Apple’s internet browser). Plus, with Apple’s feature, as we discussed above, you can set time limits on app and device usage and review how your child uses their phone as needed.