Getting a first phone is a kid’s rite of passage. It’s a responsibility for them, of course, but you’re also giving yourself a better way to look after them, since you’re basically sticking a GPS in their pocket. If they can also use that pocket-friendly GPS to text their friends and watch a few YouTube videos, even better.
The easiest way to choose a child’s first phone is based on age. (Theirs, not yours.) Here are our recommendations.
Under 13 Years Old
For kids this age, a phone is primarily for safety—so they can reach you if there’s an emergency or if soccer practice ends 30 minutes early because of rain. The phone is a classic candy-bar phone that comes in fun colors. It makes phone calls, and that’s pretty much it. (The Snake game is on there, too. That will be fun, in a classic Atari kind of way.) And it’s only $50.
13 to 15 Years Old
They still need a way to get in touch in emergencies, but at this age they might also use their own devices to watch videos at home or play a few games. (But only when you say so; they’re good kids.)
For $125, you can buy them the . Its 5.2-inch, 720p screen is crisp enough, and, although it’s a little slow, the phone will let them do everything they need to. You’ll need to have a GSM carrier like AT&T or T-Mobile to use it.
The will work on any network and gets you a bigger screen (5.7 inches) and better display (1080p).
16 to 18 Years Old
At this point, they’re basically adults, whether you’re ready for it or not. And they deserve adult phones (although maybe not with the full access that an adult would have). But they’re also still kids—kids who will lose and break things—so you may not want to spend the money to get them that new Pixel 3 or an iPhone XR.
Instead, get them the . A 32 GB version should cost about $450. (Or get them a good refurbished or used phone.) You get the familiar Apple interface and a phone that isn’t going to get bricked by the next iOS update. The camera takes great pictures, and they won’t be ashamed for their friends to see them using it.
19 and Over
These aren’t kids. They should be buying their own phones. But if you want to keep paying for their plans, that would be nice of you.
How to Control Their Access and Screen Time
As much as you love and trust your kids, you don’t want to just give them new phones and let them go wild with how they use them. There are multiple ways for parents to have some input in what a child accesses with their phone and for how long.
On Apple products, go to Settings > Screen Time, where you can choose which apps and sites they can visit, and set limits for how long they can use them. Android’s Family Link lets you set similar permissions and restrictions. You can also approve or deny apps in real time when your child tries to download something.
If you use a Wi-Fi mesh router such as Amplifi, you can also schedule periods of permitted internet access for any devices on your home network.
Get them a case. Kids are clumsy. Cases are relatively inexpensive, and phones are not.