mobile phones for children
As they get older, most children will probably ask for their own mobile or smartphone, and you’ll want to be able to contact them when they spend more time away from home.
Smartphones offer children the ability to be connected to the internet wherever they are, so you need to carefully consider if and when they’re ready to go mobile and what you’re happy for them to be able to do online.
Five things you should consider when buying a device
Which phone to get
If your child only needs a phone for emergencies then a simple one will do. Any smartphone will have access to the internet so consider how long your child is likely to spend using it and how you manage their online safety. Smartphones are also a target for thieves so it’s wise to consider buying insurance.
Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) or contract?
As you’re likely to be the bill payer for your children, it’s important to know that data for internet browsing often has limits and can cost extra if exceeded. Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) is a pre-pay system and therefore ideal for children. Monthly contracts cost a regular amount, but could incur further charges for going over allowances.
Check for adult content filters
Most networks offer filters to prevent users seeing content aimed at over 18s. With O2 this can be set to under 12. Any filter will be bypassed by connecting a phone to Wi-Fi, so make sure you have parental controls on your home broadband. Encourage your children to use family friendly WiFi in public places.
Choosing a network
Look into the tariffs offered by the different networks – some offer family plans and the ability to make calls to a designated number, even if the phone needs topping up. They can also offer additional safety features such as TalkTalk’s MobileSafe App.
Apple or Android?
Of the most popular phones, those running on Android tend to be more complicated with more options, while Apple’s usually keep things simpler. Both Apple and Android offer ways to restrict access to the internet and the ability to purchase apps. However, other phones may be more appropriate for younger children and some are reviewed below.
Smartphones and social media
All smartphones have access to the most popular social media services, such as Facebook and Twitter, and this is probably one of the most used features on many children’s phones. See our social networking section to understand the potential implications for your child’s privacy and online reputation.
Phones to consider for your child
Here are some reviews of selected phones that are currently available with pointers on the age they’re appropriate for, their level of functionality and the safety features they offer.
We’ve reviewed the following (in ascending age-appropriate order):
Google has refreshed its own in-house mobile phone with a new, well-specified device to replace last year’s Pixel. It is expensive, starting at £629, but it will cost less up-front on a contract and is one of the best Android phones for teenagers who use their handset to watch TV shows and YouTube clips on.
Security is paramount on smartphones these days and the Pixel 2’s fingerprint scanner is one of the best around. It ensures private information cannot be accessed without your child’s print. You can even register your own too, in case you need to access the phone as well.
But where the Pixel 2 excels is with parental controls. As this handset comes with Google’s core Android software, rather than manufacturer adjustments, it has excellent controls to fine tune access to all aspects of the phone, including apps, social media and web browsing.
These days, Nokia phones are made by a company called HMD Global and come with Android as the operating system. They are also well priced for reasonably specified handsets, with the Nokia 6 costing just £199 for a 5.5-inch handset with plenty of the mod-cons we’ve come to expect in a modern smartphone.
The 16-megapixel rear camera and 8-megapixel front snapper are great for selfies and social photos alike.
Like many other phones on the market, the Nokia 6 has a fingerprint scanner to keep the handset locked and secure. It is on the front on this particular device.
Parental controls are Android-based and there are plenty of third-party applications to help restrict the amount of phone usage and screen time. They can be easily found in the Google Play app store. If £200 is still a little out of your price range, you could also consider the Nokia 3 for around £120, which sacrifices some of the hardware performance for cheaper thrills.
Apple introduced three new phones in 2017 at the higher-end of the market, with the iPhone 8 perhaps the more accessible. It’s still not cheap, priced from £699, but is more affordable in comparison with the top-of-the-range iPhone X at around £1,000.
In terms of software and speed, a teenage user wouldn’t know much difference anyway.
Security is again through a fingerprint scanner on the front, while Apple continues to be one of the safest options to ensure the phone is not compromised by viruses or external software. Apple keeps its platform locked down, with all apps first approved by the company before they become available.
The only downside to this is there are few third-party applications that can help with screentime or other controls, although the parental control settings in the latest version of the operating system – iOS 11 – are easy to navigate and can restrict many of the features to age-specific barriers.
If your child wants an iPhone but the iPhone 8 is too prohibitively pricey, the iPhone SE is still on sale and is a great option. It is also more robust than the later models and while it is ill-advised to drop it, it’s less likely to slip from the grasp of a younger user. There are also plenty of protective cases to pair it with.
It costs from £349.
Like with the iPhone 8, Apple offers a parental control system, known simply as “Restrictions”, which works by restricting controls for apps, internet browsing, camera, Siri voice interaction, microphone, movies, TV shows and more.
You can limit, therefore, what content your child can access. Also, from within the App Store, there is an age-based restriction that can be put in place for app and game downloads.
Available for Vodafone customers only and must, therefore, be paired with a contract from that network, the Smart V8 is a solid, well-built smartphone for slightly older children that won’t break the bank.
It has a large 5.5-inch display yet costs just £160.
The Smart V8 comes with a battery that easily lasts a full day on a single charge – important if your child is on a sleep over and you want to keep in touch. But more importantly, it comes with all the parental bells and whistles Android handsets are usually known for. It also has a fingerprint sensor on the rear.
It is slightly hampered by just 32GB of internal storage and no microSD card slot to expand that, but in many ways that can ensure your child won’t fill it full of videos or apps, you wouldn’t approve of.
If you are of a certain age you will remember the original Nokia 3310. For many, it was the first proper mobile phone they owned and, if nothing else, introduced us to mobile gaming through Snake.
The phone has recently been reimagined and re-released for £49, providing a basic mobile handset that isn’t quite a smartphone but is one of the most secure and simple to use on the market.
As the Nokia 3310 is not a smartphone you don’t have to worry about in-app purchases and web-browsing is very basic, so a child won’t be lost in a world of inappropriate sites. It doesn’t have access to any of the social messaging services either, so that could also be a weight off the mind of a parent.
Instead, it comes with a full-colour screen and is essentially a phone used for, well, phoning people. It can text and it does, of course, come with an updated form of the Snake game.
Carphone Warehouse is the exclusive UK retailer of the Monqi phone, a smartphone for young children that is designed to look and feel like the Android and iOS handsets their parents own.
However, it is completely locked within an ecosystem a parent controls through their own phone, so you can regulate literally everything a child can do on their Monqi phone.
It is available for £149.99 or on a contract from £12.99 with the phone coming free.
The Monqi phone links to an app for an iPhone or Android device, which acts as the remote control over everything available on the child’s handset. Even caller contacts are restricted to approved names and people decided upon by a parent.
Apps can be installed, and play and look like their Android counterparts, but will only install after an adult approves through a notification on their own phone. And the Monqi’s location can be tracked remotely through the parent’s app in case of emergencies.
It’s an ideal way of giving a pre-teen aged six and above their first smartphone without the worries attached to them.
More to explore
You might also be interested in the following external links about this topic:
- Family Lives has some great information to consider when thinking about whether your child needs a mobile phone
- Once you’ve decided to buy a phone, BT cover some important issues
- Thinkuknow highlight some considerations about keeping children safe
- Watch Parent Zone video on ‘getting to grips with premium rate services on mobiles’
- EU Kids Online, October 2014