A phone is a powerful tool for keeping your child connected to you and to the world around them. But a phone also cracks the door to certain risks, including tech addiction and cyberbullying.
Nobody can blame you, as a parent, for wanting to keep your child safe. While the decision to purchase a kids phone is a family-by-family one, you can use common principles to make the right call.
Here are four tips every parent should follow when buying a phone for their kid:
Make Sure Your Child Is Ready
Surveys have found that the average child gets their first phone at 10 years old. Believe it or not, 25% of kids have a phone by their seventh birthday. Roughly a third of parents wait until high school to get their child a phone.
So, what’s the “right” age for your child to get their first phone? Unfortunately, there’s no such thing. Children mature on different schedules. Some are ready to be responsible drivers by age 16, while others crash cars well into their 20s.
If your child is getting good grades, staying out of legal trouble, and spending lots of time with their friends, they might well be ready. But if they’re struggling to focus on their studies or social life, don’t be so quick to swipe your card.
What if you’re not sure? Have a conversation with your child. Ask them why they want a phone. If all they can say is that they really, really want it, then it’s probably best to wait.
Investigate Parental Controls
If you’re buying your child a phone, you might be tempted to put a premium on parental controls. A lot of smartphones have features that make it easy for parents to monitor what their kids are doing.
First, ask yourself whether you really want to be monitoring your kid’s usage habits. Not only does it take a lot of time, but it can damage the trust you’ve built with your child.
If you’re still interested, consider the phone’s operating system. iOS has more built-in parental control features than Android. But Android is compatible with more third-party parental control software. Apple products also don’t have a way to monitor children on social media or YouTube.
Find the Right Device
There are all sorts of different devices on the market. You don’t have to buy your child the newest iPhone or Samsung. You can buy them a phone specifically targeted to them.
Some devices look like smartphones but skip the “adult” features. Chances are, you don’t want your child spending all day on social media or playing phone games. And while the internet is a wonderful research tool, it’s also full of dangerous and illegal content.
Think, too, about the price. If your child were to lose or break their phone, would you be able to afford another? Some top-of-the-line smartphones cost $500 or more. Look for a device that costs $100 or less for your son or daughter.
A prepaid phone is another good, low-cost option for a child. Prepaid phones do not come with contracts, minimizing the damage if your kid loses or doesn’t use their new device. Plus, with prepaid phones, your child can’t make in-app purchases. Parents can also easily monitor their children’s data limits with prepaid devices.
Consider Insurance or an Extended Warranty
Most phones sold these days come with a warranty. But warranties tend to be limited both in their time horizon and in terms of what they cover.
In most cases, drops and falls will not be covered. Normal wear and tear, as well as water damage, is also unlikely to be covered. By the time you read through all the fine print, you might wonder: What does the phone’s warranty cover?
Even if you find a comprehensive warranty, it may only be good for 90 days. Most people keep their phones for years. Don’t assume anything that will go wrong with your child’s device will happen during the warranty period.
Some cell phone providers offer extended warranties at extra charge. Again, read the fine print. Ideally, an extended warranty should increase the coverage as well as the duration of the protection.
If it does not, or if the phone you have your eye on doesn’t have an extended warranty option, check out phone insurance. Because cell phones are inexpensive — at least relative to other insured assets, like cars and homes — their insurance plans tend to be affordable.
Remind your child that an insured phone is not a license to be reckless. If damage occurs due to your child’s negligence or deliberate misuse, then your claim is likely to be denied. Before you find yourself in such a situation, have a conversation with your child. Perhaps you decide together that any damage due to their behavior will be paid for out of their allowance.
While you’re at it, decide which areas should be tech-free zones. Phone damage is a lot more likely to occur on the playground than the living room, for example. Taking a phone into circumstances where it’s likely to be damaged should be grounds for losing their device. Look for a device with GPS so you can make sure your child isn’t taking their device to places where it’s likely to be damaged.
As is true of other technologies, your kid’s first phone is a big responsibility. Unlimited access to information is a beautiful and dangerous thing. Get the right device, but don’t spend a fortune. Don’t be surprised if you need to replace it in a few months’ time anyway.