You’ve decided it’s time to take the plunge and get your son or daughter their first cell phone or one that offers more features. You’ve heard all the negative media and talk about the challenges posed by unrestricted digital access, but rather than isolate your kids, you’ve decided to take the plunge and purchase a new phone while doing your best to help them learn to develop healthy digital habits. If you’re like most parents, you want to strike a balance between one that will help create worthwhile relationships and make them happy while at the same time offer you, the parent, a level of control and reassurance that they are safe and using it wisely. There are a lot of choices these days when it comes to cell phones, and with technology constantly changing, it can be confusing as well as expensive!

Since so many families have been approaching me with this question, I thought I’d share my go-to resources for empowering them to make informed decisions. Here are some fantastic resources that I reviewed to inform my advice:

The good news is, it’s not always just about the phone.
In prior blog posts, I’ve written a bit about digital safety and Google’s Family Link app and Apple’s new Screen Time features which are free and very helpful. If you are a family that wants to manage a wider variety of devices, I would check out a more robust solution such as Disney’s Circle or Mobicip.  They do cost money but are user-friendly and helpful for managing all your family’s Internet-connected devices. They enable you to put time limits and filters on apps and websites, or even to pause the Internet for a period of time while your kids are doing their homework or having dinner with the family.

But which phone should I get?
There are a few factors that go into answering this question. For one, how old is the child that will be using it? How much time do they spend away from a parent or caregiver? What kind of features do they really need?

If you’re buying a phone for a younger child, you probably only need to get them a baseline model with simple controls and very few features. And they probably don’t need access to the web, so you don’t need to fork over hundreds of dollars for a smartphone. Here are some great options for first-time phone users.

  • Sprint WeGo is a simple, intuitive, easy-to-use phone. It looks like a really cool keychain and is extremely durable.
  • Jiobit isn’t a phone so much as a tracking device. It helps you find your kids but doesn’t allow them to call you. That might be a good option for really young children.
  • Motorola Moto E5 Play offers a little more for tweens who are getting into texting their friends and want a few more features. An added bonus, this phone works with all four main US wireless carriers. Not all kid phones do.
  • iPhone 6 might be a good choice if you’re already an Apple family. The newer models are a lot more expensive, and the iPhone 6 offers plenty of features for a tween or even a teenager.  Apple’s iOS 12 operating system offers some great features for parents wanting to have more control over their teen’s phones. The new Screen Time and App Limits features let parents put limits on the amount of time their children can spend on certain apps. You can also set a passcode so that kids can’t overrule the shutdown. And, Screen Time sends a weekly report summarizing the statistics for the week, so you can see what your kids have been spending time on, and limit it within the App Limits feature if necessary.
  • Microsoft Lumia 550 is a good first smartphone for kids. It gets good reviews for its parental control features. Parents can choose which websites their children can view, which apps they can download, and set a limit on screen time.