01 Oct 2020
Generation Z has grown up in a world where almost everyone has a mobile phone. As a result, it’s not uncommon for children to get their first phone when they’re still in elementary school – research from musicMagpie found that 25% of children under the age of six already have their own smartphone.
Parents tend to worry about the right age to buy their child their first phone, whether they’ll use it responsibly and if they’ll manage to keep their phone safe. When you decide to take the plunge and get them a phone – usually because you want to keep in touch with them when they’re out with friends – there’s still lots to navigate, from parental control and content restrictions to online safety and monthly fees.
In 2018, Bill Gates said that his children weren’t allowed to have smartphones until they were 14 years old, and musicMagpie’s survey found that most parents think age 11 is the right time for a child to get a smartphone.
This is the age when many children start walking to-and-from school with friends and develop a more active social life – and it’s much easier to manage drop-offs and pick-ups when they’re only a phone call away. It’s also worth considering how many of your child’s friends have phones. Like it or not, if your child is the only one in their friendship group without a phone, there’s a very real chance that they’ll be left out of group activities.
If you’re still undecided, consider your child’s maturity and sense of responsibility. Can you trust them to look after a phone and use it sensibly? If the answer is yes, now’s a good time to start researching good phones for kids.
This depends on your child and your budget. Some parents test the water with a kid-friendly phone, sometimes known as a ‘dumb phone’. These can’t connect to the internet, so you don’t have to worry about social media monitoring or content filtering, and they’re less expensive to replace if they get lost or broken.
Once your child has proved they can use a basic phone sensibly, you could think about replacing it with a smartphone for kids. With a WiFi- and 4G-enabled phone, your child will be able to access the internet – and you’ll be able to keep an eye on their whereabouts via a location tracking phone app. They can also use their smartphone to stream music, play games and download apps – which makes it even easier for them to access their gohenry account.
Phones don’t come cheap so it’s worth shopping around. Many parents start off by passing down their old phone, or buying a secondhand or refurbished handset. Look for something durable or invest in a protective case so that it can survive being knocked or dropped.
Your child is probably desperate for the latest iPhone – but these usually cost much more than you’d spend on a typical Christmas or birthday gift. Fortunately, it’s possible to get a great deal on entry-level handsets from Samsung, Nokia and Motorola which will do everything they need, and more.
If you already have a handset, it’s cheaper to go for a SIM-only package which gives your child a set number of minutes for calls, plus text messages and, if they have a smartphone, data. If you’re worried they might run up huge bills, a pay-as-you-go option gives you more control – but regular top-ups can be more expensive.
You’ll get more for your money if you pay monthly, so it’s worth asking your existing provider if they can add an extra SIM to your account as a discounted rate. When choosing your rate, think about how your child will use their phone. Most kids don’t make lots of calls, so a generous data allowance has become the most important part of any phone contract.
As a rough guide, a 1GB allowance is enough for around 40 minutes of browsing the web or 20 minutes of music streaming per day. A 4GB allowance means they can stream music for around an hour per day, while 8GB is enough to stream an entire movie or a TV show once or twice a week.
Check the settings to ensure that you won’t automatically end up paying for extra data if they reach their limit, and block in-app purchases so that they can’t accidentally sign up for expensive subscriptions or add-ons.
When your child has a smartphone they’ll have unlimited access to the internet, so it’s wise to set the same parental controls you’d use at home to restrict unsuitable content. Before you give them their new phone, use the built-in parental controls to limit access based on an age rating. You can also set up Google SafeSearch to block access to apps or websites that are aimed at adults. When you’ve done this, set a passcode so they can’t remove these restrictions without your knowledge or permission.
There are lots of ways to approach parental monitoring, but it’s best to keep the lines of communication open rather than checking your child’s phone, or looking at their messages, when they’re not around. Talk to them about what they’re doing on their phone, discuss cyberbullying and check that they’re not sharing their location or putting personal information online. If they’re gaming or using social media, remind them to only interact with, or accept follow requests from, people they know in real life – and make sure that you (or a trusted adult) follow them to keep an eye on their activity.
There are no clear guidelines about how much time your child should spend using their phone, but most parents like to set some limits. As a starting point, talk to your child about how and when they should use their phone. For example, you might decide that no phones are allowed during meals or after a certain time in the evening. This is especially important as the blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the hormone that controls the sleep/wake cycle, which could make it more difficult to fall – and stay – asleep.
If you want to get an idea of how your child is using their phone, most Apple and Android phones now generate screen time reports. You can then set time screen time limits, or limit access to particular apps or websites if you’re keen for your child to cut down on their usage. If your child’s phone doesn’t support this, free apps like Unglue Kids and OurPact can help you manage screen time and block unsuitable apps or websites.