How to Pick the Best Basic Phone for Kids
Looking for a cell phone for your child but are still amazed to find yourself at this stage already? You’re not alone.
Most parents seem to have mixed feelings on the subject. Parents are giving mobile phones to their children at younger and younger ages—according to one study, “the percentage of 12-year-olds owning a cellphone has leaped from 41 percent in 2015 to 71 percent in 2021.1 Yet additional research found, “71% believe the widespread use of smartphones by young children might potentially result in more harm than benefits.”2
It’s a tricky situation. The challenge is giving our kids all the good of technology while shielding them from the bad.
Gabb Wireless is not alone in trying to help parents with this challenge. More options are popping up that promise kids the connection they crave (and increasingly need) while providing parents with peace of mind, so you may be wondering how to pick the right option for your family.
Our Gabb Watch, Gabb Phone, and Gabb Phone Plus were designed from the ground up to do exactly that. So if you’re looking for insight on specific devices, we suggest you take a look at one of those three. But we also understand that as a parent you want to be sure you’re getting the right fit for your kid. This article reviews 8 different phones—and more importantly—below we’ve provided an overview of all the major considerations to keep in mind as you shop around.
This is one of the primary worries most parents have when giving their child a smartphone. And for good reason.
The Mayo Clinic includes distraction, sleep disruption, and exposure to unrealistic views of other people’s lives as just some of the potential harms of social media use.3
Many of the major social media platforms are improving parental controls to block explicit or inappropriate content. But those rarely do the job well enough to put parents’ minds at ease and none of those controls influence the less overt (but still significant) risks of social media listed above.
If you worry that your child is not yet mature enough to handle social media then the safest approach is to get them a device that doesn’t allow it in the first place.
Who isn’t worried about screen time? The research on potential harms from excessive screen time is piling up. For example, one study from Harvard uncovered a wide range of negative effects, “from sleep to creativity.”4
There are two basic approaches to combating unhealthy amounts of screen time: 1) parental controls on adult devices, or 2) devices that leave off time-sucking apps in the first place.
Parental controls allow you to limit the number of hours your child can use certain apps, or the device in general. This may be a good option for more mature teens who are ready for a more full online experience but still need some guardrails.
One downside to parental controls is that it puts a decent amount of demand on the parents to track and monitor their kids’ phone usage. It can create some unwanted friction between you and your child if they’re constantly requesting more time in an app. Another is that none of the controls are airtight. Chances are good that by the time your children are teenagers they know more about tech than you do, so there’s always the possibility they can figure out a workaround for those parental controls.
The other approach to shielding kids from excessive screen time is to provide them with a device that doesn’t allow WiFi access or time-consuming apps to begin with. This is our approach at Gabb—none of our devices allow access to social media or the internet, while still giving kids all the tools they really need.
There’s a significant difference between your child playing in the neighbor’s backyard and the park a half-mile down the road. You’ll want GPS tracking that gives you enough location accuracy to know the difference.
Unless you’re considering a flip phone, you’ll have a hard time finding an option today that doesn’t include a GPS locator. But not all GPS tracking is created equal. Pick one with reliable accuracy and regularly updated location services. You may also consider reading customer reviews to see if you can get more insight into the quality of a specific device’s GPS.
Call & Text
The most essential function of any phone for kids is connectivity: calls and texts. Being able to reach your child is increasingly important as they grow up and start exploring well beyond the walls of your home. As with GPS tracking, you can expect any option with a SIM card to offer this basic ability. But there are some important things to consider:
- How reliable is the network? You’ll want to be confident you can reach your child and they can reach you whenever needed.
- Are there network service options available? Do any of them include unlimited talk and text? If this is the first phone for your child then you probably can’t expect them to have a great sense of how much data they’re using every month.
- Does the device protect against spam and solicitations? We’ve all received our fair share of uninvited digital communication, be sure you’re protecting your child from it.
- Does the device allow for MMS (photo and image) text messages? If so, what filters or parent monitoring options come included so you can be sure your child is not sending or receiving harmful or inappropriate content?
Durability and Ease of Use
Kids can be rough on, well, just about everything. If you’re going to put down some money on a new device you’ll want to be sure it can keep up with your kid. Pay attention to information about battery life and look for devices that are dirt and water resistant. You may also want to look out for devices that are compatible with add-on accessories like screen protectors and cases.
You’re asking the right questions
Parenting in a digital age is not easy. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution because every kid is different. The best we can do as parents is continue to ask the right questions and stay engaged in the ongoing journey of helping our children thrive in a digital world. If you still have questions, check out our Parents’ Guide to Picking a Kid’s Phone for the First Time.
1 What Is the Right Age for a Kid to Get a Cellphone? | Education Week
2 Parenting Children in the Age of Screens | Pew Research
3 Teens and social media use: What’s the impact? | Mayo Clinic
4Screen Time and the Brain | Harvard Medical School