A Parent’s Guide

Remember what it was like to get your first car?

These days, that’s exactly how kids feel when they get their first kids phone. To many kids, a phone represents freedom. Like a car, it’s a private space, a status symbol, and a ticket to adulthood. Also like a car, it can be dangerous. Reckless phone usage can crack the door to online predators, cyberbullying, and misinformation.

Unlike a car, however, there are no rules around how old someone must be before they can use a cell phone. There’s no test they need to pass before getting their first phone, no course equivalent to driver’s ed, and no police officers around to make sure they follow the rules.
Choices around your kids first phone rest solely with you, their parent.

When they get a phone, what type of phone they get, and how and when they can use that phone are big, life-changing decisions.
To help you make them wisely, we’ve put together this guide about buying a kids phone. Let’s get started with the big kahuna: age.

When To Get Their First Kids Phone

Like driving, there’s no “right” age for phone ownership. Not all 16-year-olds are ready to get behind the wheel by themselves, nor are all them ready for the responsibility of a smartphone.

When do parents think the typical kid should get their first phone? Researchers asked 1,000 Americans “When should kids get smartphones?” Respondents said:


  • Middle school: 40%
  • High school: 33.2%
  • Older than high school: 17.7%
  • Elementary school: 5.9%
  • Younger than preschool: 2.4%
  • Preschool: 0.9%

In other words, the vast majority of Americans think kids should be at least 12 or 13 before they get their first phone. This doesn’t exactly match up with actual buying patterns, though. One study shows that 69% of kids have a smartphone by the time they’re 12 years old, which is middle school aged. No matter how you look at it, experts, however, say age shouldn’t be the deciding factor.

Michael Rich, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, suggests some 13 year olds may be ready, while some college students might not be. Maturity varies widely from kid to kid.

What signs should you look for to judge whether your child is mature enough for a kids phone? Consider the whole picture, particularly:
1. Good grades

A high GPA suggests that your child knows her schoolwork must come first. Chances are, she will continue to work hard even after she gets her first phone. If her grades slip afterward, consider restricting her device access until they improve.

2. Work or volunteering

Working while going to school can be tough. If your kid has it down pat, that indicates he manages his time well. He’ll have an easier time putting his phone down when he’s hit his daily usage threshold or it’s time for bed, for example.

3. Lack of legal issues

Juvenile delinquency points to impulse control issues. Screens are addictive, so it’s important that your kid is able to follow the rules. If he can’t, he may have trouble using a phone in healthy, constructive ways.

Maturity can be tricky to judge. If you’re on the fence, reach out to other trusted adults in your child’s life. Do his teachers have to deal with behavioral issues? What does his best friend’s mom think of his behavior when he’s over at their house?

If your kid isn’t ready for their first phone, remember that waiting is loving. Here’s how to say “no.”

How to say ‘No’ if They’re Not Ready

As their parent, it’s up to you to decide what the best time is for buying a kids phone. Denying your kids of something they want can be difficult, but there are ways to do it thoughtfully. You can say:

Kid-Phone Safety Features: Less is More

Once you green light a phone for your kid, they will likely push for one with all the latest features. But when it comes to choosing the right first phone for your kid, consider one without all the bells and whistles.

Why? For the same reason you put up safety nets in other areas of your kid’s life: to protect them.

When it was time to get his own 12-year-old son a phone, Gabb Wireless founder Stephen Dalby looked for a phone with some key limitations. Unable to find the perfect first phone for kids, he designed Gabb’s Android-based ZTE phone with:
  • No Internet Browsing
    Read Why

    The internet is full of useful, educational content. Unfortunately, it’s also full of bad actors, many of whom directly target children.

    platforms, cyberbullies, and child predators thrive on the internet. And as much as their parents would want them to, not all kids feel comfortable speaking up if they find themselves in trouble.

  • No Games
    Read Why

    Not all games are bad for kids. Board games and multiplayer video games can teach social skills and teamwork. Outdoor games can build strength, resilience, and hand-eye coordination.

    Phone games, however, are different. Most of them are solo games, and virtually all of them are gamified — in other words, designed to keep your child playing as long as possible.

    Children simply don’t understand how addictive digital content can be. At best, phone games are distractions from things like school, work, and family time.

  • No social media
    Read Why

    Speaking of addictive digital content, social media apps shouldn’t be on a kids phones. Study after study has associated child social media use with issues like anxiety and depression.

    What’s more, the relationship appears to be dose-dependent: The more time a kid spends on social media, the more likely they are to develop mental or emotional health issues. Smartphones make social media far too accessible to developing minds.

  • No app downloads or app store
    Read Why

    If games and social media apps don’t come pre-loaded on your kids first phone, you had better believe that she will try to download them. Unfortunately, the App Store is full of apps that simply aren’t appropriate for kids. Just a few clicks is all it takes to find ones with drug references and graphic violence.

  • No picture messages
    Read Why

    Picture messages might seem harmless at first: Why stop your kid from sharing photos from his birthday party?

    The trouble is, most kids simply aren’t mature enough to use picture messaging responsibly. Nearly a quarter of high school-age teens and a third of college students have been involved in nude sexting.

    Not only is child porn illegal, but digitally transferred content never truly disappears. Even once it’s deleted on the device, there’s always a record of it somewhere.

  • No group text
    Read Why

    Teens are pack animals. Alone or with a friend, they tend to play by the rules. Get a dozen of them together, though, and dangerous decisions get made.

    Group texts provide too much opportunity for peer pressure. When teens know they have an audience, they’re tempted to do dumb things to impress their friends.

    Even cell phones for kids aren’t foolproof, however. That’s why it’s critical to have a talk with your child before turning them loose with their new device.


Explaining Safe Phone Use to Your Child

Before taking your kids phone out of the box, take a seat at the kitchen table. To prevent a free-for-all, it’s important you develop a technology roadmap.

The roadmap should lay out your concerns as a parent. It should cover how and when you want to address technology issues across three categories:

  1. 1.Online Behavior

    Just because other people behave badly on the internet shouldn’t mean everything goes for your son or daughter. Lay out what’s OK, what’s not, and how you’ll deal with bad behavior.

    Where’s the line between venting about a tough day and ranting angrily? Is making a joke about someone else cyberbullying? What kind of photos should be kept offline?

    Make sure these guidelines have some teeth. Maybe your child gets a warning for a first or minor slip-up. After that, should they lose their wireless phone privileges? For how long: a day, a week, or a month?

  2. 2.Safety and privacy

    Remember learning “stranger danger” when you were young? Today’s kids need a similar mindset when they set foot in the digital world. Not everyone is who they seem online, and some of those individuals would happily take advantage of an unsuspecting teen.

    This isn’t just about scammers and child predators, either. Shared passwords can lead to identity theft, and phishing emails trick even cybersecurity experts. And once your child’s data is out on the internet, there’s no telling in whose hands it will wind up.

  3. 3.Technological use cases

    Even phones for kids can be used in dangerous, destructive ways. Only a caring parent can stop a kid from spending their whole day texting with a bad apple.

    Make sure your child knows the difference between educational and entertainment-based usage. Although the two might sound distinct, there are a lot of grey areas.

    If your kid hauls out his phone to do research for a school project, that’s clearly educational; so is coordinating with classmates on a group project. But what about listening to a podcast or watching an art film? Is that educational, or is it entertainment?

    There are no hard and fast rules around what media your kid should or shouldn’t be accessing online. Decide for yourself which activities fall on which side of the line.

    Once you’ve completed your roadmap for your kids first phone, don’t just hand it to them and hope they read it. Go through it together: Do they agree with your assessment of educational v. entertainment usage? Would they be OK with being teased online? Get on the same page before your child has their first phone in hand.

Setting Boundaries For Their First Phone

No matter how solid your technology roadmap, your kid is still going to need some rules around healthy phone use. Be sure to set boundaries in these areas:

Duration of use

The science is clear: Too much screen time is bad for developing brains. Because screens are so stimulating, they can worsen stress and sleep issues. In some cases, they can cause children to lose interest in real-world activities. Pediatricians recommend that children between the ages of 5 and 17 get no more than two hours of screen time per day. Remember, that includes time spent looking at televisions and desktop computers, not just phone screens.

Try This

Try This

If your son can’t seem to step away from screens, give him a weekly time budget. If he wants to spend three hours on a screen one day, fine — but remind him that he’s eating into his time allotment for the rest of the week. A screen-time budget is a great way to teach personal responsibility.

Frequency of use

Even if your kid isn’t exceeding their daily or weekly screen time allowance, you don’t want them checking their phone every five minutes. They need to learn to be present, no matter what buzzes or chimes are coming from their device.

Try This

Try This

Ask your child to schedule her screen time. Maybe she’s allowed to spend an hour per day on her phone, but she needs to decide in advance how she’ll split up that time. She might choose half an hour before dinner and a half an hour afterward, for example.

“Never ever” times and places

Make sure your child understands that there are certain circumstances when his phone shouldn’t be out at all. Dinner time is a good example: Everyone should be focused on the meal and the conversation. Another is bedtime: The bedroom should be reserved for sleep, not for phone time. One that can have life-changing consequences? Using a wireless phone while driving. Certainly, you want your teen to be able to call you if he or she has an emergency on the road. But using a screen while driving is dangerous and, in many states, illegal.

Try This

Try This

If inappropriate use is a persistent issue, try flipping the script with your kid’s phone: Instead of restricting phone use at certain times and in certain situations, identify when and where it’s allowed. Maybe your kid’s usage window should be after 5-9 p.m. You might allow phones in the kitchen, dining room, and living room. Boundaries mean little, however, if your kid doesn’t see you obeying them yourself. It’s critical to create a screen-balanced home. If you’re checking social media at the dinner table, you had better believe that your child is going to do the same.

Checking in With Your Child

After handing your child his first phone is not the time to be hands-off. Periodically, sit down with him to find out how he’s doing with his new device.

Here are some dos and don’ts for your kids first phone:

Imposing Consequences for Phone Misuse

No matter how thorough your technology roadmap and how caring your post-purchase follow-ups, your child will slip up. They may be safer, but phones for kids still offer plenty of opportunities to get into trouble.

If your kid does say the wrong thing online or overuse their wireless phone, don’t panic. Make sure the consequences are proportional to the problem.

Consequences you should consider include:

1. An explanation and an apology

If your kid makes a minor mistake, such as calling someone a rude name via a text or pulling their phone out at dinner, don’t bring the hammer down. Ask your child to explain what they did wrong and to apologize to you or the affected individual.

If you want your child to spend a little extra time considering their mistake, ask them to write down the error and apology. Writing it out forces them to consider their actions privately. The note they write can be hung up as a reminder to make better choices in the future.

2. A reduction in phone time

If phone overuse becomes a problem, try reducing the amount of time your child is allowed to spend on their device each day. Set a timer so there’s no question about when time is up.

Also consider reducing the places in which your child can use their wireless phone. If they’re only allowed to use it in the living and dining rooms, it’ll be a lot more difficult for them to conceal their overuse.

3. Temporary loss of phone privileges

Taking your kids phone away shouldn’t be a go-to punishment. You don’t want your kid to feel like they’ll lose their phone if they tell you the truth about their device use.

With that said, there are times when you might want to separate your child from their wireless phone. If they’re engaging in cyberbullying, taking their phone can stop the problem while communicating the seriousness of the issue. Another is texting while driving: You need them to understand just how dangerous distracted driving is.

4. A total tech detox

Sometimes, serious consequences are necessary. If your child takes their phone back before you’re ready to reinstate the privilege, or if they make a major mistake like sending an inappropriate photo of themselves, consider grounding them from all tech.

For this, it may be necessary to talk to your child’s teachers. Kids are sneaky, and they may find ways to access devices for non-educational reasons at school.

As with the phone-only punishment, increase the length of the tech detox according to the severity of the issue and your kid’s attitude. If they seem genuinely sorry and avoid tech as requested, a few days without their wireless phone may be enough. Otherwise, a week or even a month break may be necessary.

Don’t assume when you get your kids first phone that it’s going to be a disaster. Be positive, and your child’s behavior is likely to reflect that.

Know When to Ask a Pro

If your child’s behavior seriously goes off the rails when they get their first smartphone, a temporary tech detox may not be enough. Still, you can’t shield them from all technology forever. How do you navigate that? You get in touch with a professional. Options include:

Adding Privileges —
And Responsibilities

If a year or two rolls by without your child making any major phone mistakes, they’ve demonstrated they can use their device responsibly. Reward them with additional privileges. Remind them, however, that those additional privileges come with new responsibilities.

Start by relaxing restrictions on when, where, and how often they can use their phone. Perhaps you increase the number hours they’re allowed to use their phone each day. Maybe they get to take it to school or to friends’ houses, rather than only getting to use it at home.

Try to do this in a way that reduces the burden on you. If you initially asked them to schedule their phone time, maybe they’re allowed to use it as frequently as they like — while still limiting their total screen time.

Explain that those new privileges require changes to the rules. If you decide to let them take their device to school, it’s their responsibility to keep it out of sight during class. If they lose it, perhaps they have to chip in for the cost of a replacement.

Each time you ease your usage restrictions, give your child a few months to adjust. Make sure they’re not going to slip up before you relax them further. If they do, reinstate the restrictions or implement one of the consequences described earlier.

What if they pass each stage with flying colors? It may be time for the ultimate reward: a smarter phone.

Stepping up to a Smarter Phone

Sooner or later, your son or daughter is likely to start pushing for a “real” smartphone. They’ll notice that many of the kids around them have devices that can access games and social media, and they’ll want one as well. If they’ve demonstrated responsibility repeatedly — and if your budget allows — reward them with a smarter phone. After all, they’ll eventually need to manage fully featured devices themselves.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that you have to rush out to get them the latest iPhone. But a low- to mid-level smartphone may not be a bad idea. How many times have you needed to look something up on the go? How many times has group messaging brought your friends together from a distance? Wait for the right time to get your kid a smarter phone. You want it to feel like a reward, but you also need to reinforce the additional responsibilities they’ll gain. Good opportunities include:

  1. 1.A birthday

    Just ask your kid: There’s nothing they want more for their birthday than a shiny new phone.

    Although there’s more to maturity than age, birthdays are reminders your kid is growing up. If they’ve demonstrated safe driving habits during the permit period but you can’t afford to get them their own car, a new phone might make a good 16th birthday gift.

    Be sure to highlight the parallels: They can get themselves into legal trouble by misusing their phone, just as they can a car. They need to make smart choices without an adult constantly looking over their shoulder.

  2. 2.A first job

    For your teen, getting their first job is a big deal. A job requires them to manage their schedule, keep their emotions in check, and work hard even when it’s not fun.

    Consider recognizing their growth with a smarter phone. Better yet, let them buy it themselves with that first paycheck. They’ll take better care of it, and they’ll feel a sense of pride when they pull it out of their pocket.

  3. 3.A major achievement

    Aside from getting hired, there are all sorts of accomplishments you should recognize in your kid’s life. Perhaps they achieved an academic goal, earned a spot in the National Honor Society, or became an Eagle Scout.

    Each of those things takes commitment and planning. Realize that your kid could have given into temptation instead — whether that’s eating unhealthy snacks or hanging out with friends during homework time — and chose not to. That’s a signal they also won’t give in to the temptation to overuse social media or waste hours on phone games.

  4. 3.Graduation or getting accepted into college

    Graduating high school is a big deal, especially if your child struggled earlier in their education. Being accepted by their university of choice is an even bigger reason for celebration.

    One way to signal that they’re transitioning to adult life is with a smarter phone. Soon, when and how they use their phone will be out of your hands. The apps they download and the messages they send will be entirely their own business. Consider getting them a fully featured phone a few weeks in advance in case they need a little guidance.

    Before you know it, your child will be fully in charge of themselves. How they use technology will be their call. Until then, however, it’s up to you.

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Phone Features
Gabb Z2
Gabb Z1
Unlimited Talk and Text
Group MMS
Image Messaging
No internet
No Games
No Social Media
No App Store
Display Screen Size
5.5” - 720 X1 440
5” - 720 X 1440
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Front 5MP, Rear 8MP
Front 2MP, Rear 5MP
Headphone Jack
MTK 6761, Quad Core CPU 2GHz
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2650 mAh
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