You’ve probably been putting off getting your child a phone for years. After all, you’ve seen your kids break even the sturdiest of toys, and you’re probably worried about screen time too. But eventually, the time will come when decide the time is right to buy your child their first smartphone. Did you know that more than 50 per cent of kids own a smartphone before their eleventh birthday?
Knowing the right age to introduce smartphones is never easy for parents. You just don’t know whether your child is ready for the responsibility or not. All you can know for sure is that they have their heart set on getting the latest Samsung or iPhone. But it’s up to you what phone they get and how they use it. Smartphones come with a whole host of parental tools, and with good ground rules, getting your child their first phone can be something really positive and exciting for the family.
Here are some of the things you need to remember when buying your child’s first smartphone.
Consider The Safety And Security Features
Whether children really need smartphones to keep them safe is debatable. Any old phone with voice and text chat will suffice. So kids can use a regular “dumb” phone if they need you to pick them up from town. Smartphones, however, have additional features, like GPS, which can show you where your child is at any point in time. So if there’s a reason you need to keep tabs on your kids, getting them this sort of phone could be better.
I imagine safety is one of your primary concerns, like me. You want to protect kids from some of the dangers of owning a full-blown smartphone, such as dangerous people contacting them over the internet and also things like accessing inappropriate content, or even being able to spend money, or play games that aren’t age appropriate. Having a smartphone means you can put parental controls on the device before you let them loose with it. Even a basic phone can receive unwanted phone calls and texts if it has no security features.
Whatever phone you go for, you’ll want to explore all the safety and security features available.
They Will Need A Little Training
Smartphones are sophisticated devices with literally thousands of functions and features. Kids, therefore, will need some safety tips and training first. Just dumping a smartphone in their hands and hoping for the best probably isn’t the best strategy. The problem with children is that they like to experiment. Within the first couple of days, they’ll know how to use the phone better than you do. But they may also wind up using it in the wrong way.
Here are some of the things that you could teach them before you set them loose:
- They shouldn’t buy apps from the app store without your permission first (and hopefully your security is setup so they can’t do this anyway, but you should still talk to them about why they’re not allowed to do this)
- They shouldn’t talk to people they don’t know on messaging apps, but if they do get an unknown message, they should know they can trust you not to be mad about it as long as they tell you straight away.
- They should take some time away from their phones to enjoy other activities – you should set rules and boundaries about when, what and how long they can use their phone for.
- The phone shouldn’t get in the way of school work, but can be used for schoolwork, especially if they don’t have a laptop or other device. You could teach them how to use educational apps and access Wikipedia for example.
- Photos – if the phone has photo and video capability, you’ll want to talk to them about what photos are appropriate to take, who they can share with and also about giving other people privacy and not taking video or photo of people without their permission.
Pay As You Go or Monthly Plans
While phone contracts might seem like great deals, pay as you go SIM deals are cheaper. What’s more, they allow you to control spending. For instance, suppose your child wants to call somebody they know in China. With a contract phone, you pay the bill at the end of the month. So there’s no limit to how long much you might wind up paying. The phone doesn’t shut off once you’ve spent £100 or even £1,000 on calls. The phone network will charge you anyway.
The story is different with pay as you go SIMs. Here, your child can only spend the money you put on the card. If they go over their allowance, they’re going to have to do some explaining and justify why they need more credit for the month.
The only downside to this is you may feel this would stop them from contacting you in an emergency, in which case a monthly plan may be better for mature children who can understand the limits and not exceed them.
You Can Use Screen Time And App Controls
Screen time and app controls are extremely helpful for parents worried about how long their kids are spending on their devices. The way these apps work is pretty simple. You, the parent, set how much time the child is allowed to spend on their phone per week, and then the app will take care of the rest for you. Screen time apps also allow you to see how your child is using their device, breaking down their history into categories such as games, social networking and entertainment.
These helpful tools also allow you to set downtime around bedtime, which limits how much kids can use their devices at night. You can also use features that restrict access to various apps and games by age group.
You Don’t Have To Buy A Top Of The Range Device
Lastly, when it comes to buying your kid’s first smartphone, you don’t have to buy a top of the range device. Any old mid-range handset will do. The great thing about less expensive devices is that you don’t have to worry so much about your child damaging them because let’s face it – it’s going to get broken. Range-topping iPhones can cost more than £800. An entry-level Samsung, by contrast, can be as little as £150.
So, which of these ideas are you going to try when your child asks for a smartphone?