If 50 is the new 40 then, by reverse logic, 12 must be the new 16. Kids, it seems, are becoming increasingly complex in their demands than used to be the case. A few years ago it was a reasonably straightforward decision as to whether or not your child should have a cellphone. After all, a flip-top phone or a Nokia 3310 could do little more than make calls, send texts and take a selfie or two. Now, of course, smartphones are marketed heavily, and appeal to youngsters a great deal.
The problem is that unchecked internet access can bring its own problems. With apps like WhatsApp, Snapchat and more, you can never be sure who your kids are interacting with. As great as the internet is, there will always be a minority who will see it as useful for their own purposes. Although this is a very real worry for many parents, you do have options.
When you eventually do decide your child can have a phone, which one do you get? You want parental control perhaps? Who funds it on things like contract payments or prepaid Pay As You Go? You want internet access hours to be restricted? There are lots of decisions and requirements that will dictate your choice.
Here we look at some of the things you need to consider, and offer a few recommendations.
If all you want is for your child to be able to make emergency calls or texts, then a feature phone such as the LG A380 will do the job very nicely indeed. Another great option is the Alcatel 510A. If you knew that feature phones could be had for as little as $29 in the case of the Alcatel, it makes the decision a lot easier!
Feature phones have been a round a long time and, despite the name, are quite simple to use. They are also quite inexpensive and very cheap to run, due to the limited data capabilities. As well as calls and texts, they usually have a camera, many of which can record video. This will help your child to feel more involved with things, if they can take selfies. There’s also usually a MicroSD card slot so they can have their own music on the phone. This will be essential on long car journeys!
Peer pressure may force you to look a little further up the technology path if a flip-top feature phone just isn’t going to cut it. Don’t despair though, there are alternatives outside of iOS and Android which can fit the bill. One example is the ZTE Altair 2. The Altair 2 is a very smart looking non-smartphone. Visually, it closely resembles any of the Blackberry devices over the last few years. This appearance may just make it acceptable to your fashion-aware young one and should help you to sell the idea to them.
All feature phones are easy to setup and use and, if restricted to a prepaid contract, it is easy for you to monitor how quickly they burn through your dollars.
If your child is a little bit older, and requires more from their phone, a smartphone is the inevitable result. The good thing is that this still doesn’t mean they can run free with what they can do. Not without you approving it first.
All US mobile networks offer parental control options which can help you to keep some sort of check on what your kids are doing. They also have adult content filters which are applied by the network. Crucially, this means there’s no way around it on the phone itself. It does mean, also, that you have some control over how long the internet is available.
Assuming you do go down the smartphone route, you have two main choices, Android or iOS. iOS phones are made exclusively by Apple, and this can mean a hefty premium. If you want to start simpler (and cheaper) there are many Android phones available. Android is Google’s own mobile operating system, and is the most popular mobile OS in the world. The advantage of Android over iOS is that any manufacturer can employ it in their smartphones. This makes a much wider choice of phones available, and at a much wider range of prices.
HTC are a very well-respected manufacturer of smartphones and the One X is an excellent choice. The One X has fantastic hardware specs, especially considering it is at the lower end of the price scale.
If your child can be a little “dropsy”, any smartphone will be vulnerable to damage. One which goes some way to addressing that is the Kyocera Hydro Air. Kyocera have a reputation for building tough phones at great prices, and the Hydro Air is no exception. Waterproof and dust-proof it is also better able to withstand a drop onto a hard surface.
We’ve mentioned that all US networks allow parental controls to be set. These are done from within your online account, meaning your kids won’t have access to it. When you go for an Android smartphone, the operating system also allows you to refine the setup for filters and access times. Filtering content is simple, and can also prevent paid-for apps being bought. Many free apps do allow content to be bought in the app/game, and this can also be prevented.
Parental control settings in Android are accessed by using a pin code, so they can’t be changed without your knowledge.
A more rudimentary method of control is simply to know your child’s login details for things like Facebook and other networks. They may not like it, but they want a phone so will probably accept that’s the way it has to be. Facebook can be useful in an emergency, as it makes their friends all easily contactable and this is how you sell it to them. Of course they’ll need assurances from you that you’re not spying on them. You will be, but they don’t need to know that. If that makes you a little uncomfortable, don’t be. The internet can be a very bad place at times, and your child needs you to be looking out for them.
Keeping an eye on what your kids do is increasingly difficult, but that doesn’t mean you have to blindly accept the loss of control. Any cellphone brings the added worry of who your child is talking to, and smartphones take that worry further. Social media and other things are intensively interactive, and difficult to control.
Use the parental controls offered by the networks and phone, if appropriate. Also see them having a phone as a good thing, because it will be. You can track them online, if you want to, and you’ll be grateful for that at some point.
Buying a phone for your child needn’t cost the earth, and being vigilant about what they’re doing is a lot easier than you think.