When I was a kid, the big debate was over how old you had to be before you could get your ears pierced. Or maybe, if you were lucky, at what age you could get a car. But over the years, both the debates, and the technology, have grown by leaps and bounds. These days, a common question I hear from friends is, “When should my kids get a cell phone?” The answer, of course, is that there is no absolute consensus on when you should give cell phones to kids. The “right” age is unique to your family, your needs and your child. However, a study published in 2016 by the marketing research firm, Influence Central shows that the average age children in the U.S. receive their first cell phone is 10 years old. Remember when you were 10 and all you wanted was a Barbie Dream House or a Matchbox racetrack?
Times have certainly changed.
But, arguably, so have our lives. As parents, we have become reliant on the conveniences of cell phones and smartphones. In addition to using our phones for their primary purpose, which is, of course, making calls, many of us check our emails, manage social media accounts, text and even keep our address books on our phones. With continuous communication, quite literally, at our fingertips, it’s only natural that we see an opportunity to keep our kids within reach at all times, as well.
If you’ve decided that now is as good a time as any to take the “cell phone” plunge, congratulations! The hardest decision has already been made. The next step is deciding which phone will be best for your novice phone user. As someone who has put an all-too pricey phone in the hands of all-too-clumsy kids more than once, I can attest firsthand to the importance of researching your options.
With that in mind, we have spent some time taking a look at the many phone choices currently out there. And trust me, there are plenty! We focused our search on smartphones that would most likely be used by children in the 10 to 14-year old bracket and kept the following in mind as we picked our favorite tween/teen-friendly options:
- Availability (available on Amazon or similar sites)
- Flexible service options (i.e., can be used with a range of cell phone service providers)
- Functionality (including parental control options)
The following five phones stood out to us as durable solutions that are kid-friendly, parent-friendly and budget-friendly. Keep in mind, we are far from tech experts, but when thinking about what you might be looking for in a phone to last your kids through the late elementary and middle school years, these phones more than do the trick.
If you’re looking for a phone that offers internet access, downloads and streaming with 4G LTE speed, a decent camera and comes in at less than $100, the Moto E 2nd Generation phone might just be the perfect fit. Now, I know if can be scary to think of your kid running loose with the entirety of the Internet at their disposal, but have no fear. The Moto E 2 is Android operated, which means that you can use apps like MMGuardian Parental Control to give your kids the freedom of a smartphone, without all of the worry on your part. Best of all, the Moto E 2 offers extra “cool” factors like the ability to activate the phone and access the camera with just a flick of the wrist. Get the full phone specs here.
Why we love it: The price is hard to beat on this all-around functional phone. Unlocked versions of the Moto E 2 run about $75 for the 8GB model on Amazon, with carrier-specific models available for even less.
Buy it now: Amazon
All cards on the table – you’re going to pay a little more for this phone than others on our list. But, it’s worth it for durability alone. The OneTouch Go Play from Alcatel is water resistant, can withstand up to 5-foot drops and is dust resistant. I don’t know what your kids do with phones, but I suspect mine use them for soccer balls at times. We’ve bid farewell to more than one phone thanks to water damage or one too many drops on the hardwood floors. That being said, the OneTouch Go Play is still a brilliant starter phone with a price tag just at $200, or less depending on your retailer. In addition to being “life” proof, the Go Play offers full smartphone functionality along with 4G LTE connectivity, an Android Operating System, GPS and more. Plus, you can have full control with a wide range of parental control apps available from Google. If you’re willing to make a little more of an investment, you can rest assured you’ll only have to make it once with the OneTouch Go Play. The only downside is that Alcatel is only GSM compatible, which works for carriers like AT&T, but not Verizon, for example. Just be sure to check the compatibility of your preferred service provider before you buy.
Why we love it: I don’t think our answer will surprise you – durability. I mean, really. Water resistant, dust resistant and it can take a hit? It’s kind of like the argument you give your husband to buy those $300 boots you’ve been eyeing. You could buy cheaper ones, but you’d have to replace them much, much sooner. The durable (and yes, more expensive) ones, however, will be there for the long haul.
Simple, durable, affordable, functional. The Moto G4 Play puts everything you’re looking for in a starter smartphone into one neat, little package. Featuring a 5.0-inch HD display, an 8MP rear camera, a removable long life battery and compatibility with all major carriers, you’ll love this phone almost as much as your kids do. No, it does not have all the bells and whistles of some other phones, but while those others only offer 8GB of memory, you can get up to 16GB on the G4 Play, all at the same $100 price tag. Now, I should note that when I say “$100 price tag,” I’m referring to an Amazon Prime Exclusive deal that includes custom-tailored ads that appear on the phone’s lock screen. If you (or your child) would like to forgo the ads, don’t worry. Standard, ad-free pricing only bumps it up by about $30 – and that’s still a bargain in our book. Plus, you’ll enjoy Android functionality and all of the Google-goodness that comes with it, including easy-to-download parental controls. Get the full phone specs here.
Why we love it: In a world where some kids don’t even know what a traditional camera looks like, memories are often made, recorded and stored on our phones. With the extra memory that this phone affords (16GB vs. 8GB) at little extra cost, your kids can keep more on their phones, including music, photos and apps (parent-approved, of course).
Like the Moto G4 Play, the BLU R1 HD is a one-stop starter phone. It offers a sophisticated sleek design (perfect for your sophisticated, sleek middle schoolers, right?) and much of the same functionality of our other phones, including 4G LTE connectivity, a 5-inch display, an Android Operating System and both a front and rear camera. However, if it’s a bargain you’re looking for, you’ve just hit the jackpot. The 8GB version of the BLU R1 HD starts at only $50. The bad news is that, like the Moto G4 Play, the lowest price is also an Amazon Prime exclusive including lock screen ads. The good news is that you can get it ad-free at 8GB for just under $100. OR…you can go for a 16GB memory with lock screen ads at around $60 and without at about $110. And, of course, you’ll enjoy Android parental controls, GPS capabilities and the option for other safety features that provide a little extra peace of mind. Get the full phone specs here.
Why we love it: Function and form are both present in the BLU R1 HD, but at a price that simply cannot be beat. If you want to get your kids started somewhere, you can’t go wrong with this unlocked, all-carrier compatible bargain. At this price tag, it’s even the kind of thing that your kids could save up and buy for themselves, giving them that extra boost of responsibility and ownership.
Where to buy it: Amazon
The Microsoft Lumia 550 may be the first-time smartphone owners dream. This Windows phone provides all the functionality you could ask for at a price tag that tops out just above the $100 mark. With a sleek design, even your most appearance-conscious kids will be happy to be seen with the Lumia 550. And they’ll love all it can do, whether they prefer surfing the web, snapping photos or even catching up on homework, thanks to pre-loaded Microsoft Office apps that include Word, Excel and PowerPoint. For you parent, the phone allows use of Microsoft My Family to control access to the web, set screen time limits, find your kids on a map, find lost devices and much more. In addition to fast 4G LTE service, the Lumia 550 also offers Cortana, Microsoft’s voice-activated personal assistant. This means that you or your child can have Cortana set reminders for daily chores, schedules and more. Get the full phone specs here.
Why we love it: What stood out to us on the Lumia 550 was that it was a grown-up phone (which your kids will love, of course) but without the grown-up price tag. This makes it a great tool for teaching your kids about responsibility, without too much of an investment. Extra long battery life (up to 17 hours of talk time) and all-around incredible functionality simply sealed the deal in our book!
The debate over kids and cell phones is a fascinating one. We would love to hear your input about what age your kids got phones, why you made the choice, and what phones you found to be the best. If you would like to share with us, leave your comments in the section below!