Should you buy a smartphone for your kid?

Many kids today get their first smartphones when they are 11–12 or even younger. A majority carries a gadget around by the time they are in high school. Peer pressure does play a role, and phone-free kids see everyone around them fidgeting with their phones. The decision is yours, however, and in this post we discuss the pros and cons of that purchase, as well as provide tips for choosing a gadget if you decide to buy one.

No one but you is in a position to say if your kid needs a phone or can handle the responsibility of having a phone. In every single case, buying a smartphone for your kid carries pros and cons.

A smartphone for your kid: Cons

Let’s start with the cons. On the one hand, experts share widespread agreement that excessive gadget use adversely affects child health and development. If your kid spends his or her nights with a smartphone, they may develop sleep problems, with cellphones being worse than a television in that regard.

Staying glued to the screen for hours can result in nearsightedness, poor posture, and even breathing problems. Other frequent disorders affecting schoolchildren include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: ADHD incidence is rising along with the popularity of gadgets. There are more immediate risks, too: If your kid stares at the screen while walking around outside, they risk getting into serious trouble.

Also, if your kid spends loads of time with their phone, it’ll keep them from studying, playing (apart from mobile games) or socializing with peers. They may catch hell from teachers for using the smartphone in class. Finally, a mobile phone is not the cheapest of luxuries, and kids, not always the most responsible of owners, could easily break or leave their smartphone somewhere.

A smartphone for your kid: Pros

If, on the other hand, you carefully limit the time your child spends using the smartphone, it may not be that harmful — and it absolutely comes with benefits. For starters, if you give your child a smartphone, you can stay in touch when they are not around, safely permit them to go out, and have peace of mind while they’re at school or doing extracurricular activities.

Handled right, a smartphone can be anything but an academic distraction, giving your child easy access to electronic dictionaries and other handy applications that can help with school assignments.

Searching for information on the Web can broaden a child’s mind, and the use of mobile photography and videos may boost their creativity. If your kid learns the use of electronic maps for navigation, they will be able to find their way around unfamiliar neighborhoods. Finally, there’s that pesky social pressure: If everyone in the class has a telephone, a gadgetless kid is the odd one out.

As you can see, strong arguments exist both in favor of and against letting your kid have a smartphone. It is up to you which of these matter more. Even if you decide not to buy a smartphone now, however, the question is bound to come up again. So, let us talk about…

Which phone to choose for a schoolchild

Sooner or later, it’s probably going to happen. And at that point, another question will arise: What kind of phone should you give your child? The cheapest option is handing down one of your old smartphones. The economy is undeniable: If misplaced, smashed, or dropped in a bathtub, that phone cost you nothing. But that route has drawbacks.

First, the operating system of the smartphone is likely to be out of date, and in many cases you’ll have no way to update it. That is a serious problem in terms of security and compatibility with apps.

Second, many old smartphones’ batteries have one foot in the trash bin and will not last long on a single charge. You probably don’t want to give your child a phone you cannot reach when needed — so much for peace of mind. Third, although this one’s a completely subjective assessment, few kids rejoice at the sight of an old gadget.

So, if you have the cash, get a new smartphone for your kid. Now it is down to the choice between iPhone and Android.

A smartphone for your kid: iPhone

Apple devices are more reliable on the average and have built-in parental controls.
If you are an Apple user already, then giving your child an Apple smartphone is easier than dealing with compatibility issues between Apple and Android.

iPhones do not come cheap, though. Getting a new one every time your kid breaks or misplaces their gadget would be wasteful.

iPhones also attract lots of undue attention from those who fancy other people’s stuff. Having your kid’s iPhone quietly snatched from their pocket is not the worst possibility, certainly better than getting mugged, but even that is hardly ideal. With that said, choosing an iPhone for your child is not uncomplicated.

A smartphone for your kid: Android

It is less expensive to give your kids Android devices, at least until they learn to handle their smartphones with great care. Android offers a wider range of choices, too. Some devices even have rugged or waterproof bodies.

Devices running Android also offer more flexibility when it comes to parental control. Whereas Apple believes its built-in child protection features are sufficient and restrict third-party developers, Google encourages competition. As a result, Android applications that help keep track of your children’s safety are easier to use and have a wider feature set.

What else to keep in mind when selecting a phone for your kid

Let’s talk about some important features to consider when it comes to a kid’s smartphone.

The display is perhaps the biggest factor in the usability of a phone. You’re looking for decent quality — high resolution and true colors — at the least. Then, size matters: Look for a model with a screen measuring at least 4.5 inches. A screen that is too small can cause eyestrain, and small screens are awkward to use with today’s applications, which are primarily designed for larger displays.

There is no need to be afraid of phablets, which kids adjust to quickly. What you may consider avoiding though, are those trendy displays with curved edges; they break easily and are surprisingly expensive to replace. In general, the less glass on a smartphone the better — and the cheaper it is to repair.

Whatever you decide, if a smartphone is in your child’s present or near future, you should immediately buy a tough case or bumper with edges that protrude above the screen. Kids drop their devices more than adults. Having a screen protector doesn’t hurt, either. Experience suggests that it is better to buy both a case and glass protector right away. The temptation to order stuff online and spend a week or two waiting for delivery is always there, but that does you no good in the not unlikely event that your kid shatters the screen before the case arrives.

Battery capacity is the second most important consideration. The larger the better. It does not pay to expect that your kids will charge their gadgets regularly, when even adults forget to do it.

The third factor to consider is memory. Again, more is better. You can’t necessarily expect your kids to clean up their phones memory regularly, so they’re likely to fill up fast. Having a memory card slot in the phone never hurts. It lets you add memory easily and inexpensively.

Beyond that, consider your priorities. It may be worth checking the performance of the GPS module. In most smartphones GPS just works, but a few poorly designed models may have trouble receiving a satellite signal. If knowing where your kid is at any given moment is paramount, searching forums for user feedback on the model you are considering could save you time and money; someone is likely to point out GPS issues if there are any.

The more recent Android version the phone is running the better. Older OS versions are likely to face more security problems. Buying an Android One smartphone is a good option. First, devices that are part of the Android One program get updates more regularly. Second, these smartphones run stock Android, without any bloatware. This is more reliable, safe, and user-friendly.

Setting up a smartphone up for your kid

If you decide that your kid does need a smartphone, once you’ve selected a model, we recommend taking care of security before you hand the device over.

  • Install a reliable parental-control application. Regardless of the mobile platform you opt for and what built-in tools the phone has, having extra capabilities helps.
  • Install a strong mobile antivirus, if you opt for an Android smartphone. Children’s phones need protection from malware every bit as much as adults’ phones do.
  • Set up the phone to keep track of your children’s safety without prying into their lives or interfering in their friendships. This post explains how.