The Safest Phones for Kids of All Ages

From young kids to teens, here are the safest options to buy for your child when they're ready for their very own device.

four phones
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon

Over half of kids—53%—own a smartphone by the time they're 11, according to a 2019 nationally representative survey from Common Sense Media. And that number jumps sharply to 84% once kids hit their teens. Given stats like these, it's no wonder kids as young as elementary school-age are begging to have a phone. Of course, this leaves parents grappling with many reservations and questions about the right time to buy a child a phone.

"Today's parents are both blessed and cursed by technology options made available to their children," says Titania Jordan, the chief parenting officer of parental-control app Bark. "While the ability to locate and communicate with your child in real-time is incredible, the ability of others to do so can be frightening and dangerous."

While it may seem overwhelming, there are some things you can do to ensure you buy a kid-safe phone when the time is right. Read on for tips to consider before buying, plus a run-down on the safest phones for kids.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Phone

Luckily, there's a slew of kid-friendly phone options now that can keep certain concerns and risks at bay. Before picking one, start by deciding what features your kids need and what they don't. Here are a few key questions Jordan encourages parents to ask themselves before they buy:

  • Do you want your child to have access to the internet?
  • Is location-tracking an important feature their device should have?
  • Do you want your child to be able to download apps?
  • Do you want to limit who your child can communicate with (and when)?
  • Are you concerned about limiting screen time?
  • Do you want to be able to text and email your child, or will a minimalist phone suffice?
  • Do you want your child to be able to take photos and videos, watch shows, and listen to music?
  • Do you want to be able to monitor your child's digital communications for dangers?

Once you've decided on features, you'll be better positioned to consider which phones fit your needs. Other factors that may help you narrow down options for the best and safest phones for kids include your kids' ages and how you expect them to use the phone.

Best Phones for Young Kids

When it comes to a younger child, Common Sense Media suggests parents look for phones with the following features:

  • Very simple controls
  • Big buttons
  • Extremely limited features
  • Limited contacts
  • No games
  • No web access
  • No camera

Sprint WatchMeGo

Phones in this category are usually wearable, watch-style phones, like the Sprint WatchMeGo. This device offers GPS tracking, text and voice messaging, an SOS alert feature, and parental alerts when kids leave "safety areas."

Verizon Gizmo Watch 2

Another wearable device option is the Verizon Gizmo Watch 2, which is popular among parents of younger children as it has a parental list of approved contacts, and kids can't lose it as easily because it straps to their wrist, Jordan says. Plus, it's waterproof! This device allows up to 10 trusted contacts for two-way voice calls and messaging, and has a GPS locator (although consumers say the GPS is a bit delayed, Jordan points out).

The Gizmo is also psychologist-approved. "I find when kids do get a smartphone, it leads to more family conflict and less face-to-face social interaction and sometimes even negatively impacts grades and sleep," says Sarah Berger, Ph.D., a psychologist in Chevy Chase, Maryland. "The Gizmo allows the kids to have more independence, to text with a few people, there is a GPS in it—so it allows for a taste of a phone without actually giving a phone."

Best Emergency Phones

Emergency phones are those intended for use in emergencies, rather than everyday use.

Palm Phone

Running on the Android operating system, Palm Phone is a smaller phone (the size of a credit card) that's perfect for kids, Jordan says. Phone features include:

  • Water-resistant
  • Uses Gorilla Glass, which is designed to be thin, light, and damage-resistant
  • Location tracking
  • Intuitive parental control options

"The Palm is a more portable phone that's designed to be less distracting—another plus for younger users," says Jordan.

Alcatel Go Flip

Another to consider, according to Tim Uittenbroek, founder of VPNMash, a company dedicated to online privacy education, is the Alcatel Go Flip. This phone's features include:

  • Simple utility apps
  • 2MP camera
  • Big and clear keys

"Its mobile virtual network operator Ting, with its monthly $6 line fee, allows your child to use in case of emergencies, in pick up and drop off at school, or after-school programs," Uittenbroek says.

Best Budget-Friendly Phone

Gabb Wireless is another option that looks like a smartphone, so it has that "cool factor," according to Jordan, but it's cheaper than other smartphones (around $150). Note that, for better or worse, it lacks browser and app access.

"Additional features that are currently missing and frequently requested by parents: location tracking, music apps, and the ability for parental monitoring solutions to monitor texts," she says.

Best Flip Phones

Believe it or not, flip phones didn't completely disappear—they still exist! And some parents prefer them for kids for their simplicity and limited features.

Consumer Cellular Doro

Jordan notes, "Consumer Cellular Doro is the preferred flip phone among our parenting community with no browser—which is hard to find, as most flips actually have a browser." But there's a downside to going lower-tech: "You cannot monitor text messages nor track their location via GPS," Jordan says.

Tracfone

Tracfone's prepaid phones are another option in this category. "These are available at every grocery store and pharmacy and are $19.99," Jordan says. "But in the end, most parents find that dumbing down a smartphone is the most preferred route to take."

Best Smartphones for Kids

Smartphones are more complex (and more coveted by kids). Generally, they have features like internet access, apps, and cameras. In that regard, they tend to be more risky, but mitigations, like parental controls and screen time monitoring apps, can help.

Android

Jordan says that parents simply looking for the best overall option for their child's first phone would do well to go with an Android. "They are the safest bet," she says. "They play well with third-party apps and provide more monitoring coverage for YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram. While iPhones are popular, when it comes to helping keep your child safe online, Androids provide the better user experience and more comprehensive coverage for parents."

Check out the Samsung Galaxy, which has a large display and an impressive battery, according to Bark. The Galaxy is compatible with Samsung's kid-friendly digital ecosystem, Kids Mode, and you can enable parental controls through Google's Family Link.

There's also the Google Pixel, which could be a great first smartphone for a big kid. Given its constant software updates, the phone could even last them throughout high school. Google's Digital Wellbeing features, which help people balance their screentime, are available on the phone, as is Family Link.

iPhone

That said, if you want to go with an iPhone, Jordan says the latest iterations of iOS include the ability to limit your child's calls to contacts or emergency lists only. In addition, you can track your child's location via find my iPhone.

Reuben Yonatan, founder and CEO of GetVoIP, believes the parental controls on iPhones are excellent. "You can lock it down to the bare essentials if you want," Yonatan notes. "You can easily track your kids. iMessage is great because it works even without a data plan. Plus, they often have a decent hard drive capacity for music, which is great for keeping them distracted."

If you're looking to save, go with an older model. Yonatan says, "When paired with a decent case, they can be quite indestructible—something that is essential when kids are involved."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles