Back to School List: Starter Phones for Young Students
Fall is approaching, and that means two things: fall leaves and the sounds of thousands of harried parents navigating increasingly long back-to-school lists. From pencils and notebooks to new school uniforms, your shopping list might be a mile long. For some parents, this back-to-school season will be the first time their kid heads off to school with a new cell phone in their backpack.
If grabbing your child their first cell phone is on your back-to-school to-do list, there are some important things to consider before handing over a tricked-out smartphone to someone whose brain might not be fully developed yet. Deciding to get a cell phone for your child is a personal decision. Here’s what to know when it comes to making that decision.
When Should a Child Get Their First Cell Phone?
While many parents just want to know what age is the “right” age to add their kid to the family cellphone plan, the truth is that—like most aspects of parenting—there is a lot of advice out there but no concrete answers. The good news is you get to decide the best age for your child to finally get their hands on that coveted piece of tech. And you get to decide exactly how they use it.
Common Sense Media recommends that instead of looking only at your child’s age, you may want to consider their maturity level and how responsible they are in other aspects of their life when you’re deciding if they’re ready for a cell phone.
For example, if you frequently have to run to school to drop off forgotten homework or permission slips, your child might exercise that same level of forgetfulness when it comes to a potentially very expensive piece of modern technology.
Similarly, if you worry that while your kid might know how to sophisticatedly use social media but may not have good judgment about what to post and what to keep private, it might be wise to consider waiting on a cellphone or only providing a “dumb” phone without app or internet access.
Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to kids’ cell phone use is that every family is different. The fact is, underneath all the apps and games is a very important communication device, and while your kid may want a phone so they don’t feel left out online, you might want them to have a phone so that you can reach each other.
Whether you’re looking for an easy way to coordinate plans with an older child who has a packed schedule of after-school activities, or you’re just looking for a way to make sure your elementary schooler can reach you in an emergency, a phone may provide an integral lifeline that might make your child’s life easier and simplify yours.
And while many parents worry about technology’s possibility to cause distraction, the fact is that many older students use their cell phones to collaborate on projects, schedule study dates, video chat about homework, access online tutoring, and even use apps that connect them to their teachers and classrooms.
Starter Phones for Kids
If back to school is taking you back to the cellphone store to sign up for a new phone for your child, there are several options to consider. It can be a good idea to make a list of what you’re looking for in a starter phone so as not to get overwhelmed.
What is important to you: tracking your child’s location, communicating through text or video chat, setting up parental controls? Knowing what features are important for your family can help you make a cellphone decision that will keep everyone happy and safe.
Phones Designed for Kids
It’s becoming more common for parents to look for a phone that has the features parents want without the excess capabilities of a full-blown cell phone. Often designed for younger children, these phones offer a range of functionality from only allowing calls to specific people to kid-safe web browsing and location tracking.
These phones may be a great solution for families looking for phones that allow a child to contact them in an emergency, but might not be the best fit for older children who need texting capabilities or app access.
If you’re looking for something more advanced when it comes to your kid’s starter phone, you may want to consider looking at flip phones. Flip phones have the benefit of being easy to use, relatively inexpensive, and possibly more durable than fragile smartphones. The downside is that texting might be more difficult on a flip phone and most don’t offer access to apps—even apps that parents might wish their children to use.
Feature phones are the middle ground between a non-connected flip phone and the feature-rich smartphone. Feature phones often have touch screens, limited access to apps, and easy access to an internet browser, but don’t have the more advanced technology that most new smartphones contain. Feature phones may be a great fit for a child who isn’t quite ready for a full-blown smartphone.
While they may be the most popular phone option for adults, a smartphone can be an expensive investment. A smartphone is like having a palm-sized computer in your child’s hand, which can be both a pro and a con, depending on what you’re looking for.
On the plus side, a smartphone can provide your child with more options when it comes to usage and apps. Almost all smartphones offer texting, video chat capabilities, cameras, and app marketplaces that allow users to download and use apps.
Many smartphones also offer robust parental control capabilities that allow parents to set strict limits on what types of apps kids can access and set time limits for those apps.
The downside of smartphones is that they can be hard for some parents to monitor, and kids may be more interested in using their phones for engaging with social media and friends instead of using it to keep in contact with you—the parent.
Preparing for High School and Beyond
For many families, a child’s first cell phone might be a sign that your little one is rapidly growing up and might soon be a teenager navigating high school and then college.
As students grow, their needs change. While a kid’s cell phone might be perfect for a fourth grader, it probably won’t do for a high school sophomore. As children get older and move through school, their phone needs (and yours!) will inevitably change.
Using a cell phone won’t be the only thing that changes. High school brings many changes as students start to become more independent and prepare for college. It’s never too early to start thinking ahead toward the future, whether that’s how to afford college or what to major in. After all, your student might even be using that cell phone to study for the SATs or look up college admission requirements.
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