As they get older, kids need and crave more freedom, but that doesn’t mean parents don’t want to keep tabs on their whereabouts. That’s where a screen-free basic phone for kids is a must. Cell phones for kids serve one purpose: to keep parents and kids connected. Some might have more bells and whistles than others, but all of them allow mom and dad to contact the kiddos when needed, and vice versa.
Buying your kid a smartphone when they’re in elementary school is almost guaranteed to be a waste of money. Odds are, they’ll lose it or break it. And even if they don’t, younger kids generally only need phones for calls and texts. That’s one of the arguments of the Wait Until 8th campaign, which promotes waiting to give kids fully featured smartphones until they hit the eighth grade.
Plus, there’s the matter of screen time, too much of which is definitely not a good thing for kids. So save yourself some cash and some grief: Eschew an expensive, unnecessary smartphone in favor of an affordable basic phone that’ll keep you both in touch. To that end, we took a look at the top five most reliable, affordable, and user-friendly kid-centric phones on the market.
Phones for Kids
This screen-free, water-resistant, one-touch phone alternative makes it easy to talk to your kids from the free app on your smartphone. It's a simple, user-friendly communication device, which is all kids need.
Pros: With this phone, there are no screen-time issues and no internet browsing. It’s a simple, solid way to keep tabs on your kids and allow them to reach you when needed. You can attach this to their backpack, or jacket.
Cons: Setup can be unwieldy and unduly complicated. Once it’s up and running, there’s not much to speak of in terms of bells and whistles, which is a pro and a con.
VTech, the maker of kids toys, has finally entered the phone game. This phone lets kids send texts, voice messages, photos and drawings to people on their approved contact list, via WiFi only.
Pros: By connecting to a WiFi network, kids can stay connected to their parents. The phone also has a kid-safe web browser that blocks access to inappropriate content.
Cons: It works only with WiFi, so its use is rather limited.
An absolutely genius phone that lets you send your kid text messages that they can respond to. You can also program numbers they can call, and they can send you sweet and funny voice messages.
Pros: If your child has a tendency to wander off, you can check their location using the GizmoHub app and set GPS boundaries. If your kid crosses one, you’ll get an automated alert. The user interface is really friendly and easy to use, and it keeps track of your kid’s steps to boot.
Cons: The price. Plus, you need to sign up for a Verizon plan, or add this to your existing plan.
This watch had us sold on its sleek interface alone. Kids and parents get two-way calling, geofencing features, and voice chat. And an emergency SOS call button of course.
Pros: Like a GPS locator, this kids’ watch let you check your child’s history to see where he or she has been. It has an alarm clock set by the parents, so no more forgotten homework. And of course, there’s voice chat, two-way calling, and an emergency call button.
Cons: This watch only support the 2G network, not 3G or 4G, to make sure you can use it before you buy it.
This kids' watch has two-way calling, GPS locator services, a camera, an SOS emergency call button, and voice chat. And a camera for selfies, of course.
Pros: It’s a nice, basic, no frills watch for kids. Parents can store 10 phone numbers on app and then sync them to the watch.The sim card is included, which is nice. And parents can set the watch to do not disturb during school hours. And it works as an unlocked GSM phone.
Cons: It looks fairly cheesy, let’s be honest, especially compared to the sleek Gizmo. The touch hard is hard to use, and the call quality is on the staticky side.
It's a cute, customizable, affordable phone that does everything you need, without any pesky internet surfing or games. It works on any prepaid carrier on the AT&T network., which means nationwide coverage.
Pros: Comes loaded with a 2MP camera, bluetooth, radio, space for a MicroSD Card, and a headphone jack. It’s a basic phone that does what it’s supposed to do: let you keep tabs on your kids.
Cons: The battery life isn’t stellar, so when your kid isn’t using it, make sure they’re diligent about charging it.
Designed primarily for seniors (which is also why it’s great for children), the Jitterbug is a basic flip phone with oversize numbers, a hefty screen, and that's about it. The simple menu is easy to navigate with giant buttons, the battery is long-lasting, and there’s even a camera.
Pros: This is a stellar gateway phone. It’s easy to use, the buttons are foolproof, and the sound is clear. Just the basics, but it works.
Cons: You have to use the GreatCall service, so you cannot choose your own phone carrier. However, there are no contracts or cancellation fees.
This GPS tracker watch is fully set up and controlled through a smartphone app, and parents can use it to set school times, appointments, safety zones, and trusted phone numbers.
Pros: Kids can use the XPLORA watch touchscreen to make and receive calls from up to 12 pre-set numbers, as decided by parents. The GPS watch can make and answer calls, as well as send text messages with emojis. The GPS watch notifies parents when their child gets to or leaves a pre-determined location. Parents can set up safety zones, like school or home, and get notifications when kids leave those zones.
Cons: You need a separate SIM card for the watch.
This kids' smart watch slash phone uses the 4G network, and lets kids send text messages, voice messages, photos and emojis. Plus, it works with group chat.
Pros: The TickTalk3 smart watch phone has texting, video, calling, and GPS tracking capabilities. Plus it’s waterproof. Note that it’s only compatible with T-Mobile and AT&T networks.
Cons: The TickTalk 3 is not compatible with Verizon or Sprint’s network, so if you use those, skip this one.
This is not a phone per se, but an actual tracking device. Parents get live real-time GPS tracking to see where their child is located at any given moment.
Pros: With the Jiobit, parents can get departure and arrival notifications to and from home, school or other trusted locations, thus letting mom and dad track kids from anywhere anytime, and see who they’re with. A little creepy? Possibly. Effective? For sure. The battery lasts up to one week.
Cons: This requires a subscription plan, starting at $8.99 per month. And it’s a tracking device, not a phone.
This is billed as the world's first 4G GPS tracker and phone, which gives parents full control. Your kid can only call or text numbers that are pre-programmed by mom and dad, and we particularly love the bright-red SOS button to use in case of emergency. Press it and it will text your kid's current location to and dial up to three assigned numbers.
Pros: You can track where your kid is via the app and view their location history. The GeoFencing feature lets parents set a predetermined area and receive an alert if the phone (and presumably the child carrying it) enters or leaves the area. You can program 15 numbers into the phone, and these are the only numbers junior can call or text.
Cons: This is not what we’d call a thing of beauty, but it’s functional and practical, though some parents complain that it’s not sturdy enough for careless kids.
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