Buying your child their first phone – mobile phones for kids

The dos and don'ts, plus how to find the best Sim deals

Deciding when to give your child their first phone can be a difficult decision. On one hand, they're a great way to keep in contact, on the other, screen time can be addictive and they could access inappropriate content. We've a little help to decide if it's the right time to give them a phone, but our main focus is on ways to keep the cost down...

This is the first incarnation of this guide. If you've any feedback or tips you think we should add, please let us know in the Buying your child their first phone forum thread.

Is my child old enough to have a phone?

As a parent, the decision of when to buy your child their first phone can be a tricky one, especially if all their friends already have a phone. There's no one-size-fits-all answer – it depends on their age, their level of maturity and their specific needs. 

In our most recent poll on this topic, around 44% of those with kids said their child got their first phone between 10 and 12. And almost three-quarters (72%) who hadn't given their child a phone yet said they would at this age.

If you think they're not quite ready but you want to be able to contact them in an emergency, you could also consider a basic non-smart phone that is only capable of calling and texting.

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What's the best phone for your child?

When it comes to choosing a phone for your child, you don't need to break the bank, but there are a couple of main options...

Consider a hand-me-down to keep costs down

If you already have an old phone lying around that you're not using, or you're looking to upgrade soon, then the smart thing to do is to pass your old device on to your child.

You'll need to get a new Sim you can slot into the phone to make calls, texts and use the internet – so make sure your phone is unlocked. Most are sold unlocked now, but if you bought yours on a contract (phone + Sim) before December 2021, chances are it won't be. If that's you, see if you can unlock your phone for free.

Also, do check the phone is still functional, and if you've had it for some time, consider getting a new battery installed. It's also important to factory reset the device to remove any sensitive information, but make sure you back up any info you have on the device before doing this.

If you need to buy a phone, choose what type you want – and, remember, it doesn't have to be expensive

Most phones nowadays are smartphones, but you needn't get your child a flashy, expensive iPhone or the latest flagship Samsung phone.

If you're looking to buy one outright, without a contract, you can get a basic smartphone from around £50 to £60. You'd need to pair this with a cheap Sim to let your child make calls, texts and access the internet.

If you're after a contract, where you pay for the phone and airtime together – typically over 24 months – a budget smartphone generally costs around £10 to £15 a month.

But if do you want an iPhone, these tend to come at a premium. A brand new iPhone can cost upwards of £800 for latest model (iPhone 15) or around £30 a month (usually with an additional upfront cost) on contract – though you could go for a cheaper, older model.

Use our Find me a phone tool to find a deal that suit your budget.

Or you could consider purchasing a certified refurbished phone, as these can be much cheaper than buying new. Refurbished phones are thoroughly tested, repaired, and restored to a like-new condition (and they usually come with a warranty too). Currently, you can get a refurbished iPhone 7 in 'Good' condition for £75. To buy this new, it currently costs £200, so the refurb saves £125. See Cheap Mobile Finder refurbs.

pay for the phone and airtime together

What is the best Sim card for teenagers & children?

Whether you're giving your child a hand-me-down or you've bought a phone for them outright, you'll need to get them a Sim card. A Sim is a small chip that goes inside the phone and allows it to connect to the internet and make phone calls. There are two ways of paying for a Sim: 

  • Pay-as-you-go. A pay-as-you-go Sim allows you to top up your account with credit, and then use that credit to make calls, send texts and use data. This is useful if you don't expect your child to use the phone much or just want to avoid the dreaded bill shock, but it tends to be the more expensive option. See our Best pay as you go guide for more.

  • Contract. A contract Sim card includes a set allowance of minutes, texts and data that are refreshed each month. Contract lengths vary from 30 days to two years and they tend to be cheaper than pay-as-you-go. See our Sim only finder for more.

If you just want the cheapest Sim

If you don't mind what network your child is on and you just want the cheapest Sim, you can use our Cheap Mobile Finder to filter Sims by data requirements and/or network. Most networks and phones do have some basic parental controls in place by default.

You can add your child to a 'family Sim' plan so you only pay one bill – it can be more convenient, but costly

It's likely you'll be managing the Sim contract for your child, so you may wish to stick them on same network as you. It means just one bill and one payment each month.

Some networks, including EE, O2, Tesco Mobile and Smarty, offer 'multi-line discounts' if you take out multiple plans, for example EE offers up to 30% discount for each additional Sim taken out with it.

Whilst this might be convenient, it can be costly. For example, with EE's multi-line discount, its cheapest Sim comes with 2GB of data each month and with the discount, would cost £11.20/month on a 12-month contract. In comparison, you can currently get 3GB of data for '£2.70/month' (one-month contract).

Want more control? Consider a specialist Sim card for kids

Most networks provide basic content filtering and this usually does an adequate job at protecting kids from seeing inappropriate websites. 

But if you're concerned about your child having a phone and want greater protections, ParentShield* is a specialist Sim that's designed for protecting children on their mobile. 

It has a bunch of specialist features that aims to help keep your child safe, including:

  • Uninterrupted coverage - ParentShield piggybacks on Three's network, but it can to connect to other networks' masts if the signal with Three is poor or unavailable, so you'll have a better chance of your child being contactable at all times.

  • Time controls - You can set 'school block' controls, which stops all calls, texts and mobile data between the hours of 9am and 3pm. They'll only be able to contact approved numbers and emergency services during these times. You can also set controls for bedtime too.

  • Monitor your child's calls and texts - An optional settings but this helps you monitor what calls and texts your child is receiving, alerting you to unusual patterns and scanning messages for concerning words.

  • Data and spending controls - These allow you to see how much data your child has left and to hold some in reserve should you need to locate the device. Spending controls allow you to block all premium rate services and overseas calls and anything that has an additional cost.

ParentShield offers six different Sims. Its cheapest is £9.99/month and includes 250 minutes and texts with PAYG data, so you pay £1.60 for each megabyte used. If you don't want it to be able to access the internet, it's also available as a 'no data' Sim. Its most expensive is £59.99/month and includes 500 minutes and texts, plus 20GB/month of data.

It's quite pricey compared to a standard cheap Sim, though it's the only Sim provider we could find with advanced parental controls built in.

⚠️ Note. ParentShield's controls only work when connected to its mobile network, so it wouldn't work when connected to Wi-Fi or personal hotspots, for example. You'll need to set up separate parental controls if your child plans on using the internet via these channels.

Don't want your child to have access to the internet?

If you just want you child to have a phone that's capable of calls or texts in an emergency, with no access to the internet, there are options. 

You can go for a pay-as-you-go Sim and simply turn off mobile data with your device's parental controls. The Sim does technically still have the ability to connect to the internet, but your child wouldn't be able to do so unless you allow it.

You can technically do this with any Sim, but if you get one on contract, most come with a data allowance included, so if you completely block internet access you're paying for something you don't need. 

However, there is one contract Sim from Asda Mobile* that comes with unlimited minutes and texts (but no data) for £4 a month on a one-month contract (so you can cancel at anytime). That means they're always contactable but won't have mobile internet. Though be aware without mobile data, features such as 'Find my Device' or 'Find my iPhone' wont work unless it's connected to Wi-Fi.

A couple of tips...

  • Be careful of credit checks

    For contract plans, these can vary in contract lengths, from 30 days/one month, to one or two years. For most contracts, signing up usually involves a credit check. Some providers of 30 day/one month contracts will only carry out a 'soft search' on your credit file. This just means it's confirming your identity and it won't usually affect your credit score.

    For longer contracts of one or two years, providers tend to carry out a 'hard search' on your file. These do tend to impact your credit score initially. 

  • Consider setting a spend cap

    To prevent unexpected charges, consider setting a spend cap. This way, you can avoid excessive data charges and have peace of mind knowing your child won't accidentally rack up a hefty bill.

    You can usually do this when you sign up to a Sim, or in your account once registered.

How to set parental controls

In today's digital age, ensuring your child's safety online is key. With so many different types of platforms and content, it's crucial to equip yourself with the right tools to keep your kids protected.

Parental controls are a set of features and settings that allow parents or guardians to monitor and control their child's access to certain content, applications and services on their mobile devices. 

If you plan on giving your child an iPhone or Android device, there are controls you can put in place that'll help keep your child safe online. Apple's parental controls and Google's Family Link lets you set the following controls:

  • Screen time limits
  • Block certain apps
  • Limit access to inappropriate content in the app store and web content
  • Put limits on permissions such as access to the camera 
  • Prevent app store purchases
  • Location tracking
a screenshot from an iPhone showing the menu 'Is this iPhone for yourself or your child?'

How to set up parental controls on iPhone

With iPhone, you'll need to set up Family Sharing. To do this, your child needs to have their own Apple ID (requires an email address). Once set up, most of these controls can be set by navigating to Settings and tap Screen Time. Tap to turn on screen time and you'll then be asked if the iPhone is for yourself or for your child, select This is My Child's iPhone. From there, follow the steps to set up as many controls as you'd like. See Apple for full instructions on how to set and manage controls.

How to set up parental controls on Android

With any Android device (Samsung, Google etc), you'll be able to use Google's Family Link. To do this, your child needs to create their own Google account (requires an email address). Once created, install the Family Link app which is available via Google's Play Store and you'll be able to set controls by navigating to Settings and tap Digital Wellbeing and parental controls, then tap Parental Controls to get started.

How to block or limit access to app stores and in-app purchases 

We've all heard horror stories of kids racking up £100s in charges through in-app purchases – where the child has access to an app store which is linked to, and has free access to, the parent's bank account or credit card. To make sure this can't happen, block purchases, or make sure they need a password. Here's how: 

  • On an iPhone. To block apps or password protect them, go to Settings, select Screen Time, and enter the Screen Time passcode. Then, tap iTunes & App Store Purchases. Under In-App Purchases, select Don't Allow.

  • On an Android phone. To block in-app purchases on Android, open the Family Link app, select your child, then go to Content restrictions, and tap on Google Play. In the Purchases & download approvals section, tap Require approval for and choose the type of purchase approval you prefer (All content, only paid content, only in-app purchases, or no approval required.

Check your network's parental controls

If the phone doesn't allow you to set parental controls, you might still be able to use Sim card controls. These vary between networks, but most apply basic content filtering by default, which blocks access to age-inappropriate sites.

To check, you can contact the network, or if it lets you manage your account online, you can usually find parental controls there.

But remember that any parental controls set on the Sim card will only apply when it's connected to the network. The controls won't apply if you're connected to your home's (or others') Wi-Fi. So if it's possible, be sure to set similar restrictions on your Wi-Fi network for continuous protection.

Online safety & wellbeing is important

As we're MoneySavingExperts, not online safety experts, we think it's best to share information from organisations that know this area better than we do...

Key online safety resources

Resource Key info
Thinkuknow by NCA-CEOP

The National Crime Agency's Child Exploitation and Online Protection command offers comprehensive resources for parents and children, including videos for kids and guides for parents.

Childnet

Begin a conversation about online safety with your kids using Childnet's guidance. Its tips help parents and carers initiate discussions and encourage safe online habits. It also offers advice on keeping under-fives safe in the digital world.

NSPCC The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children offers guidance to help parents and carers create a protective online space for their children. Learn how to identify potential risks and take proactive measures.
Barnardo's Children's charity Banardo's offers resources for parents about online safety. It includes videos addressing concerns about explicit content, expert tips for starting conversations with children, answers to common questions, and guidance on discussing online pornography.
UK Safer Internet Centre Access invaluable tips and advice to keep your children safe online. Additionally, if you encounter harmful content, the UK Safer Internet Centre lets you report it. 
Online Safety Hub Created by South West Grid for Learning in collaboration with Internet Matters, it provides tailored advice for young people with additional learning needs and their parents or carers. Navigate online spaces confidently, regardless of individual requirements.

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