Teen holding a smartphone.

How to Choose a Smartphone for Your Teen

by Screen Time Team on 24/02/2021

Overview: When buying your child’s first smartphone, safety, quality, and standards need to be considered. Parents should buy a phone with strong controls while considering their tween’s needs, lay down rules for use, and install parental control software for an added layer of safety. 

Before You Buy a Smartphone

Like any major purchase, you shouldn’t rush into this one. Before you even pick a model, do this first:

  • Sit down and discuss what your tween will be using the phone for and why they want it. If it’s just to “keep up with the Joneses,” there’s an important lesson to be had about image versus reality.
  • Ask them which specific features they most want in a phone, while making it clear what you’re willing to pay. Be flexible, especially if they’re contributing money they’ve earned or been gifted.
  • Draft up a specific set of rules that touch on what times they can use the phone, which apps are and aren’t allowed, and what accountability there will be if they break these rules.
  • Familiarize yourself with the operating system of the phone, how it works, and any parental controls that are built in.
  • Research models available on your carrier, looking particularly at the build quality. Look for independent critics, not just reviews on the carrier’s site.
  • Decide on a plan. Prepaid can put a hard limit on their chatting and data, but you may need to put them on your family plan. Similarly, price out insurance plans for the device.

At the Store

Taking a photo with a smartphone.

Once you’re at the store, it’s a good opportunity to teach kids how to comparison shop.

  • Have them look at the phones, handle them if possible, and see how they feel. What looks good on paper may be less impressive in real life.
  • Look at available accessories for the phone. At the bare minimum, you’ll need a protective case that absorbs shocks and a screen protector to help prevent scratches and damage. A wrist strap or grip on the back of the case that doubles as a kickstand may also be useful.
  • Have your tween try out the operating system. Does it work for their needs? Can it run the apps they want?
  • Have them pay attention to the transaction and what’s involved. If, for example, there’s a payment plan that will be deducted from their allowance, you should have them do the math and understand exactly how much money they’ll be out if they lose or damage their phone.
  • Check to ensure that everything you need to charge and run the phone is included in the box.

After You Buy

Once you’ve chosen a phone, you’ll need to configure it to your wishes.

  • Help your kids connect any necessary accounts, like email, to their device. Log them into any services you agreed to have on the phone.
  • Block unsafe apps, either by setting an age restriction or by blocking them specifically in the phone’s software. Install any needed apps, as well, so they’re not asking you for the PIN constantly.
  • Update the parental controls, according to the agreement you drew up. Implement operating-system-level protections. 
  • Install parental control software like Screen Time, which can help parents enforce schedules and rules. 
  • To learn more about how Screen Time can give you peace of mind and help to keep your tween safe online, try it for free!

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