Child's first phone for Christmas? Consider these tips from a parenting expert first

Child's fist phone - an image of a smiling boy wearing a Santa hat and using smartphone
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If your child's first phone is set to be among the pressies under the Christmas tree this year, you're bound to have some questions about this milestone parenting moment.

After the big developmental milestones in childhood like weaning, learning to walk and talk, not to mention finally getting your child to sleep through the night, one of the biggest parenting hurdles has to be deciding when is the right time for your child's first phone.

Parenting expert Anita Cleare, co-founder of the Positive Parenting Project and author of The Work/Parent Switch, a positive parenting guide for working parents, is working with the SIM-only mobile network SMARTY Mobile to offer expert advice for parents who are considering buying their child their first mobile phone this Christmas.

From decoupling your handset from a monthly contract - allowing the flexibility of a SIM-only deal to accommodate your child’s lifestyle - to choosing a plan with unlimited calls and texts so that you can keep in contact with your offspring at all times - the tips are designed to help calm the nerves of parents faced with dilemmas around their child's first phone.

Your child's first phone is a huge buying decision. With more youngsters than ever popping pricy mobile handsets on their Christmas wish lists, SMARTY Mobile decided to team up with Anita Cleare to create these top tips to help you navigate the challenges that come with buying a child’s first phone:

1. Consider offering your child's first phone on a trial basis

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This gives your child a chance to show they can be responsible. It also gives you a chance to work out how they are going to use it and what rules you might need to have in place around phone use. A SIM-only deal that is flexible and can be cancelled at any time is really useful for this.

2. Make sure you can contact them at all times

If the main reason you're giving your child a phone is so they can get in touch with you in an emergency, make sure they have unlimited calls and texts so there is no danger of them running out of credit or racking up an unexpected bill. Knowing that they can always contact you provides safety and reassurance.

3. Find a plan that fits your family’s lifestyle

It’s hard to predict how children will use their phones if they’ve never had one before. Some children put it in their bag and hardly touch it while others are non-stop chatting - and sharing cat videos that burn through data. The way children use their phones can change almost overnight as they change schools or take up new activities, so don’t tie yourself into a long contract that won’t be suitable after a while or won’t adapt to a child's changing needs.

4. Start off with a simple phone

Children lose things and drop things. Don’t set them up to fail (and yourself up for stress) by giving them the most expensive latest model. Start off with a hand-me-down or cheap second-hand phone. If they want to upgrade to something fancier, older kids could do jobs around the house to save up for it - a great way to help them learn the value of money.

Remember that children learn to be responsible through practice, so start them off with a simple phone and there will be fewer arguments over broken screens - and a lot less stress for you.

5. Prioritise value for money

When looking for a SIM, minimise the hassle by looking for a brand that is great value all year round rather than a too-good-to-be-true seasonal deal. Transparency is key and you want to be sure there are no hidden costs and no surprise bills. So that you can be confident of great value, honesty, and no nasty surprises, look for a Which? approved brand such as SMARTY, which has a 4-star rating on Trust Pilot and is a recognised Which? Recommended Mobile Network Provider.

"If the time is right for your child’s first mobile phone, keep it safe and simple," advises parenting expert Anita Cleare. "Start them off with a cheap second-hand phone so there’s no stress about expensive breakages. Choose an all-inclusive deal so you don’t have to worry about unexpected bills and if the point of the phone is to be able to contact you in an emergency, make sure they have unlimited calls so there is no danger of them running out of minutes. You will want to put some rules in place around their phone use but be prepared to adapt the rules over time – the way your child uses their phone will change, so be flexible and keep the dialogue open.”

And if you don't feel your child is ready for a phone of their own, don't fall for the line that 'everyone else at school' already has one. They probably don't. And even if they do, that's no reason to put such a powerful piece of kit in a child's hands until you're good and ready.

4GB, commitment-free SIM plan | £6 per month - SMARTY
4GB, commitment-free SIM plan | £6 per month - SMARTY
SMARTY offers a range of SIM plans that include unlimited calls and texts to standard UK landlines and mobiles and roaming within EU countries (up to 12GB). They also offer Group Plans, allowing you to see how much data is left on a plan, and allows you to control spending on an account, so there are no nasty surprises such as calls to premium numbers.
Apple iPhone 13 | £39.99 per month - Carphone Warehouse
Apple iPhone 13 | £39.99 per month - Carphone Warehouse
If there's no avoiding forking out for a fancy iPhone for your teen this Christmas, a deal like this - with unlimited data, minutes and texts - could be a good place to start.
Vtech Kidicom Advance Kids Mobile Device | £179.99 - Amazon
Vtech Kidicom Advance Kids Mobile Device | £179.99 - Amazon
If there's no avoiding the plea for a phone for Christmas but you're not ready for the real thing, go for this smart device for kids which lets them securely exchange messages with family and friends and has a camera feature and lots of games, apps, and ebooks to download. You can even set a screen time limit.
Leapfrog Chat and Count Smart Phone | £15.99 - AmazonOk, it's not really a kids' smartphone but it is a bargain for a child's first phone - as long as your child is aged between 18 months and four years old.
Leapfrog Chat and Count Smart Phone | £15.99 - Amazon
Ok, it's not really a kids' smartphone but it is a bargain for a child's first phone - as long as your child is aged between 18 months and four years old.

A child's first phone: what age should a child get their first phone?

There's no 'right' age for a child to get their first phone but many parents give their children smartphones before they start secondary school so that it's easy to keep in touch with youngsters travel to and from school without parents and start to develop more independence.

It's surprisingly common, however, for a child's first phone to be a hand-me-down that they're given at a much younger age. Maturity is more important than age when it comes to a child's first phone, however. Some youngsters have the skills and maturity to cope with a phone - and adhere to any rules that come with it - at a much younger age than others. You know your child better than anyone else and communication is always key when it comes to big parenting decisions like the right time for a child's first phone. Speak to your child about the risks as well as the advantages of having a phone in their pocket, and prepare them for this important milestone just as you do for any other. You wouldn't leave little ones to cross the road without teaching them how to do so safely, so don't hand over a mobile phone without equipping them with the skills to use it appropriately.

Heidi Scrimgeour
Deputy Editor

As a parenting specialist for more than 15 years, Heidi has written for most national newspapers and for a wide range of consumer magazines, including Mother & Baby where she was the Shopping Editor for six years, looking after regular consumer features including buying guides and gift roundups.