Thinking of getting your child their first phone? A parenting coach shares her top five things parents need to consider (and #3 is mind-blowing)

Whether you choose a smartphone or a bog standard mobile, here are some useful things to consider first...

Woman in wheelchair talking on her smartphone, using speakerphone
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you're thinking about getting your child their first mobile phone but not sure where to start, we've got your back. We asked an expert for tips on navigating this milestone parenting moment.

It's no secret that reducing kids' screentime and whether teens should have smartphones are a huge topic of conversation among parents, schools and the Government. There are many parents out there who may have already given their tween a smartphone and are now wondering if it's okay to ever check their child's phone. And if you choose a smartphone, you then have social media to content with - read our article here on how bad social media can be for kids - it's so insightful with expert comments. But, as with all things family, it's ultimately your decision - only you know your family.

Your child's first phone is a huge buying decision. With more youngsters than ever popping pricy mobile handsets on their Amazon wish lists, so for this article we ask 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, to offer expert advice for parents considering buying their child their first mobile phone.

5 things to consider when buying your child's first mobile phone

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

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 with an impressive star rating on Trust Pilot and one that 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.

Woman smiling at camear
Anita Cleare (MA AdvDip)

Anita Cleare (MA AdvDip) is a parenting expert, writer and coach and co-founder of the Positive Parenting Project. Her book, The Work/Parent Switch (known as The Working Parent’s Survival Guide in USA) is a positive parenting guide for working parents (international editions available in German, Polish, Chinese and Romanian).

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.

In other family news, 15 'life-saving' questions to ask your child if they’re online gaming - plus 5 expert tips for keeping your kids safe and screens aren't the only reason children aren't playing outdoors.

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.