Giving your child a mobile phone is one of the great conundrums of modern parenthood. Is it really necessary? (Sort of.) When should they have one? (Debatable). What is the best phone for kids? (Depends on how old they are–and how neurotic you are). What should their first cell phone be? (There are way too many options). And also, more screen time? Ugh.
The screen portion is actually optional in kids’ cell phones, as it turns out. There are plenty of cheap cell phones for kids in basic styles available that function mostly as emergency cell phones for kids, rather than as another expensive tech device that turns them into phone-zombies (and affect their brain development!). And being able to keep in touch with your child–and potentially locate him or her at any given moment with GPS–is pretty priceless, as far as peace of mind goes. Whether you purchase a smartphone for kids, a prepaid phone for kids, or a phone with no internet at all (like the classic Firefly cell phone), it’s all about what you’re comfortable with, what you want to spend, and the level of freedom and sophistication your kiddo is ready for.
The options for 2021 range from durable, kid-proof cell phone/smart watch combos to ultra-basic, old-school models to more advanced smartphones. You can choose a cell phone with limited numbers to call, a prepaid phone, a screenless walkie talkie-style alternative, or one with ‘the works’ like video, internet, and more (like the infamous iPhone or iPod Touch). Perhaps best of all, most offer some sort of location tracking–because giving your kid freedom is important, but also terrifying.
Ahead, we’ve rounded up the best cell phones for kids in 2021. No matter your price range or parenting style, there’s a pick here that will keep everyone happy.
Best Emergency Phones
Want to be able to stay in contact but worried about zombifying your kids with more screen time? Enter this screen-free, one-touch alternative. There’s no internet, he or she can just press and hold the middle button to talk (with up to 10 other Relay users on 1 account), walkie-talkie style. The device attaches to kiddo’s backpack or jacket, but parents need only download the Relay app on their grown-up smartphone to use! One mama raves, “Relay is the perfect way to keep track of my son as he walks to and from school.”
Want to keep it simple? You may remember this little beauty from back in the day–and to be honest, it’s one of the best cell phones for kids insomuch as its hella basic, affordable, and lets you keep in touch. With this celly, your kid can make calls, play music, send texts, and take photos–and for a starter phone, that’s a pretty good deal.
The Gabb Z2 is great for kids and will put their parent’s mind at ease. With feature such as GPS tracking, unlimited texting, bluetooth, and 8MP camera.
Limited Cell Phone For Kids
This little guy is an ideal emergency phone for child use. A cell phone with limited numbers to call or text, as programmed by parents, this portable options also has a built-in GPS tracker, location history, and SOS feature that, when activated, will send a text message with your kiddo’s location to up to 3 cell phone number–and then it will autodial the numbers on the SOS list.
The brand known for kids tech toys has finally created a (Wi-Fi only) cell phone that lets kids send texts, voice messages, photos, and drawings to an approved list of contacts. Being learning-toy makers, the folks at Vtech have naturally outfitted the phone with 40 educational games, as well as a kid-safe web browser. It’s also got bumpers and a shatter-safe screen, because the best cell phones for kids are designed to withstand being treated like, well, toys.
This phone is super teeny (seriously, it can fit in the coin pocket of your jeans) but don’t underestimate its capabilities. Equipped with a built-in gyroscope that determines its position and orientation, the Jelly Pro also has plenty of memory to store music, a pedometer to track steps, and bluetooth support, all of which make it a contender for best first mobile phone for 11 year olds and up.
Smartwatch Cell Phone Combos
Need a little help keeping the little one in line? Verizon’s Gizmowatch is basically a wearable cell phone with limited numbers to call (up to 10 programmable contacts), messaging capabilities, and a step tracker–but that’s not all. With the GizmoHub app, you can literally set boundaries, via GPS, and get automatically alerted if your kiddo crosses one–sort of like having an electronic babysitter.
Smart watches that also function as emergency cell phones for kids? Yes, please. The MeritSoar Kids Smart Watch allows for 2-way calls, 2-way voice messages, and incoming texts, and features GPS and LBS (location-based services) to provide you with the precise location of your child at all times. It’s also got a camera, flashlight, math games, and more–so your kiddo might actually like it as much as you do.
Keep tabs on your kiddo, wherever and whenever. The TickTalk3 smart watch phone lets you communicate with your child via 2-way text messaging, video calling, voice messaging–and it includes group chat capabilities. This waterproof option, compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile networks only, also comes with a 4G tracker that allows you to input a specific time and playback where your kid has been.
Some of the best cell phones for kids are smart watches (the number one benefit being, of course, that it’s hard to misplace a device that’s worn on your wrist). This one comes with 5 different games built in, a camera, two-way calling, and an alarm clock.
Smart Phones For Young Kids
Kids need limits and yes, that definitely applies to mobile phones. A great first option if you’re concerned about excessive use (and excessive bills) is a prepaid cell. With the LG Rebel 4 smartphone, your kid can play games, watch videos, and keep in touch; it’s perfect for beginners, not to mention affordable.
What was designed with senior citizens in mind is actually one of the best cell phones for kids, especially younger ones who need something easy to use. With basic (we’re talking flip phone) capabilities, including giant buttons, a strong speaker, and simple yes/no navigation options, the Jitterbug phone is for kids who don’t need all the extra bells and whistles.
It’s pretty much inevitable that kids will drop their phones on at least a semi-regular basis. The Cat S41 is meant to be ultra-durable: It’s waterproof up to 6.5 feet for 60 minutes, drop-proof up to 6 feet, and has a scratch resistant screen as well as a ton of battery power to keep it charged for days. If you’re looking for a kid-proof cell phone, this is it.
The Honor9X is great for everyday cell use as well as keeping your kid entertained on long rides or trips, thanks to a sizable screen and high resolution for bright, sharp images and videos. It’s also got dual cameras, gaming capabilities, and, perhaps most importantly, a long-lasting battery–not too shabby for an option under $300.
Found the best cell phone for your kid? Perfect. Now shop more safety kid gear here!