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Your child’s first mobile phone: what you need to know

Getting a first mobile phone is a big moment in a child’s life – and it’s a big moment for parents too. 

Ofcom suggests 9 out of 10 children have their own phone by age 11 – often the time they start travelling by themselves to secondary school and building new friendship groups. 

But whatever moment – or age – you decide they’re ready for this step towards independence, there are plenty of things to consider. 

Here’s our guide to getting their first mobile device – and what comes next.


Finding the right device

Even after you’ve decided your child is ready for a phone, there’s still the question of exactly which to go for. 

New devices

The very newest handsets can come with eye-watering one-off costs – or with expensive contracts.

Despite having optimal battery life, accessories, up-to-date software, and compatibility with most apps, top-end devices may not always be the ideal starting point. They can easily be lost or stolen, and adding insurance is an extra monthly fee. 

Consider whether your child wants a certain device because of peer pressure, or because they’re worried that older/limited models may impact them socially (as they prevent them joining certain chats or engaging with the same apps as friends). 

This is an opportunity to chat with them about why they want a new device – providing they do. You could reassure them that the latest iPhone isn’t essential, or, alternatively, maybe there’s a way they could contribute towards the cost. 

Whatever you decide, try to do it together and discuss the reasons: financial or otherwise.  

Second-hand phones

Second-hand devices – whether a refurbished handset or an old device you have lying in a drawer – are a cheaper option. And a lot of the time they can meet your child’s needs. 

While refurbs should be thoroughly checked to ensure they’re good as new, they may not come with accessories like headphones and chargers, and might also be incompatible with some current apps and software updates.

If you’re giving them your old phone, you may also need to erase it of contacts, photos, bank details or other data. Reset to factory settings should do the job.

Set-up

Remember: no matter the device, it will need setting up correctly before your child starts using it.

Our guide to device safety settings offers plenty of support for setting up a device securely, and you can also search for more information online. Essential security measures like PIN codes or fingerprint recognition need setting up. 

You may want to add contact details for other family members and friends to the device, as well as your own. 

You might also need to set the time, date, and default language, and connect it to your home WiFi. 

Costs

New or second-hand, a phone has ongoing costs to think about.

Whether choosing fixed monthly contracts or pay-as-you-go, plan how it's going to be paid for. 

  • Monthly contracts. Users receive set amounts of data, minutes, and texts for a  monthly fee – although exceeding limits can add extra cost. You’ll usually be covering the price of the handset too (which can add expense) and you could be tied in for up to 24 months. You must be over 18 to take out a monthly contract.

  • SIM only. For old devices SIM-only plans can be useful. You can choose your preferred provider – though you may need to pay to ‘unlock’ the phone. Purchasing new SIMs for existing phones is more environmentally-friendly too. 

  • Pay-as-you-go. This can be a cheaper option – and you aren’t tied into a contract. However it could be harder to track spending, and some providers are phasing out these plans. 

  • Insurance. Most home and contents insurance policies cover device damage inside your property, but not while out and about. You can, however, get some basic cover for just a couple of pounds a month.

Data caps stop your child being charged for going over monthly allowances and are included in some plans. Certain providers also let you share data between family members. 

If you’re struggling to access devices or data for financial reasons then you might find our guide to affordable digital access helpful. 


Using the device

It’s always beneficial to establish some rules and boundaries for phone-use, and, of course, to set a good example too. 

Screen time

A first phone is naturally very exciting. Your child may not want to put it down. Depending on your situation, consider establishing when and where they can use it.

You might allow them to take their phone to school if they travel unsupervised – though be aware schools often have their own phone policies, particularly in class. 

Likewise, you may designate times when devices are off-limits, like during meals or just before bed. 

Role modelling behaviour goes a long way. If you’ve got a rule of no phones during dinner then it’s best if everyone sticks to it. Similarly, if there are different rules for different-aged members of your household, explain why this is.

Parental controls 

With a smartphone your child has internet access at their fingertips – so it’s important to set it up age-appropriately – and also to think about how much they use it. 

iPhones allow you to set ‘Downtime’, blocking apps and notifications during specific periods, as well as filtering out adult content. Google’s Family Link can also be used to manage screen time on Android devices, and their SafeSearch feature lets you block explicit search results.

All phones allow you to adjust privacy settings and manage downloads and purchases. Find out more about this in our digital family basics series and our parent guides library.

Age ratings

Smartphones are a new gateway to apps – and some of these will have recommended age-ratings which exceed your child’s age.

This is a sticky area – as age ratings aren’t always the easiest to understand. For example, social media apps like TikTok and Snapchat are rated 13+, whereas WhatsApp is rated 16+. This can be confusing when deciding which apps to let your child use.

You might consider WhatsApp OK (despite the higher age rating) when it’s used to keep in touch, and you could also be happy with them using certain social media platforms as long as they agree, for example, to check with you before accepting friend requests.

Smartphone gaming is big business. Be mindful that many gaming apps generate most of their revenue through in-game purchases, and can manipulate younger audiences. We recommend making sure card details aren’t saved to their phone. 

Help them learn

A first phone is a perfect opportunity for your child to show you they can be both independent and responsible. 

But they’re also exploring a new space and they should be allowed the opportunity to learn, discover – and even take the occasional risk. They’ll probably do something wrong at some point and (more often than not) this is okay. It is part of learning how to use digital devices. 

If something does go wrong, or they do something they shouldn’t, try to keep calm (which isn’t always easy). Listen to them and talk through the issue. 

Try to help them develop and change behaviours, rather than just taking the phone away. Developing responsibility and resilience is beneficial in the long-term. 

Privacy is equally as important: phones are by nature personal and private devices. Remember to give them space. This may mean they’re more likely to come to you with any questions or issues they have. 

Ultimately, supportive, nurturing, and consistent parenting will give them the best start to enjoying their new phone. 


Further reading:

Digital Family Basics 

Our Parent Guides library