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How to choose a mobile phone for your child

Choosing a phone for your child can be a daunting experience. Children are more tech savvy than ever, often more so than their parents, and mobile phones now offers more features than ever,  with internet, photos and games, so choosing the right handset isn’t straightforward.

Increasing numbers of children have handsets. A report from Ofcom from earlier this year found that 18% of 5-15 year olds own a smartphone and between the group 12-15 this rises to 35%.

Ultimately whatever age you decide to give your child a handset is entirely your decision. For many parents a good time is when their child hits secondary school at approximately the age of 12. They’ll be in a totally different environment and having a handset may give them a sense of security.  Although of course you may choose to let them have a phone when they are older or younger, depending on the circumstances.

What type of contract to choose?

There are a huge range of mobile phones available, so before deciding on a handset the first things you need to consider is the type of contract. In there UK there are three main types of phone package.

Pay Monthly: Sign up to a 12 or 25 month contract, typically with a free phone and a set number of minutes, download time and texts. The advantage here is that you can get itemised monthly bills, so you know exactly who your child has been texting and talking too. There are financial implications to; your child will always be able to contact you without running out of credit, although this also means this is easy to run up large bills.

In order to get a Pay Monthly phone your child needs to have a credit check, which means they need to be 18-years old. You can get around this by purchasing the phone yourself – perhaps as a second handset on your bill – but the networks don’t encourage this.

Pay As You Go: Typically PAYG handsets are far cheaper, unusually costing up to £100 or you can get a free sim to use in a handset of your own. Top up in small increments starting from £5 by credit/debit card, or by using a card in many supermarkets and shops. The advantage of PAYG is that you aren’t tied-into a long-term contract, so you are unlikely to be stung by big bills. The disadvantage is that once the credit goes your child can’t make calls or text – which is not ideal if you need to keep in touch.

Sim only: A sim-only deal gives a specific number of minutes and often unlimited texts, for a flat monthly rate on either a 12-month or rolling 30-day contract. If you are passing down an old phone to a child and don’t need a new phone this is often the plan to go for because your child won’t have to worry about keeping the phone topped up with credit.

Network restriction

We’ve mentioned Pay Monthly legal restrictions, each network has its own policy on selling PAYG phones, which may affect your choice.

O2: there’s no minimum age, but the company is keen to stress it doesn’t market to under-16s

Orange: the company will not sell PAYG (or contract handsets) to anyone under the age of 18

Three: like O2 the company doesn’t actively market to under-16s

Vodafone:  the phone giant doesn’t market to children under the age of 16, although the company doesn’t ask for proof of age in store

Phone features to consider

Even the most basic feature phone can be used for making calls and text. However features traditionally only available on high-end smartphones are now found on even the cheapest handsets. While this is great news for accessing rich content like apps and games, each feature could pose issues for young users.

The Internet

One of the main worries of choosing a phone for your child is that they’ll access be able to access a host of unsuitable content via the web.

Each of the major UK networks has signed up to the Independent Mobile Classification Body’s code of conduct, which means content classified as over-18 is restricted by mobile operators. This applies to video and audio visual content, still pictures and mobile games, non-text audio and voice-only services, moderated and un-moderated chatrooms and subscription based content.

Typically the operators restrict content until the user proves they are Picture credit Vodafone18 – usually by giving credit card details. Below you can see what each individual network offers.

Orange: Orange Safeguard is a filter that prevents 18-rated content being accessed by users younger than 18 or those whose age can’t be verified as over 18. Register for Orange Safeguard by calling 150 (Pay Monthly) or 450 (PAYG).

O2: By default 18-rated content is blocked automatically until the user verifies their age. In additionparents can turn on Parental Control that restricts the content that can be accessed via the handset to websites classified as suitable for people up to 12-years old. Access this by texting 61818.

T-Mobile: T-Mobile has three levels of Content Lock: On, Moderate and Off. By default all mobile are set to Moderate, which doesn’t allow the user to access unmoderated and interactive websites, chat rooms and 18-rated material, although access to Twitter, Facebook and Flickr is allowed. To change the setting text On, Moderate or Strict to 879.

Vodafone: Content Control blocks inappropriate picture and web services over the network. By default all phones come with it in place, although the restriction can be lifted at point of sale or after, as long as the customer can prove he/she is over 18.

It’s worth remembering that if you are passing your old phone down to your child, the content restrictions may need to be put in place again, so check with your individual network operator.

Most modern handset include GPS, while this is a great way of finding your exact location, should you get lost, but it means location-based services are becoming more common. These are useful for locating nearby services – such as your local cinema – or for finding shopping vouchers, but many now integrate with social networking services like Facebook, so it’s easy to unwittingly reveal your childs’ location to third-parties.

It’s worth being aware or FourSquare. This really popular app works by a process of check-ins that can be post your exact location to your Facebook wall for anyone to see. If your child is going to use this make sure their Facebook privacy settings are activated (see below).

If you are really worried you can deactivate location-based services by manually turning them off (right), but for added piece of mind your network can do this for you (for O2 call 1300). It’s worth bearing in mind that even if the location service has been turned off, the information can still be accessed by the police should an emergency occur.

Most modern handsets have built-in Bluetooth, which is a wireless method of transferring data. If Bluetooth is set to ‘on’ anyone within the vicinity with a mobile phone can detect the handset and send it pictures. Yes, your child has to accept the message to receive it, but for a child it will be very tempting to accept it, so for very young children we suggest turning it off altogether.

The majority of mobile phones include a digital camera. While this is certainly a fun feature to have, it can also be dangerous. It’s easier than ever to post a picture to Facebook, which means if your privacy settings aren’t locked down, strangers can see the pictures and identify your child.
Posting videos to YouTube is another consideration. A video can be posted to YouTube within seconds and once a video is in the public domain anyone can see it. Something that may seem like harmless fun could have repercussions later. For instance talking about a school colleague or filming yourself trespassing could cause problems if teachers or even the police see it.

There’s no easy way of preventing this occurring, so it’s best to talk to your child and explain the consequences.

For adults WiFi is a must have, the advantage being that you can access the Internet anywhere that has a connection – from your front room to McDonalds – either for free or for a small fee.
However, for children the disadvantage of having WiFi is that they’ll be able to bypass content restrictions the networks have to adhere too, thus potentially accessing restricted content meant for 18-year olds. To avoid this choose a phone that doesn’t have built-in WiFi and if it does make sure the content restrictions are in place, you can also apply parental controls over WiFi.


Which handset to choose?

With so many phones on the market it’s hard to know exactly what to go for. Feature phones typically have fewer features and are cheaper, but smartphones are getting cheaper too.

Vodafone 555 Blue
Nestled into this full QWERTY keyboard is a Facebook button, music player and 2-megapixel camera. There’s no WiFi, but Bluetooth is included.


Nokia C2-01
A basic handset for calls, texts and the odd bit of browsing. The screen is tiny, but there’s a 3.2-megapixel camera, Bluetooth and 3G, but no WiFi.

Orange Barcelona
This Android handset includes a full QWERTY keyboard for typing and messaging. 2.6-inch screen and 3.2-megapixel camera. WiFi and Bluetooth are on board.



Premium rate numbers and spam

Once you’ve researched and chosen a phone for your child, sit down and have a chat with them about when what the phone can do and when they can use it. You may want to put in restrictions such as when or where they can use the handset and it’s worth checking the school policy.

It’s also worth discussing premium rate phone numbers. Typically starting with a 09 or being just five numbers, these are attractive to children because calling them up they can listen to music of access new ringtones, but they can quickly bump up the bill.  It’s possible to block them using your network operators customer services.

Spam is a problem that affects many people. Spam consists of a message telling you you’ve won a prize or been entered into a prize draw and usually includes a (premium rate) number to call. If you child starts receiving Spam  it can be really tempting for them to reply or call the number in the message. It’s best just to delete them or you can usually stop these by following the instructions on the message or often by replying STOP.

Advise your children to be careful when signing up to anything online and if they do, tick the opt out marketing option.

Social networking

Social Networking is something that more and more people of different ages are embracing. We’re not going to go into social networking security in a great detail here, because it is a huge topic. But it’s something that is increasingly done using mobile phones.

According to Ofcom 34% of children between 8-12 who are active on the web have a social networking profile and in the age group 10-12 this increases to 47%. This is despite Facebook stating in its privacy policy: ‘If we learn that we have collected personal information from a child under age 13, we will delete that information as quickly as possible.

It’s still relatively easy to join, so if there’s a chance your child will set one up anyway, it’s best to give to prepare them as much as possible about any dangers. If you are concerned there are some things you can do straight away, such as making sure Facebook and Twitter privacy settings are active (which it’s far easier to do on a PC). Facebook has an incredibly complex system, so we’d suggest setting it up so that only friends can see the profile and post to the wall and Twitter set so that only you have to approve follows. You can also choose who can send your child messages and friend requests.

Although more children are locking their privacy settings down Ofcom found: 32% of children aged 12-15 with an active social networking profile speak to friends of friends and people they don’t know. One in five 12-15 year olds would be happy to share an email address online. So it’s best to talk to your child first and warn them of potential dangers and here are some general tips you can give:

1: Never share your email address, home address or telephone number to anyone you don’t know online
2:If anyone wants to meet up outside of a social networking website or chatroom, always inform an adult
3:Never meet up with anyone you don’t know you’ve met online
4:Be very careful before posting photos and videos online. It’s very easy for someone to download a photograph and email it or share it and if someone asks for your photograph, don’t give it to them.
5: Don’t accept presents or gifts

6: Don’t accept a friend request from someone you don’t know

One of the negative side effects of modern technology is that cyber-bullying is more prevalent.
This can take many forms: from abusive texts, to chat room abuse, unwelcome comments on a Facebook wall. According to Ofcom 47% of children aged 12-15 know someone who has had gossip spread about them online or via a text message.

Vodafone has an article full of useful advice about it here. If your child is being bullied the best thing they can do is tell an adult, older brother or sister or teacher, alternatively they can call Childline on 0800 1111 in complete confidence.

Security tips for using your phone

As well as being an important method for keeping in touch with family, a phone is a desirable item for many thieves, here are a few simple tips.

1: Keep it separate from other valuables, such as a wallet
2: If you need to use your phone don’t draw attention to yourself
3: When using it in the evening stick to well lit areas
4: Protect it with a password
5: Don’t lend your phone to anyone beyond friend or family
6: If you are threatened by thieves who want your phone, hand it over straight away.
7: Register your handset at Immobilise a free service that can help police identify your belongings if they are recovered


It might seem like a lot of information to take in, but don’t be scared about getting a phone for your child. The benefits of being able to keep in touch is something just didn’t exist 15 years ago. It’s best to be aware and communicate with your child as much as possible.


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