kids phone
From teens to elementary students, even the youngest members of the house can enjoy the right mobile device, complete with parental controls. Image Credit: Pexels/Karolina Grabowska

What is the best ‘first phone’ for your child? Mums and dads will generally start looking into one, once their child is a pre-teen or teenager. As school-age kids begin to spend more time away from home, engaged in extracurriculars and growing their social circles, parents might consider a cellular device for checking in. If you’re thinking ‘now’s the time’, we’ve compiled a handful of recommendations, keeping parental controls and web safety in mind.

When is the right age for my child to get a phone?

When you decide to introduce your child to a mobile phone, is up to you. According to the US-based non-profit Child Mind Institute, parent advocacy groups prefer to wait until the eighth grade, when teens are around 13 years old. Dr Ateeq Qureshi, senior consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist with the Priory Wellbeing Centre in Abu Dhabi, is of the same opinion.

"Usually one would say that children younger than secondary school age are too young to manage phone use responsibly and, generally, not in need of a phone. They don't partake in any activities independently, hence they don't need to communicate with their parents using a phone.

"Ultimately, the need is determined by parents, whether their child requires a communication tool. And, for older children, probably 13 or older (determined by the family), this could be for social communication needs," explained Dr Qureshi.

Today, there are child-friendly phones with camera and texting capabilities that have zero access to social media apps, like the Gabb Phone. For children aged 10 and under, some mums and dads may opt for watch phones or tablets, instead.

Which phone is the best for my child?

kids phone
Pick up pocket-friendly phones, instead of investing in high-end models, since kids will most likely grow out of them soon. Image Credit: Pexels/Katerina Holmes

Is your child ready for a flagship handset, or would they be better off with a rugged budget phone? Adult smartphones have a host of reliable features that you might find invaluable in terms of safety: GPS services, strong network range and smarter parental controls. But, consider if these can withstand the rigours of teenage life, too.

"Children and young people today feel immense peer pressure to have a smartphone," said Dr Rasha Bassim, medical director and specialist psychiatrist with the Priory Wellbeing Centre in Dubai, "lest they be excluded from key aspects of their day-to-to-day lives, such as friendship groups, discussions and social activities – all of which are now often intrinsically linked to phones in some way or the other."

In this case, a pocket-friendly flagship phone for your teen could fit the bill. Still, Dr Bassim advises, virtual interactions shouldn't replace face-to-face communication, which helps young people to develop into healthy and happy individuals. Bottom line? Mums and dads can look into mobile devices that are current yet offer simple features.

teens using phone
Establish ground rules on what content is appropriate for your child, say experts, for a stress-free introduction to handsets. Image Credit: Pixabay

“Besides the tablet, a child can use a simple phone to make and receive emergency calls with parents,” said Saif Abdullah, the CEO of HiPhone Telecom, a retailer of mobile phones and accessories for over 25 years in the UAE. “They should look into the device’s durability, screen size and processing speed, and consider light educational programmes with games for entertainment.”

Abdullah suggests that parents make the most use of their little one’s device, without relying on the internet too much. “Apple and Samsung smartphones have some of the most powerful parental control tools out there,” he added.

Having said that, Dr Qureshi points out that parental access should be based on "a relationship of openness and trust". It's best to set ground rules on age-appropriate content beforehand, so that both the child and the guardian are on the same page, to "avoid unnecessary snooping".

Browse the selection below, from iPhone to elementary watch phones, to find a gadget that best fits your child’s lifestyle. We’ve featured Abdullah’s picks “approved by parents”, with options for budget buys. Shop with Prime to get free, next-day delivery on the device.

1. Best iPhone for Kids: Apple iPhone SE (128 GB)

Pros

  • Budget-friendly latest model
  • Family Sharing makes it easier to monitor more than one child
  • Set up age restrictions, and download and purchase approvals
  • Limit and review screen time from your device
  • 5G cellular network

Cons

  • Family Sharing only works with an Apple ecosystem

Apple’s latest software upgrade, the iOS 16, offers parents its most advanced controls, yet. Your child can access all its new offerings without being bogged down by the high-performance features of, say, an iPhone 14. Keep it plain and simple with the third generation of iPhone SE, launched in 2022. Parents get to set up and manage parental controls via the Family Sharing group. This is especially beneficial if the family has an existing Apple ecosystem. Add age restrictions to your kid’s iPhone content in apps, books and TV shows, set up app limits, restrict communication, request download approvals and more. Another feature called Screen Time helps you encourage downtime – your child can always send a request for more screen time from their phone. If they’re trying to purchase in-game loot, turn on Ask to Buy in the group for approval from the family organiser. Besides parental control, expect fast loading times with the A15 Bionic chip and 5G cellular network. According to reviewers, the battery life is excellent.

Bonus: Buy with 0% installments and pay AED 154.08 for 12 months with select banks.

Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh114, a one-year accidental damage protection for Dh190, and a two-year damage protection plus one-year extended warranty for Dh242.

2. Best Android for Kids: Samsung Galaxy A53, 5G

Pros

  • Family Link app tracks location, limits access and screen time
  • Parents don’t need an Android to monitor
  • Budget-friendly latest model
  • Eye protection from blue light
  • Two-day battery life

Cons

  • Charger has to be bought separately

Our expert’s pick, the Samsung Galaxy A53, is a decent mid-range Android smartphone for children. It boasts a bigger screen than the iPhone SE at 6.5 inches, and protects the eyes with a single tap to limit blue light. At this price, you’re getting a 5G-enabled handset, with four rear cameras peaking at 64MP, and a 32MP front camera. As for parental controls, Samsung encourages parents to download Google’s Family Link app on both devices, which will then help them monitor usage. Keep tabs on their screen time, limit access to certain apps and check in on their device’s location. The best part is that parents can run Family Link on their iPhone and still apply settings to their child’s Android phone.

Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh110.75 for 12 months with select banks.

Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh86, a one-year accidental damage protection for Dh143, and a two-year damage protection plus one-year extended warranty for Dh182.

3. Best Value Android Phone: Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro + 5G

Pros

  • Supports Google’s Family Link app
  • Plays sound crafted by JBL
  • Large screen
  • Charges in 15 minutes
  • Works well for gaming

Cons

  • Camera is subpar

Another budget pick by Abdullah is Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 11 Pro+. This is a 5G-enabled Android device with a 6.67-inch display and capable performance speeds on the Snapdragon 695 chipset. It carries a 108MP triple camera setup, the quality of which is less impressive than expected, report reviewers. So, if this is a feature you can compromise on, the Note 11 Pro+ definitely fits the bill as a stylish economical handset. Its sound is crafted by the audio brand JBL to curate the perfect audio experience. Plus, the phone charges for the entire day in just 15 minutes. With 8GB RAM, 120Hz refresh rate and cooling technology, it can handle your child’s gaming sessions, too. Set up parental controls with Google’s Family Link app.

4. Best Rugged Phone on a Budget: Ulefone Armor X7, 4G

Pros

  • Safe from drops, dirt and water
  • Retains important features, like GPS and NFC
  • Waterproof cameras
  • Approved by parents in the reviews

Cons

  • Only 2GB of RAM

Ulefone Armor X7 is a 4G Android phone designed for those who work in damage-prone settings. Its invincible ruggedness protects the device from water, high-pressure jets, dirt and falls, making it perfect for teens with an active lifestyle. The 13MP and 5MP cameras are completely waterproof, too. Reviewers say that it can run your basic social apps, GPS and music – at this price point, though, speeds tad slower than flagship phones should be expected. Mums and dads in the reviews have picked the handset up for their teenage sons, since it can survive more than just a few drops.

Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh29, a one-year accidental damage protection for Dh48, and a two-year damage protection plus one-year extended warranty for Dh61.

5. Best Watch Phone: MyFirst Fone R1 , Black

Pros

  • Makes and receives audio and video calls
  • Carries Wi-Fi and 4G LTE support
  • SOS button sends a 30-second live recording of surrounding sounds
  • GPS tracking with geo-fencing

Cons

  • Video calls might not be possible in the UAE

If your child isn’t quite ready for a mobile device, try a watch phone instead. MyFirst Fone R1 is a waterproof GPS watch that doubles as a communication device, with SIM card support. It has built-in location services to help you track your little one in real-time, and if they’re lost, they can get in touch with you via the SOS button. With a compatible SIM, you can ring your child remotely, or use the Wi-Fi to check in on their study sessions through a video call at home. Parents in the reviews have purchased this for their kids as young as second graders, to watch over them as they take the bus and head to school. They report back clear audio calls, decent tracking and SMS feature.

Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh58.25 for 12 months with select banks.

Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh57, a one-year accidental damage protection for Dh95, and a two-year damage protection plus one-year extended warranty for Dh121.

Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.