Buying a phone for your child? 7 questions you need to ask

You’ve decided to get your child their first phone. But with so many features and safety considerations, it’s important to do your research first.

If your child is starting at secondary school this September, you might be considering getting them their first phone.

When choosing a phone it’s important to understand what types of phones are available, what certain features do and online dangers children may encounter. If your child is starting secondary school, Internet Matters has some e-safety tips for parents.

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Feature phone or smartphone - what's the difference?

Feature phones are very basic and are suitable for making calls and sending texts. They cost from between £5-£50. Because features are so minimal, they are a good choice for very young children. They are cheap, easy to use and don’t typically include access to the internet (wi-fi or data) or a camera.

Smartphones are more expensive, and typically include a colour touchscreen, camera, and internet access. They typically cost from £50-£500. Smartphones can do many things, which is great for older children – they can play games and check Facebook, but they are probably not suitable for younger children.

Do they need internet access?

For many parents, the biggest concern about giving a child a phone is giving them access to the internet.  Whether it’s unmonitored chat-rooms, explicit photos or violence, the web is full of content that isn’t suitable for children.

There are two ways to get online and access the internet from a phone, via wi-fi or data.

A wi-fi-enabled phone will be able to access the internet via home wi-fi or at a wi-fi hotspot. If a phone has data, it can access the internet anywhere. 

BT has safeguards to stop children accessing unsuitable content, whether they are getting online at home using wi-fi or out and about using data. Parental Controls allow you to set a filter, which blocks content around subjects such as: Games, Drugs, Nudity, Dating and even Social Networking.

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Children on smartphone

How can I keep them safe if they go online using wi-fi?

If your child will be accessing the internet at home using wi-fi, BT Parental Controls is free to broadband customers and allows parents and carers to block unsuitable content with filters, block specific websites and set filters for homework time, so your child can't go online.

Owners of wi-fi-enabled phones can get online for free at many wi-fi hotspots, potentially accessing undesirable content.

As a parent, if your child tries to get online at a BT Wi-fi hotspot using your ID, BT Parental Controls still apply. However these controls don’t apply to third-party hotspots, which mean they could access unsuitable content.

If you are seriously worried about your child accessing unsuitable content, choose a feature phone without wi-fi.

How can I keep them safe if they go online using data?

A phone needs to be on a plan which includes data (which is measured in MB and GB), or have sufficient pay as you go (PAYG) credit to access to internet.

BT Mobile has separate parental controls, which you can use to block unsuitable content from your childs phone if they get online using data. Controls are divided into 3 levels: Strict for content deemed only suitable for the over-12s, Light to block content only suitable for adults and Off to allow everything. 

Find out more about setting up Parental Controls at home and when your child is out and about.

What types of phone plan are there?

The main three types of phone plan: SIM only, Pay Monthly and Traditional PAYG

SIM-only: This type of tariff is a good choice if your child already has a phone or if you want to give them one of your own. For a set fee the child gets a specific number of minutes, texts and some data. With BT Mobile's Family SIMwhich is available on SIM only and handset plans, the more SIMs you have, the more money you save. You'll get one bill for all the family and you can set individual spend caps for each child, track how much data, minutes and calls they have made and even what choose what features they can access.

Pay Monthly: Adding your child and their phone to an existing Pay Monthly tariff seems like a good choice for parents. You can control what tariff they are on and monitor who they call with itemised billing. However, it’s very easy for your child (particularly if they are older) to run up high call charges, by calling abroad or texting premium rate numbers. To help you avoid this BT Mobile lets you set caps for anything outside of your plan.

Traditional pay-as-you-go: Here you top up a certain amount of credit which can be used for calls, texts and data. Once the credit has been used it needs to be topped up again. This type of plan was popular a few years ago, but now SIM-only plans offer better value.

[Read more: Internet safety advice for parents of pre-teens]

What about social networking?

Many children have Facebook accounts. Facebook is easy to update using a mobile phone which has data or wi-fi internet access.

Make sure your child's privacy settings are activated otherwise complete strangers could look them up, find out where they live, what school they go to and their movements. Find out about setting Facebook privacy controls.

Talk to your child about potential dangers of accepting friend request from strangers and posting too much personal content online. Internet Matters has a guide for parents on the risk of social networking and advice on how to keep them safe.

 

Girl on smartphone

Are there any other phone features I need to be aware of?

Yes, modern smartphone have many features so it’s worth being aware what these features do, turning them off if necessary and talking to your child about potential dangers.

Bluetooth: Bluetooth is a type of wireless connectivity, typically used for connecting a phone to speakers to play music without cables, or a headset for hands-free calls.

If Bluetooth is turned on, any nearby Bluetooth-enabled device will be able to scan and detect the phone, attempt to connect and potentially send it photos. A request pops up on the screen and your child has to choose to accept or decline the photo.

Turn Bluetooth off on phones belonging to very young children and advise older children never to accept Bluetooth messages from strangers.

Camera: Taking photos using a phone camera is fun and a good way to encourage creativity. From your phone it’s easier than ever to take a photo and post it on Facebook, or shoot a video and post it to YouTube using wi-fi or data.

What might seem like harmless fun to your child could get them in trouble with a school or friends’ parents. Advise your child of the consequences of posting private content online and ensure Facebook privacy settings are locked down. Find out more about inappropriate content 

GPS: Many phones include a GPS antenna, used for determining the location of the phone for services like Google Maps. Facebook and FourSquare use GPS data or location-based services, enabling the user to “check in” at a specific place. 

If activated the location of your child can be posted on his or her feed for all “Friends” to see. That’s why it’s so important to ensure your child’s Facebook and WhatsApp privacy settings are secure. Go into the settings menu, look for location settings and turn them off. Some networks will also turn off location services, so contact your network provider.

Finally....

Don’t be put off getting a phone for your child – mobiles are a fantastic way to check your child is safe, just do your research and educate your child about the dangers of choosing a mobile phone.

Read more: Step-by-step guides to keeping your children smartphone safe 

For a comprehensive and easy-to-use resource of information to keep your child safe online, BT recommends Internet Matters. 

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