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

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. Here are the questions to ask.

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 plans are available, what certain features do and what online dangers children may encounter. Here are seven key questions you need to consider.

[Read more: Cyberbullying facts and advice]

1. What do you want your child to use their phone for?

Think about how your child will use their phone. Is it for emergencies? To help with homework? Are you happy for them to access the web and download games? 

Before you give them a phone, sit down and discuss the dangers and benefits, so you are both aware of what they can and can't do and when they can use it.

2. Should you get a feature phone or a smartphone?

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

Smartphones typically include a colour touchscreen, camera, and internet access. They typically cost from £50-£500 and above. Smartphones can do many things, such as play games and download social media apps, which makes them a good choice for older children, but they are probably not suitable for younger children.

3. Does your child need internet access?

For many parents, the biggest concern about giving a child a phone is that they'll be able to access the internet. Whether it’s chat-rooms, explicit photos or unsuitable videos, the web is full of content that isn’t suitable for children. Being able to go online means children can also access social networks like Facebook and Instagram, which have their own dangers we'll discuss in detail below.

There are two ways to access the internet from a phone, using wi-fi or data. 

A wi-fi-enabled phone will let you access the internet via home wi-fi or at a wi-fi hotspot. If a phone has data, you can access the internet anywhere, as long as you have a data SIM and can get a signal.

With smartphones you can do both, so if you really don't want your child to go online, opt for a feature phone that doesn't support wi-fi or 3G/4G (for data) like the Nokia 108.

Children on smartphone

4. What phone plan is the most suitable?

There are 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 an old one of your own. For a set price the child gets a specific number of minutes, texts and some data.

With BT Mobile's Family SIM, 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 is a good choice for some parents. You can control what plan 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 spend caps for anything outside of your plan via My Mobile.

Traditional pay-as-you-go: Here you top up with 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]

5. Will they be able to access social networks?

If you opt for a smartphone, your child will have access to social networking apps. 

Social networks are a great way to stay in touch with friends, but there are dangers for children. They could be at risk of cyberbullying, seeing inappriate content and even grooming. It's really important to make sure your child's privacy settings are activated, talk to your them about the risks of posting too much personal content online and potential dangers of accepting friend request from strangers and.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have a minimum age policy of 13 and WhatsApp’s is 16, but it's very easy for an underage child to put in a fake date of birth and set up an account.

Internet Matters, a not-for-profit e-safety organisation supported by BT, has guides for parents on guides for parents on social networking packed with tips and advice that are worth checking out.

Girl on smartphone

6. Have you considered Bluetooth, the camera and GPS?

Bluetooth: Bluetooth is a type of wireless connectivity, typically used for connecting a phone to speakers to play music without cables, or to link a phone to 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. It’s easier than ever to take a photo or video and post it on Facebook or YouTube.

What might seem like harmless fun to your child could get them in trouble with a school or friends’ parents. Talk to your child of the consequences of posting private content online and how easy it is for photos to be shared. 

GPS: Many smartphones include a GPS antenna, used for determining the location of the phone for services like Google Maps. Facebook 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. 

7. How can your keep your child safe online?

Don’t be put off getting a phone for your child – mobiles are a fantastic way to keep in touch with your child, just do your research, get the most suitable phone and educate them about potential dangers.

BT Parental Controls are free to broadband customers and allow you to restrict access to unsuitable content with filters, block specific websites and set filters for homework time, so your child can't go online. They also work if your child tries to get online at a BT Wi-Fi hotspot using your ID. However these controls don’t apply to third-party hotspots, which mean they could access unsuitable content.

BT Mobile has separate parental controls, which you can use to block unsuitable content from your childs phone if they go 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 about setting up Parental Controls on your childs smartphone 

Check out our Family SIM deals with discounts for extra SIMs

Visit Internet Matters for a comprehensive and easy-to-use resource of information to keep your child safe online

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