Do you think your child is ready for their first mobile? It’s a tough one to answer… Buying mobile phones for children gives you easy access to them at all times. You can stay connected when they head to the mall, or go over to their friend’s place, and they can use their mobile in case of emergencies.

On the flip side, parents have to consider factors such as: Are they responsible enough? Is it a ‘need’ or just a ‘want to have’, like mummy’s and daddy’s? Will it distract them from schoolwork? Is it secure? What’s the cost?

It’s a decision parents need to take time to make, after several conversations with their child. If you’ve decided to go ahead and invest in a mobile phone, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Establish rules

Before heading out  to the nearest store to buy a mobile, sit down and establish rules and expectations about how you want your child to use their phone.

Be clear about why you are getting them a mobile, how you expect them to use it, and what the costs are. For example, if your pre-teen is getting a mobile for safety purposes, explain to them the importance of answering your calls when they are out and about.

Discuss usage time, especially with pre-teens who can spend hours chatting and talking to their friends, and ignoring school work in the process.

[Related: Emergency numbers: How to call 999 in the UAE | How to choose the right mobile plan for you | Useful mobile commands for UAE customers | Useful mobile commands for Saudi customers ]

Which plan should you get?

A prepaid plan (pay-as-you-go) is your best bet for controlling costs, rather than a post-paid (contract) plan. Contract plans give kids access to data, chargeable downloads and long and expensive phone calls. By the end of the month you could end up with a large bill. With a prepaid plan, you can limit data usage and how long they spend on the phone.

[Compare mobile phone plans in UAE| Compare mobile phone plans in Saudi Arabia]

Which mobile should you get?

Think carefully before forking out a lot of money for your child’s first mobile. Yes, most kids would like the trendiest gadget around, but that’s no excuse for giving them a powerful, expensive phone with a huge range of functionality, which could end up in pieces. In a few months there will be a newer must-have model they’ll be demanding anyway.

Go for a basic and affordable model, such as the Nokia 100 or Samsung E2252, which both range from $30 – $70 and are easy to use. The battery lasts between seven and 12 hours, and both have color screens. Cheap options with a good battery life, which are easily replaceable if lost or stolen, are your best bet.

If you do choose to buy a smartphone to give your child access to a camera and the internet or email, again, go with an affordable mobile instead of a top-of-the-range model. Smartphones are more likely to get stolen, so you don’t want to over-spend. Examples include the  Nokia Lumia 625, Samsung Galaxy Star Pro and HTC Desire 210. These phones have touch screens, up to 15 hours of talk time and are under $250.

What about my child’s security?

Yes, mobiles give you easy access to your kids, but they also open them up to other dangers. Below are a few topics to discuss with your kids before handing them their mobile. Stay Safe Online has some good resources for parents.

  • Personal information: Smartphones store a lot of personal information. Talk to your kids about keeping their phones secure so that people can’t access information, such as on social sites or via their conversations.
  • Passwords: Set up a password to lock and unlock  mobile phones for children and make sure it locks itself automatically too. Ensure you know the password.
  • Calls and SMS: Store all important and emergency numbers on mobile phones for children. Talk to them about dealing with spam texts, answering unsaved numbers, and giving away any personal information to people who are not saved in their contact list.
  • Apps: A number of apps can be downloaded for free but they aren’t user-friendly for kids and could open them to bullying or pedophiles – your child needs to know what they are and aren’t allowed to download and you should regularly review what apps they have on their phone.
  • Safe surfing: Smartphones give kids access to the internet. Make sure they understand the concept of surfing the internet safely, staying away from chat-rooms, not sharing personal information, and informing adults in case of suspicious activity, such as harassing emails. Safe Search Kids from Google is a good browser to use.

Keep the phone safe too

Little ones and phones can be a lethal combination. Don’t forget to do these things to keep your child’s phone safe.

  • Buy a robust cover: Get a solid rubber cover to help protect the phone if it gets dropped and a screen cover to help keep the glass from shattering
  • Install a tracking app: iPhones have a ‘Find iPhone’ app – register the phone and you can track it down if it goes missing or, in the worse case, wipe it remotely. Google have an Android Device Manager which allows you to ring the phone at max volume, even on silent, locate it on a map or wipe it.
  • Ignore No More: Android app Ignore No More can lock your child’s phone from a distance – once locked, they can only call you or the police.
  • Insurance: Check whether your home contents insurance covers smartphones (it probably does, even outside the home, although you made need a police report to claim). Travel insurance will also normally cover smartphones – but often for an expensive extra fee. [Compare UAE home contents insurance, travel insurance | Compare Saudi home content insurance, travel insurance]