Cell phones give parents the reassurance and added security of being able to keep in touch with their kids when they can't be together. Several are designed expressly for young children, from preschoolers to 'tweens. Some even track your kid's whereabouts via GPS. Finding the one that's right for your child depends on how old, tech-savvy, and responsible they are and whether you want them to talk, text, play games, or web surf.
We narrowed the dozen or so choices down to 3 cool, kid-friendly mobile phones — 1 for grade school-aged kids, 1 for even younger tikes, and 1 that teens and tweens will love. All 3 parent-approved mobile solutions stand up to the frenetic scheduling and communication needs of today's busy young families, and they're tough enough to take a few bumps and bruises along the way. So, is your little one is ready to make the leap? Are you? Dial into the details below and decide from there.
Firefly flyPhonePrice: Starts at $79.99 Buy it:Multimedia blitz
This translucent small sapphire cell packs almost all the bells and whistles that fancy smartphones for adults do. Expect your kid to drool over its built-in games, embedded camera, full-sized multicolor screen, and 1 killer feature that no other kiddie phone has — an "electro-luminescent morphing keypad" (huh?) that automatically switches between game controller, MP3 or video controller, and number pad. Nice!
Perfect for tweens and teens Obviously, this flashy mini-handheld is for older kids, probably tweens and early teens. (Firefly also makes a talk- and text-only glowPhone, pictured in pink above, for the younger set.) Does your big kid have the technical know-how, fine motor skills, drive, and attention span to keep up with flyPhone's hundreds of preloaded digital music and video files, wallpapers, and ringtones? If they do, they can even create their own media with the included flyKicks PC software. No matter what, they'll certainly enjoy rocking this phone (ideally, within the boundaries you set for them). Leave the rest to Firefly's strict parental controls.
Room to grow When your big talkers want more games and music (they will), head over to Firefly's website to stock up on (and pay for) more. Still not enough? Pick up a microSD card for your pint-sized smartphone addict, to stash up to 500 songs and loads of videos.
Affordable data/talk/text plan, subpar calls Our favorite feature? Unlimited talk and text for a modest $65 per month on a content-filtered and secure nationwide network. Our least favorite feature? Call quality that CNET says passes as merely "acceptable."
Bonus A quick start guide, USB cable for charging, stereo headset, and a flyKicks CD are included with the purchase of the coolest, highest-specced kid phone on the market.
Easy for kids in preschool through grade school Just5's incredibly simple features, sturdy body, and long battery life make it a smart choice for younger children. Its big, bright, clearly numbered buttons are child's play to read and dial, and its oversized screen is super-easy to read. The calculator look-alike also comes equipped with a speaking keypad, which instantly confirms the numbers your child presses in a clear, reassuring mommy voice.
Built-in emergency alert system The feature parents love most? Just5's embedded (and free!) emergency alert system. Preset it with up to 5 emergency contact phone numbers your child might not remember, including school, grandparents, and babysitters, plus your home, work, and cell digits.
To call for help, all your knee-high dialer has to do is press and hold the big, bright red SOS button on the back for 4 seconds. Doing so sets off a loud siren alarm designed to attract attention and hopefully, help. (Be sure to talk to kids about the button in advance to minimize false alarms.)
Automatic calls and texts for help When activated, the SOS button also immediately sends a text message that reads, "Help me. I'm in an emergency," to each of your child's preprogrammed contact numbers, continuously calling them until a real, live person (not voicemail) answers. Persistent little bugger! When the emergency call goes through, the phone automatically switches into speaker phone mode, allowing your child to talk hands-free.
Just5's extra loud (hearing aid-optimized) handset is also ideal for seniors. Why not get one for Grandpa and Grandma, too?
Bonus Holy affordability! Just5's least expensive calling plan rings up at just $3.33 per month, but that only gets your child a handful of minutes, which is all he'll need to make an emergency call when it counts. Unlimited text and talk costs only $40 per month.
Flashy features tweens and teens want
Kajeet puts 7 candy-colored, no contract cell phones in teenyboppers' text-happy hands — slide-out QWERTY keyboard smartphones, super skinny digital zoom camera phones, and sleek flip phones included. Our top pick for tweens and teens is Kajeet's flashiest cell, the Kids Samsung Seek. The trendy touchscreen-keyboard hybrid catapults your Generation Z kid into the mobile social networking jungle with 1-touch access toFacebook, Twitter, and MySpace.
Other features your kid will eat up: a 1.3 megapixel integrated camera, a crisp, 2.6" full color display, a microSD card slot (for storing 32GB of Bieberlicious pics and songs), and, of course, hands-free Bluetooth capability (For brand new drivers? Please, no!).
And of course the Seek includes games, apps, ringtones, and instant messaging. Will your almost-adult equally adore Kajeet's encrypted parental controls, complete with the authority (and top-secret passwords) to view and restrict their every download, voice mail, contact, call, text, photo, video, and anything else they say, see, or surf from their Seek (or other Kajeet phone)? Probably not, but you certainly will, smart mamas and papas.
GPS tracking For an extra $7.99 month (depending on your specific plan), you can count on Kajeet's web-based GPS Phone Locator service to tell you the exact location of your kid's phone — and presumably your kid, too. Parents can schedule up to 5 Kajeet location tip-off email notifications a day and track the phone's whereabouts online 24/7.
Pay-as-you-go plans Kajeet's least expensive plan starts at $4.99 a month, but it only buys 10 skimpy airtime minutes, barely enough for emergency calls, and not much more. Lucky for your chatterbox, additional voice minutes and texts ring up at only 10¢ each. The $24.99 a month package buys 300 airtime minutes, with unlimited texts and use of the GPS tracking service. Not bad.
Still, we think Kajeet's $19.99 per month bundle packs the best value, dishing out 150 voice minutes a month and unlimited OMG!-littered text messages. $50 a month buys it all — unlimited talk, text, picture messages, and more. Want more prepaid options? Kajeet's got you covered. Whatever you choose, it's a good idea to stock up on Kajeet Prepaid Wireless Airtime Cards, just in case.
No surprise bills (or calls) Kajeet's pricing plans and strict content controls give parents full reign over who can or can't call or text their kid's cell phone, and the days and times the phone can or can't be used. Plus, Kajeet's online parental tool kit lets you completely control your child's Kajeet phone usage and costs, online or via email, day or night. Watch out, kids! Ever heard of time-out? Kajeet lets parents set time-out blocks for when the phone can and can't be used.
No strings attached With zero activation or early termination fees, and no contracts, it's no biggie to cancel your Kajeet cell phone service at any time, minus the pricy penalties. Contract-free flexibility is a lifesaver, and a money-saver, should your teen try any Kajeet cell and not want to keep it. As if!
Set cell phone ground rules
Before you put that bright, shiny new cell phone in kids' excited paws, take a moment to explain your expectations. Describe when it's appropriate to use and exactly what they're allowed to do with it (talk, text, and the like). You probably won't want them to share it with friends, forget it on the playground, or eat or drink when they're using it. If they're really young, they won't know unless you spell it out for them.
Check with your child's teachers to find out what the student cell phone policy is. Some schools have a zero tolerance policy for electronics of any kind on campus, in backpacks, and in lockers.
Whichever kiddie phone you entrust your little ones with (if you do), teach them how to properly use and store it. You might want to consider taking insurance out on it. Before you know it, they'll be teaching you how to use your next smartphone. Good luck!