If you've got teenagers, or even pre-teens at home, chances are a phone is high on their Christmas wish list.
The average age for getting a mobile in the US is now 10 years old and the phones come with many benefits such as being able to contact your children and make sure they're safe.
If you've reached this stage but are unsure where to start, here are seven things to consider to ensure both you and your child are happy.
What do you want your child to use the phone for?
If you're after a phone purely for the purpose of staying in touch with your child, you only need a basic handset that makes calls and sends texts. These are cheap – often little more than $10 – their batteries last for days and they're less of a distraction for your kids. If you'd rather your child has access to the web you'll need a smartphone.
Apple or Android?
If you've decided on a smartphone, your choices are between Apple or Android.
Apple's iOS is simple to set up and use and if other members of your family are already iPhone users, you can sign up to Apple's Family Sharing app to share purchases, subscriptions, storage and more.
With Android phones, there are many styles and manufacturers. They also offer the Family Library feature to share purchases made on Google Play with family members.
Contract or Pay-As-You-Go?
Pay Monthly contracts come in two variants. You can either get a contract that includes the price of the handset and any data, calls and texts you use, or you can choose a SIM-only contract in which you're only paying for the data plan, but you already need to own a phone.
Some wireless providers alternatively give you the certain phones for free as an incentive to join a data plan, offering the best of both worlds, as is the case with AT&T's latest Unlimited offerings. AT&T is now offering its best price ever for unlimited wireless: you can have unlimited talk, text, and data starting at just $35 per month for 4 lines!
The benefits of paying monthly is that your child will always have credit in the case of an emergency, but you are locked into a deal and it's harder – although far from impossible – to set spending limits.
Pay-As-You-Go plans instead offer you greater control over your child's spending, but similar to SIM-only contracts, you do need to buy a phone first. You aren't tied to a contract and this gives you the flexibility to try different deals, but your child won't have immediate access to credit should the worst happen.
There is also the option to set up a shared plan to be used on all your family's devices. It's worth working out what you're paying separately for all your individual's expense to see if a shared plan is more cost efficient, while being easier to manage.
Setting spending limits
If you're still unsure of the best route, tell the mobile operator you're buying a phone for a child. They'll be able to advise you on your options and guide you through how to add caps and restrictions at a cellular level.
If you'd rather have more day-to-day control, there are apps – available from either your operator or third-party companies – which pause or resume data usage and set time limits. These are easier to use, compared to adding caps to your plan, and they largely come with more precise controls.
Making sure your child is safe online
Many of the apps that help you set spending limits additionally offer ways to make sure your child is safe, both physically and when online. Elsewhere, iOS and Android both offer built-in parental controls that you can either set up on the phones themselves or manage remotely. When using both Family Sharing or Google Play Family Library, you can set up purchase requests meaning you have to approve all downloads on your child's device.
Making sure your child is safe outside
Beyond keeping them safe online, once a child has a smartphone they're usually of an age when they're going to and from school themselves and this makes buying them a phone a great way to make sure they're safe.
Apple offers the Find My Friends app. You can use this app to easily locate your friends and family from your iPhone and Google's Trusted Contacts is the Android equivalent. If you want more features, AT&T's Secure Family app costs $7.99 a month and lets you track your kids' locations in real time, get arrival and departure alerts, and see location history.
You can read more about child monitoring apps here.
AT&T Black Friday/Cyber Monday Special Offer
Starting on November 22, AT&T is offering an iPhone XR 64GB, Samsung S10e 128GB, Google Pixel 4 64GB, or LG G8X ThinQ for $0 when you buy it on a qualifying installment agreement with eligible wireless.
All you'll need to do is purchase a device on a qualifying installment agreement, add a line to a new or existing account, pay taxes on the full retail price up front, activate postpaid unlimited wireless service (min. $75/mo. for new unlimited customers before discounts. Existing customers can add to eligible existing unlimited plans, which may be less), and pay a $30 activation fee. In return you'll get between $600 and $960 (depending on phone) bill credits applied in equal amounts over 30 monthly installments - sweet!
Shop for cell phones, prepaid phones and cell phone plans at AT&T Wireless. AT&T is a wireless telecommunications company providing coverage to millions of customers in the U.S. AT&T offers exclusive products from Apple, Nokia, Sharp, Sony, LG, Moto, Samsung and other manufacturers. The cellular company remains a favourite of consumers who like its sharp voice quality and discounts on cell phone plans.