Imagine walking into your child's first grade class during break time, and seeing that some of the children are playing with toy cell phones. Would it come as a shock to realize that these colorful "toys" are actually real, functioning cell phones?
According to marketing firm C&R Research, 22 percent of children aged 6 to 9 and 60 percent of pre-teens aged 10 to 14 own a cell phone. Phone makers are recognizing this trend toward younger users, and have begun manufacturing brightly colored cell phones, many with talk, text, music, and photo features to target pre-teens and even their younger siblings. Cell phones for kids can provide an emergency line for children in dangerous situations, the real-time location of your child, and scheduling convenience—but wading through the countless options of kid-friendly phones can be daunting.
If you're considering buying a phone for your little one, be sure she understands the difference between a plastic toy and the phone you'll use to communicate with her. You need to make sure that your child is responsible enough to care for a cell phone, says Dr. Anita Gurian from the NYU School of Medicine. She adds, "a child needs to be able to adhere to a specific set of rules and guidelines... cell phones are not toys."
Check out these cell phone models that boast safety details, cool colors and user-friendly features that make them ideal for young kids.
• Kajeet Optimus Android (from $149.99): This model represents the high-end of the price (and age) range of Kajeet phones. The Smart-Blocker feature allows you to control access to websites and rest easy, while the touch-screen, 3.2 megapixel camera and video recorder, mp3 player and Android operating system will have even the pickiest teens begging for one. Internet access and the price make this an ideal phone for an older, more mature teen.
• Kajeet Kids Sanyo (from $89.99): Mid-range Kajeet Sanyo models, like the Sanyo Katana 2 and the Sanyo 2700, come in a range of bright colors such as pink, blue and purple. The Katana 2 boasts a sleek flip-phone design, color screen, digital camera and web browsing capabilities. The Sanyo 2700 has a full keyboard, a large LCD color screen, and a 1.3 megapixel camera. Your tween will go gaga over the cool designs, lightweight model and organization features available for these phones.
• Kajeet LG 102 (from $24.99): This basic model is the cheapest that Kajeet offers, yet it's sleek appearance, LCD color screen, voice-activated dialing and special "text messaging key" are sure to keep any tech-savvy kid happy.
All Kajeet phones come with award-winning parental controls, such as number blocking, website blocking, GPS tracking, and scheduling times (such as during the school day or after bedtime) when the phone is inoperable. You'll feel secure with the option of switching off photo messaging and downloading, knowing that your child won't be "sexting" or accessing other inappropriate content on their phone. In addition, you can set up a phone budget for your kid, which can be adjusted to reward for a great test score, or as punishment for breaking house rules. These controls can be managed easily online.
• Firefly glowPhone (from $49.99): This simple, restricted-dialing phone is perfect for kids under 10 years old. The model has four picture buttons—answer, end call, man and woman, making it easy-to-use even for very young kids. Program the buttons to speed-dial corresponding parents or caregivers, and add up to 18 other pre-set numbers that your child can find using the scroll pad. Parental controls allow you to control numbers in the address book, which numbers can call/text the phone and vice versa, and turn text messaging (receiving only) on or off. Your child will love the pink or black interface, color screen, built-in games and customizable ringtones.
• Firefly flyPhone (from $79.99): This durable phone is a great choice for slightly older children and tweens—from about 8 to 12 years old. It has lots more features than the glowPhone, including the ability to watch videos, a built-in camera, a full keyboard, and an mp3 player. The clear colored casing and luminescent keyboard give the phone an almost futuristic look.
Firefly offers a variety of plans, but there is no long-term contract required. You also have the option of purchasing the phone and using it with SIM card-friendly carriers, such as AT&T and T-Mobile.
• Verizon LG Migo (from $59.99): Designed for children from about 5 to 8 years old, this adorable little phone offers a simple pre-programmed keypad with numbers, a dedicated 911 button in case of an emergency, built-in parental controls and a toy-like appearance. There's even a speaker phone option for little hands that have trouble holding the phone up to an ear. This phone has no texting or Internet options, making it safe enough for kids as young as preschool.
When browsing for a phone, the most important features are ones that will keep your child safe from inappropriate materials and potential threats. Parental controls on Internet access, GPS tracking, incoming and outgoing calls, and photo text messages will give you peace of mind as your child explores the world safely, cell phone in hand.