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Help on buying a first-time smartphone for teens

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In this Friday, Sept. 16, 2017, file photo, a person uses a smart phone in Chicago.

In this Friday, Sept. 16, 2017, file photo, a person uses a smart phone in Chicago.

AP Photo

There are a lot of factors to consider when getting your child started in the smartphone world. New or hand-me-down? Prepaid or family plan? Android or iPhone? Let’s break it down.

If you have decided your teenager is ready for their first phone that doesn’t look like a toy, then there are many decisions to make. And maybe the first one is whether your child is truly ready for a smartphone. While there is no set age when kids are magically responsible enough to handle all the potential issues a smartphone can bring, no one knows your child better than you. 

First, you may be considering handing down a phone from someone else in the family. This can be a great, budget-friendly option, but beware of potential downsides. Some older smartphone models are no longer receiving security updates, which leaves them vulnerable to hackers. And if malware makes its way onto your child’s unsecured phone, hackers can find a way to sneak onto other devices that use your home Wi-Fi if you aren’t careful. So whether you’re considering the hand-me-down or buying an older model smartphone for your teen, check to see how long the manufacturer will guarantee those security updates.

Parents may be wary of signing their new smartphone user onto their family cellular plan. But when I added my youngest to our unlimited plan with AT&T, it only cost $35 per month. Some carriers do have mix-and-match plans that allow parents to have unlimited data at full speed, but may throttle kids’ plans when the network is busy. An added bonus is having all your kids on one plan to make it easier to track. But there are certainly no-contract carriers to use as alternatives. Just remember with those cheaper prices, you’ll likely sacrifice data. For instance, Tello has a plan for $10 per month with unlimited calling and texting, but only 1 GB. Customers can pay more for additional data and an unlimited plan costs $29 per month. 

Whether you choose Android or iPhone may all come down to which universe your family lives in. My kids’ schools and my husband’s office both use Mac computers, so it was a no-brainer when we decided to go iOS. It’s nice to take advantage of iMessage, Screen Time and Family Sharing that exist in Apple’s world. But if you are an Android family, you may find it easier to control Family Link and other apps if kids’ phones are Android as well. It’s generally more simple to keep the whole family on the same operating system.

The best first-time smartphone for Apple users is the iPhone SE. While Apple has never been known for being inexpensive, this is the most affordable iPhone at $429. Your kids will like it because it has 5G, 64GB of storage, wireless charging and a great camera and battery. Parents will appreciate its durability, water resistance and Touch ID for security.

Android users may gravitate toward the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G for $279. It also has a great camera and comes with 64GB of storage with a memory card slot to add a lot more. Kids may like the bigger 6.5” screen, compared to the iPhone’s 4.7” and Frame Booster which makes gaming graphics more life-like. It also has a fingerprint sensor (although this one is on the side) and a battery that will last all day for most kids.

Lastly, if you aren’t ready to give your child access to the internet and social media apps, Gabb Wireless says it has a safe phone for kids at $149. Is it a smartphone? Not necessarily because it doesn’t connect to the internet and has very basic functionality. It only allows a limited number of pre-loaded apps such as music, calendar, alarm clock, calculator and files. Kids will appreciate the Bluetooth connectivity, the camera and the unlimited calling and texting. Moms and dads can relax knowing it comes with GPS tracking and a fingerprint scan for security. There are no-contract plans for $24.99 per month or other options for one or two-year contracts at a discount.

Buying a smartphone for a teen for the first time can be nerve-wracking. Do your research to decide which one is right for your child. And then make sure you take all the necessary precautions like setting up parental controls and having clear guidelines and open communication before you hand it over.