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Best mobile phones for children and teens

What to consider when buying your kid's first phone or a phone for a teen.

parent and child using simple phone
Last updated: 02 July 2024


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Deciding when your child is ready to have their own phone is an inevitable challenge of parenting.

'But literally everyone else in my class has one!' is a familiar phrase to many parents and caregivers across the country, whined at earlier and earlier stages of childhood.

When or whether you choose to give your child a phone is obviously your own decision, and different parents and caregivers have different approaches to the issue and the place of the technology in their children's lives. Handing over an expensive smartphone with unrestricted access to social media, games, the internet and a range of apps is not something most parents are keen to do, after all!

But, when you do think your child might be ready, the next question is, which type of phone or device is most suitable? Whether you're after a basic phone that your child can call and text from, and perhaps take photos, while enabling you to limit web and app access, or a more sophisticated smartphone that helps you keep track of where they are at certain times of day, we've put together some advice from CHOICE tech experts and experienced parents to help you decide. 

We also cover kids smartwatches and some options for parental controls that can be installed on standard smartphones. 

And for CHOICE members, our tech expert Denis Gallagher provides his pick of the most affordable phones for young users.

First phones for younger kids

Gone are the days of reverse-charging your parents from a payphone when you need a lift home from the station or get stuck at school because football training was cancelled. 

The overriding reason parents want to get a phone for their child is to give families a way to contact each other outside the home, such as when a child gains more independence by catching public transport to and from school for the first time. 

A smartphone vs non-smartphone

If you just want a basic handset for calls and texts, there are a range of options available at relatively low price points. Sometimes called 'dumb phones' or 'simple phones', these are often flip phones with limited features that aren't connected to the internet, but will allow your child to call and text. 

But don't assume the old spare phone you have in your drawer will suffice – the recent shutdown of the 3G network means that many older phones no longer work. Make sure any 'simple' phone you buy supports the same 4G network as the mobile carrier you choose.

The recent shutdown of the 3G network means that many older phones no longer work

You could also opt for a smartphone. Although they're significantly more expensive, some parents prefer this option for various reasons – you may have a hand-me-down smartphone already available (thankfully, all but the oldest smartphones are likely to support most 4G network bands), or you may want to enable location tracking devices so you know where your child is (or where the phone is if it happens to get lost – which, let's face it, is not an unlikely scenario). 

The age of your child likely comes into play here, too, and whether or not they have access to other devices, such as tablets.

CHOICE tech expert Denis Gallagher says you could make a compromise between the two.

"If you're looking for a smartphone that you can keep under some sort of control, the Guardian Swissvoice C50s is a nice option for children," he says. 

"The single screen control presents a series of menu buttons for phone calls, texting and email with additional buttons for popular apps such as WhatsApp. The camera isn't great by current smartphone standards but good enough for quick snaps and sharing memories."

"And the levels of notification and monitoring by the caregiver can be anything from no monitoring at all to constant GPS map tracking."We looked at this phone as part of our best phones for seniors review, which covers a range of simple, easy-to-use mobile phones that are more accessible and cheaper than regular smartphones.

If you'd rather repurpose an old smartphone you have at home, there are apps that you can download onto Android smartphones to create a simple menu system and allow a level of control over the phone user's online access.

Choosing a smart watch instead

Denis says that a smart watch could be another option to consider – they're relatively cheap (depending on the brand you choose) and offer similar functionality to non-smartphones, allowing users to call, text and play a few games. A smart watch also has a smaller screen, so may be less 'addictive' than a fully functional smartphone.

"Many kids love the Dick Tracy-style smartwatches that are now available for under $200; they come with a nanoSIM or embedded SIM that turns the small device into a mobile phone," says Denis.

"There are levels of parental control you can use to ensure the user can't be contacted by people not in the contacts list before handing over the device. But be sure you're familiar with your school's policy on mobile devices, because a watch that has to be taken off throughout the day can easily be lost or stolen.

But be sure you're familiar with your school's policy on mobile devices, because a watch that has to be taken off throughout the day can easily be lost or stolen

CHOICE tech expert Denis Gallagher

"If you have an iPhone and an Apple Watch, Apple has software called Family Setup that allows parents and guardians to register a second watch from their existing iPhone (even if the child does not have their own smartphone).

"The child can then call home, share their location or send messages from their wrists, but will not have access to the entire web."

friends looking at their smartphones

Once your child is well into high school it is likely they won't be satisfied with a non-smartphone.

Phones for young teens

If your child is already well into high school, chances are they won't be satisfied with a non-smartphone and will likely want to skip straight to an iPhone or similar Wi-Fi-connected smartphone. 

One parent tells us: "When our daughter went to high school she had a simple phone just so she could stay in touch with us. She didn't use it very much and was always asking when she could get an iPhone." 

They decided to get their daughter an iPhone 11.

"It's an expensive phone for a student to have but she is familiar with the operating system after using an iPad for many years, and it enables her to check her school time table and messages without having to always open the iPad. The other benefit is that it can be restricted to the same limitations for screen time, bed time and app usage as the iPad."

But don't forget, everything that can be done on an iPhone can be done on an Android phone, and often for a fraction of the price.

Cost and plans

Buying an iPhone outright can be extremely expensive (the latest iPhone 15 retails for over $1400), but you can pick up a refurbished iPhone 11 for around $400, or opt to go on a plan that comes with the device. 

Some providers have 'family plans' available that let you add another device (for example, up to four numbers) to your existing contract, allowing you to share data and monitor activity. Ask your provider what family mobile plans they have available. 

If you already have an old iPhone (iPhone 7 or newer) or an Android phone from the past few years that you can pass onto your child, a SIM-only/pay-as-you-go plan may be a lower cost and more flexible option than locking in to a long-term contract.


Loss and breakages are to be expected with mobile devices, so insurance is a good idea when you're handing tech over to kids. But it's important to make sure you're not paying more for insurance than the device is worth. 

If you sign up to a contract plan, your provider will likely offer you insurance, but check the terms and conditions carefully before you sign up. 

If you own the phone outright, you can insure your smartphone by taking out portable contents cover on your home insurance, or buying single item insurance. Most insurers offer portable contents cover as an optional extra; some include it by default. Check the details of your policy.

Protective cases and screen protectors 

CHOICE tech experts highly recommend you buy a protective case for your child's phone to limit damage if the phone is dropped. Rather than opting for a cheap plastic case, look for cases from reputable brands that have been engineered to protect the phone, such as Spigen or Otterbox. 

Choose a case that has good 'bumpers' on the corners of the phone and a slightly raised lip to protect the screen (the screen should be a little recessed in the case). A case with a textured or rubbery finish can help with grip, too.CHOICE expert Denis Gallagher, says: "Any silicone case will provide some protection for the daily bumps and drops in using a smartphone. Make sure the case has a small ridge sitting proud of the screen – this will protect against any of the scratching you will encounter when your phone is placed face down." 

How about screen protectors? If your phone is a hand-me-down and you're choosing between a case or a protector, Denis says to spend your money on a reasonably priced case under $50 instead of a screen protector. 

Choose a case that has good 'bumpers' on the corners of the phone and a slightly raised lip to protect the screen

However, he adds that "screen protectors with privacy glass could be a good idea for tweens and teens who might be using their phone in public spaces, as these restrict other people from viewing what is on your screen."


A tween or teen's phone can fill up very quickly with photos, videos and voice messages. For most casual smartphone users, 128GB phone memory is enough, although many people prefer to choose 256GB or more.

Second-hand, hand-me-down or refurbished phones

While some parents told us they never considered buying a new phone, due to the likelihood of the phone being lost or damaged by their child, others were concerned about buying a refurbished second-hand phone, or using a hand-me-down in case the batteries or other components had issues.

It's easy to check out the battery health of an iPhone in the system settings. If the indicator suggests the recharge is below 80%, you may want to consider getting a new battery. Apple offers a battery replacement service if you have AppleCarePlus.

Buying a new battery for an old Samsung Galaxy or Google Pixel may also be a more cost-effective option than buying a whole new phone or going onto a plan. If you don't have any suitable hand-me-downs available, you can look for secondhand options on sites such as Reebelo.

children with smartphones from below

It's a good idea to monitor your child's device, limit who can communicate with, and manage the apps they have access to.

Online safety and parental controls

If you do decide to give your child a smartphone, it's a good idea to monitor their use of the device, limit who can communicate with your child on the phone, and manage the apps they have access to, especially those apps that let them communicate with others. 

The government's eSafety website gives you some information on how to do this on mobile and smartphone devices.

"We set up the phone so that all apps and purchases require parent approval, and we have screen time and parental restrictions set," says another parent. "We can review conversations and messages at any time, and we have lots of chats about privacy, consent when filming, and security."

Apple has "Assistive Access" settings, which let you strip down the functionality of the phone to more focused features and a simplified user interface. Designed for people with cognitive disabilities, it could also be suitable for an older or younger person's phone. For example, you can grant or restrict access to calls and messages online and to limited contacts, which means your child's phone can only be called by certain people, and they'll avoid calls from scammers and telemarketers.

What parents say

Ultimately, whether a phone is right for your family depends on you and your child. Some parents we talked to said that getting their teenager their own phone was an important step in helping them learn some independence and self-control when it comes to using digital devices. Many noted that they put systems in place to help with this, for example, limiting screen time, or restricting what parts of the house the phone can be used in and where.

We have lots of chats about privacy, consent when filming, and security

A CHOICE parent

One parent told us that the phone plays an important part in their child's social life, helping foster new connections, friendships and social support systems, including simple things like planning events or group chatting with their friends. There are also many possible negative outcomes that need to be managed when considering kids and phone use, including the well-documented potential harms of social media, excessive screen time, bullying and susceptibility to marketing and scammers.

Useful tips from parents 

  • If you feel you and your child is not quite yet ready for a phone, don't forget that there are 15,000 Telstra payphones across the country, on street corners and in small towns, that are completely free to use. Teach your child how to use one and make sure they know your number off by heart should they ever need it.One parent told us: "The Telstra phone box has been a lifesaver lately, because we're frequently at the hospital with another sick child. Our son (who's 11) isn't quite ready to have a smartphone, but it gives him a way to contact us after school if he needs to. I have our local box saved under his name."
  • Start off with a cheap handset so there is limited stress around loss or breakages. You can always upgrade later.
  • Before giving your child a phone, establish a 'contract' together that sets out rules and expectations for both you and your child in regards to how the phone will be used and when. You could also consider giving them their first phone on a trial basis.
  • Put healthy boundaries in place when it comes to the expectations around monitoring and phone use. 
  • Monitor your child's privacy when using the device – carefully consider permissions and whether apps need to monitor your child's contact list, location, etc. And help your child set up robust security settings. 

Best mobile phones for tweens and teens

Our expert Denis Gallagher has put together the following options that should provide a good way to keep your children in touch when needed, without them feeling on the outs with their peers. 

We independently test and review dozens of new phones each year in our onsite labs, and our experts know exactly what to look for to help you find the best product.

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Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.


Big Purple Phone

Big Purple Phone 

  • Who is it good for? Tweens and younger teens
  • Cost: $599 ($699 for a 'Family and Friends' version with remote management features and additional app support).

This phone is great for parents who want a level of control over a mobile's use. It allows for audio and video calls to people on a curated contact list, and has the ability to share texts and photos with that group. Other apps soon to be available include email, WhatsApp and a web browser, but the focus of this product remains simplicity and control.

With a 48MP camera and 128GB of storage, this phone is well-equipped for photography. A solid battery and support for 5G mobile networks also makes it a good option for a full day's use at school. However, by the time they reach their 14th birthday, they'll no doubt be clamouring for a mobile with a bit more freedom.

Read the full Big Purple Phone review.


Oppo A54

Oppo A54 

  • Who is it good for? Teens wanting more freedom (best-value Android option)
  • Cost: $299

This mobile is not only a good performer, it's one of the best-value smartphone options available. While it can't compete with the latest Samsung, Apple or Google devices as far as processor performance or camera quality, it still has a good 6.5-inch display and very good battery performance.

The speaker quality isn't great – which won't bother music fans using wireless headphones or earbuds – but the selfie camera performance is good enough for posting onto social media platforms (but poor quality if you want to print photos).

The Oppo A54 supports 5G mobile networks, which is an important thing to consider if keeping in contact with your children is your main reason for buying a mobile.

Read the full Oppo A54 review


Guardian Swissvoice C50s

Guardian Swissvoice C50s

  • Who is it good for? Tweens and younger teens 
  • Cost: $499

While designed for seniors, this simply presented mobile is also a good option for tweens, and with optional access to social media apps such as Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp, it could also suit teens. 

The simple icons for each app are clear and easy to understand, a collection of icons for favoured contacts make calls easy, and the Swissvoice Premium service lets you remote manage several features on the mobile. Unfortunately, it doesn't have 5G network support. 

Read full Guardian Swissvoice C50s review.


Apple iPhone SE

Apple options

Unless you have more than $700 to spend, the only Apple options worth considering is a refurbished iPhone from sites such as Reebelo. The Apple iPhone 13 is the oldest model available on the Apple site with prices starting at $1099, while the iPhone 12 is available at a discounted price in retailers like Officeworks and JB Hi-Fi for around $850.

You may be able to find an iPhone 11 at some stores but at $700 for a 64GB model, it would be better to consider a good-quality refurbished model.

Apple iPhone SE (128GB)

  • Who is it for? Teens wanting to live in the Apple iOS, MacOS world
  • Cost: $799

The Apple iPhone SE (Special Edition) was first introduced in 2016 in an attempt to offer a more affordable iPhone option. The latest iPhone SE (3rd Generation) was released in 2022.

It's the smallest iPhone available, sporting a diminutive 4.7-inch display, but the processor is the same as the iPhone 13, so overall performance is sound. Camera performance is also decent, but the battery performance is ordinary. However, this is an iPhone – if your child is determined to have an Apple smartphone, this is the cheapest new option.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.