7 tips for buying your child's first phone

It's back-to-school days -- time to stock up on school supplies.

In my day, that meant buying a new lunch box, a Trapper Keeper three-ring binder or maybe even a graphing calculator. Today's kids want phones.

Whether your family provides that first mobile phone in elementary, middle or even high school, getting one has become an important milestone in our digital society. It's not something most parents can identify with, which means we're pretty much on our own when trying to figure out the best approach.

CNET's Ask Maggie has some tips to help navigate this new territory.

Remember: Cheaper is better

Kids lose and break stuff all the time, so why on Earth would you spend $700 (or more) on a brand-new phone from Apple or Samsung? Instead, consider hand-me-downs, used phones or one of the low-cost Android phones available through your carrier. And you definitely want to explore the new wireless family plans now on offer from carriers as well as prepaid plans from companies like Republic Wireless, Google and Comcast.

Establish boundaries

Make your kids sign a contract with you before you hand them that phone. Things to spell out: You own the phone, not them. They will share all passwords with you. You will go through their phone at the end of each day. And, oh yes, terms of service can change at any time.

Monitor their phone use

Look at the internet history, the apps they use, games they play, videos they watch. And talk to your children about what you find.

Set up parental controls

Want to make sure your kids don't download inappropriate apps or songs, or make unexpected purchases? With parental controls, you can restrict what they use and how they use it, set up kid-safe search filters and allow them to visit only preapproved sites.

Know what's out there

You may not use Snapchat, Kik Messenger or Whisper, but your kids do. So make sure you're aware of the latest apps and talk to your kids about how they're using their phones.

Model good phone etiquette

Don't want your kids to check Facebook at the dinner table, answer texts in the middle of a conversation or talk loudly in public? Then don't do those things either. It's the only way they'll listen to you.

If all else fails, take away the phone

Having a phone is a privilege -- not a right. Don't be afraid to take away the phone if they violate your trust or do something they shouldn't have. Just be ready to live with the aftermath.


CNET's Marguerite Reardon (@maggie_reardon) answers readers' phone, wireless and broadband questions. Email yours to maggie.reardon@cbsinteractive.com. Please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. Follow her "Ask Maggie" page on Facebook.

This story appears in the fall 2017 edition of CNET Magazine and on CNET.com.

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    Marguerite Reardon has been a CNET News reporter since 2004, covering cell phone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate, as well as the ongoing consolidation of the phone companies. E-mail Maggie.