Buying a mobile phone for your child can be a thorny issue.
On one hand, giving them a phone gives you the peace of mind that you can stay in contact with your kids whenever you need to. And, let’s be honest, phones are pretty handy for keeping them occupied on long journeys, too.
But on the flip side, there’s the worry that, unless your children are particularly responsible, there’s a very good chance they’ll lose or break their phone. Which could leave you with a hefty bill for a replacement.
Even more troublingly, they could rack up large bills or even be exposed to material that’s not suitable for kids.
Luckily, help is at hand. In this guide, we take a good look at the best networks for kids and families. Along the way, we’ll outline what sort of parental controls they offer to keep your kids safe online and keep your child’s usage under control. And we’ll flag any family-friendly sweeteners and money-saving family plans, too.
So which network offers the best protection? How can you save money with a family plan? And what perks are available for you and your youngster? Read on and we’ll cover everything.
To help you find well priced phones that won’t break the bank, we’ve compiled our pick of the best handsets for children in our one-stop guide on phones for kids and teens.
Partnered with NSPCC
The first mobile network to tackle children’s safety, O2 has formed a successful partnership with NSPCC to help parents keep their kids safe when using their mobile phone.
O2 and NSPCC have created an online hub filled with articles covering all aspects of mobile phone safety for children, from tackling online bullying to the apps your kids are using. Each article explains the potential threats and suggests some ground rules to help avoid them.
The hub also features useful videos that show how to block inappropriate content on your child’s phone. And if you have any problems or questions, you can always call the O2 NSPCC helpline, which is open seven days a week.
O2 sharer plans
O2 pay as you go customers can share data with another family member, provided that family member also has an O2 pay monthly SIM.
So, if your child has accidentally used up all their data allowance, you can simply share some of yours with them to tide them over, rather than risk them running up a hefty bill.
O2 has long had a reputation as being one of the best networks when it comes to perks and discounts. And, as any parent will know, these can be really useful when you’ve got kids.
So, whether it’s getting a discount on an experience, or buying concert tickets for your favourite musician the day before they go on sale, these perks could really help you out.
Default child-friendly settings
With its family-friendly reputation, it should come as no surprise that Tesco’s mobile network automatically blocks content rated as unsuitable for under 18s. The content can only be viewed if the account-holder verifies the age of the person who owns the device as being over 18.
This means you can give your child a phone with a Tesco Mobile SIM straight out of the box without having to faff about in the settings.
Although most parents opt for a pay as you go SIM, if your child is clamouring for the latest device, a Tesco Mobile capped contract could be the perfect solution.
Once you’ve chosen your monthly tariff, you can select a maximum you’d be happy to go over your bill by. This can be as little as £2.50. Tesco Mobile will then make sure your bill is never higher than your tariff and safety buffer combined.
Great perks for families
If you’re already a Tesco Mobile pay monthly customer and you add more than one contract on your account, you can choose a free monthly perk for each contract.
Each contract-holder on the account can choose between extra data, additional minutes, Clubcard points and money off your bill, which is pretty handy, especially when you’ve got kids.
Three different safety settings
EE gives you three different safety settings to choose from. You can either go for no security, which gives you full access to the internet, the Moderate setting, which blocks any content unsuitable for under 18s, or the Strict setting, which blocks all content rated higher than PG. This includes blocking access to dating apps and chat sites as well as social media.
The Strict setting also features Google SafeSearch, which prevents websites that contain unsecure, adult content from being included in search results.
If you’re already on a 4GEE Plan, you can add up to four other people to your contract. Not only does this mean you only get one monthly bill, which makes it much easier to keep track of everyone’s usage, each person on the contract will get unlimited calls and texts. You can also share data between you, which can help avoid extra costs and unnecessary arguments.
Like most networks, Three allows you to apply filters to your child’s phone, which will block any content deemed unsuitable for under 18s.
Limited data allowance
Some of Three’s new tariffs include limited data usage, so you can’t go over your monthly allowance without choosing to pay for extra data. This should help your child avoid running up a huge bill without realising it.
Vodafone’s website has loads of tools, tips, lesson plans and even a monthly magazine to help parents teach their kids about online safety. It covers everything from online gaming and peer pressure to selfies and social media. There are also tips from industry experts and how-to guides for setting up parental controls.
Controlling inappropriate content
Vodafone works with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), the Home Office and Virtual Global Taskforce to protect children from inappropriate online content. If your child accesses any harmful content on Vodafone’s network, you can contact their customer care team who aim to take it down within six hours. They will also report illegal content to the police and the Internet Watch Foundation.
Red+ family plan
Vodafone’s Red+ family plan lets you share your data with your family members and can save you up to 15% on each additional bundle or device. The account holder can choose how much data each family member gets, and can put a cap on the family’s total allowance, so you can avoid overspending. Red+ also gives everyone unlimited UK calls and texts.
TalkTalk has stringent filters in place by default to block any content unsuitable for under 18s. If you want more advanced parental controls and content filtering, however, you can opt for the SuperSafe Boost.
In addition to anti-theft and virus protection, the SuperSafe Boost offers stricter parental controls so you can choose which apps and websites your child can access when they’re on their phone, even when they’re out of the house.
The SuperSafe Boost also lets you set time-limits to stop your kids going online or using their apps when they're supposed to be asleep or doing their homework. You can also use the SuperSafe Boost to locate your child’s phone from your own device, which is particularly helpful if your child is prone to losing their mobile.
Family Circle calls
TalkTalk’s Family Circle enables free calls between as many as five TalkTalk mobile SIMs linked to the home account. So, even if your child has used up all their minutes, they’ll still be able to call you to ask for a lift or to let you know they’re okay.
In 2014, TalkTalk helped to form Internet Matters, an independent, not for profit organisation that provides information, support and advice to help parents and carers keep their children safe online. TalkTalk works with Internet Matters to host Parents’ Guide to Tech, which offers advice on staying safe when using mobile devices.