My family tested 20 kid-safe phones and devices, and they were the best

My family tested 20 kid-safe phones and devices, and they were the best ...

My 8-year-old son just added an iPhone 13 to his Amazon cart. He cant seem to find his shoes most days and cannot be trusted with a $999 gadget, but it was a desire I knew to expect. His older brother did the exact same thing at his age, likely fueled by the fact that every adult he knows always has one in their own hands.

Parents are raising the most screen-saturated generation in history, and this is scary. Should your infant watch TV or only stare at organic crib mobiles while Bach quietly plays in the background? Should you look for educational apps or just let your kids play Fruit Ninja so you can enjoy your coffee in peace?

Our children will be using phones at a much younger age than we ever were, and these phones will do far more than our first devices did. Every family has unique needs and challenges, and their answers will be different. When we decided it was time for our oldest three kids, twin third-graders and a fifth-grader to be connected, we knew we needed some safeguards, though.

How to Know When Your Child Is Really Ready for a Phone

We knew we would dip our toe into the vast pool of phone options. I reached out to media technology expert Devorah Heitner, PhD, who has written extensively on the topic of educating digital natives. While millennial parents witnessed the tech boom happen in real-time, today's children do not remember a world without technology.

When it comes to deciding whether or not a child is ready for a personal gadget, Heitner, who is a mother herself, advised me to consider a few key factors. I would look for independence in chores, homework, walking, biking, or taking transportation to and from school. My kids walk to school, so that was my primary motivation.

She said that introducing phones to a child's first communication device is a learning process for families. The bigger bike our son was adjusting to felt like a metaphor for smartphones, often at an early age. They will need mentoring and perhaps some training wheels to become proficient with these sophisticated communication devices.

There is a learning curve for everyone.

Catherine Pearlman, a licensed clinical social worker and the founder of the online training platform The Family Coach, is recommended by Heitner as a graphic novel-style guide to cell phone usage. The book, which covers safety, boundaries, and digital hygiene, is aimed at middle school students (ages 8 to 13).

Before kids can acquire their own phones, Heitner says, this book does a fantastic job of highlighting the responsibility of phones at their level.

Heitner also conducts a four-week online boot camp, via Screenwise, that prepares parents to give their kids their first cellphone safely. Romper readers may get a discount on the course here.

Heitner believes that all of this work prepares parents for the unexpected and helps children understand how to deal with situations. Children will always have phones. However, you don't want them to become so dependent on those devices that they can't use a street sign. If we look for house number 1500 and are at 1350 while the numbers rise, they won't need Google Maps. They need these abilities.

What smart devices are available for children?

With a bit of knowledge, we began looking at the various communication devices available for caregivers. At their basic level, they're all similar. There are a ton of options that provide kids with connectivity with safeguards in place.

Our family spent several months experimenting with the many options that are available. These are the ones that made the cut for us:

Bark is a family service that monitors and blocks websites we choose, alerts us to troublesome search terms, and turns off the internet for our kids at certain times of the day. With an Android phone, it only monitors texts, emails, and social media platforms for signs of danger.

Our oldest, aged 10, performed admirably. Monitoring the browser and chats as well as controlling screen time seemed to be a suitable compromise. We also blocked certain websites like PornHub and sexual content.

I really appreciate what he describes. My most recent favorite was, How much was 66,000 euros worth in 1942? We intend to continue to use this method when he enters high school.

Bark is planning to launch their own phone this autumn, so get yours while supplies last.

Bark has partnered with Pinwheel, a company that makes phones specifically for kids. We decided to test them out for our 8-year-old twins since they are a bit younger. Pinwheel designed specific software that runs on Blu brand phones with strong caregiver controls. Through the portal I added specific contacts and apps chosen and reviewed by a team of therapists.

The twins enjoyed that there were educational apps available, such as PBS Kids and Moose Math, and that we could schedule when they appeared during school hours. At 3 p.m., other apps appear, and disappear again at bedtime.

Check out pricing and plans for a Pinwheel phone here. Phones cost from $199 to $249, and Pinwheel monitoring services cost $14 per month. Parents will need to purchase prepaid minutes or a standard phone plan from a third-party provider.

Troomi phones have a similar basic setup as Pinwheel phones: curated apps, a caregiver portal, and the ability to schedule app availability. My third graders loved the look of Troomi phones because they felt the same as their older brother does. There are educational apps as well as low-stakes games like Angry Birds and Toca Kitchen. I could also add my Disney+ account to the phones they loved on a long car journey.

Heitner explained that while young children don't require bottomless access to apps, they will be frustrated if the phone is too different from what their peers have. These were excellent examples. The phones can grow with them, with the ability to loosen limitations.

Check out Troomi Wireless phone pricing here. Phones start at $179 to $279, and packages start at $19.95 to $29.95 per month.

Wearable Technology

Verizon GizmoWatches, which are quite similar to T-Mobile's SyncUp KIDS watch, offer basic games such as counting jumps or steps, but we found that the GPS tracking of their location was often behind what they were doing in our neighborhood.

Gabb Wireless sells a watch for children that functions more smoothly. (We did not get to see it before, but it received excellent reviews from caregivers). According to Anne Marie McDonald, the Gabb watch is a kid's first step in technology. We teach them to swim when we swim.

We also looked into some of the Amazon kid phone watches that accept prepaid minutes, but eventually abandoned them due to their unreliability. Some prepaid minutes we purchased failed to work, the watches often failed to charge, and my kids were unable to call me, so it is pointless.

With an existing Verizon account, a Verizon GizmoWatch costs $99.99, and the data plan costs $10 per month. Watches are currently on a BOGO sale.

T-Mobile SyncUp KIDS watches cost $174 for the device and $10 per month for service. Customers may currently receive a free watch when they sign a two-year contract.

Gabb Wireless watches cost $149, depending on the length of contract you choose. In the future, the company plans to release a phone for older kids.

Amazon Glow is a flash sale.

The Amazon Glow is not a phone or watch, it's a game that the recipient can play with or draw a picture. All of our children, including my 4-year-old, loved this interactive screen plus projector at home. It's a great way to keep connected to our family in another country.

When I ask Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Temple University professor of psychology, about Glow, she replies that early language, early literacy, and early mathematics all improve with connections and conversations. With Glow, young children stay engaged for much longer than they do on a regular video call.

Glow functions in the same way as computers do, although we often joke about using them as digital babysitters. I love that even my preschooler may text or text me in the event of an emergency so that they may send assistance.

The Amazon Glow retails for $249.99 and includes a one-year free trial of Amazon Kids. Amazon Kids costs $4.99 per month thereafter.

Editorial note: Bark monitoring, Pinwheel phones, Troomi phones, Gabb watches, and the Amazon Glow were given as media reviews by the author. All opinions are independent, and Romper only included items that we're happy about.

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