Mobile plans for kids - what should I choose?

Kids using smartphones

Picking out a mobile plan for yourself is difficult enough… let alone choosing one for a child or a teenager. What do kids these days want from a phone? What’s the best tariff to go for? Read on and we’ll take you through your options.

In the age of technology, equipping your child with a mobile phone can be a practical decision for communication and safety. However, with so many options available, choosing the right plan can be a daunting task for parents. Should you opt for a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) plan, or is a contract more suitable? In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of each to help you make an informed decision.

Understanding PAYG plans

PAYG plans are best if your child will only be using their phone a little, or if they have a feature phone, and it means they can't accidentally overspend. It's best avoided for a smartphone where they'll be using mobile data though - PAYG data doesn't really work out good value.

Benefits of PAYG for children

  • No overspending: With PAYG, children can only use the credit available on their phone, which eliminates the risk of unexpected bills
  • No credit checks or bank accounts: It's also the best choice if your kid is going to take charge of the bill themselves, since PAYG doesn't require a credit check or even a bank account
  • Flexible bundles: Many providers let you purchase 30-day bundles of minutes, texts, and data, which provide better value than standard rates. Providers like giffgaff offer these kinds of plans

Drawbacks of PAYG

  • Limited data: For smartphones, PAYG can get expensive due to the higher cost of data
  • Constant top-ups: Parents may need to regularly top-up their child’s phone, which can be inconvenient

Exploring 30-day SIM-only plans

For those seeking a middle ground between PAYG and long-term contracts, 30-day SIM-only plans are an excellent alternative. They offer the flexibility to change or cancel the plan monthly based on your child's usage.

iD Mobile offers reasonably priced one-month SIM-only plans, which include features like capping and data rollover; while Smarty's one-month deals include a discount on unused data.

Considering 12-month SIM-only plans

If your child’s phone usage is consistent, a 12-month SIM-only plan can be a cost-effective solution. These plans are typically cheaper than 30-day plans and still offer a degree of flexibility.

Phone contracts for children

Generally, phone contracts are not recommended for children due to the long-term commitment and the higher risk associated with losing or damaging the phone. They could be considered for responsible teens who desire a high-end phone, but having a backup plan is advisable.

Selecting the right tariff

The best plan for your child depends on various factors, including their age, phone type, and how they intend to use the phone. For feature phones, a plan with just minutes and texts is usually enough. On the other hand, smartphones will need a data allowance.

For just a bit of occasional browsing (and plenty of WhatsApp messages), a 1GB allowance will do the trick. A regular social media user, however, will easily get through a few gigabytes - though anything more than 20GB per month will be overkill. Unlimited data plans are great for parents but not really necessary for kids.

The advantages of family plans

Shared or family plans can be a cost-saving option, allowing data allowances to be shared among several family members. EE has comprehensive Family Accounts, which let you control how much data you share and set content filters. O2 has basic sharer plans that can connect up to 10 phones.

Choosing the right phone for your child

When selecting a phone, it’s wise to avoid expensive flagship models for children. Budget or mid-range models are more appropriate, and there are plenty of options available. If you do go for a snazzier smartphone, take a look at refurbished handsets and ones from resellers, which will be much more affordable than buying one at full price.

Consider the durability of the phone, especially for younger children. Feature phones are robust and less distracting, while some smartphones offer rugged designs suitable for kids.

Monitoring your child’s phone usage

Monitoring your child’s phone usage is crucial to prevent overspending and ensure safe browsing. PAYG plans can simplify this by limiting usage to the available credit. You can also:

  • Use usage apps to track how much data, minutes, and texts are being used
  • Regularly check the phone to see the usage history
  • Teach your child to use Wi-Fi whenever possible to save on data
  • Implement parental controls to restrict access to certain types of content

You can also set a spending cap. It's far too easy to overspend outside of your allowance, but setting a cap will ensure that there's a limit to what your kid can spend - accidentally or otherwise. Networks like Three and iD Mobile offer this feature.

In the end, selecting the right mobile plan for your child is about balancing cost, convenience, and control. Whether you choose PAYG, a short-term SIM-only plan, or a more traditional contract, ensure that it aligns with your child's needs and your own peace of mind. Remember, the goal is to keep them connected and safe, not just to give them the latest gadget.

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