Best Dumb Phones for Smart Kids
Buying a dumb phone for your kid is a smart move. Unlike smartphones, dumb phones will let your child grow up human without developing a smartphone addiction and being exposed to online dangers.
Why Do Parents Buy Phones?
When we decide to get our children their first phone, what we really want is:
- To be able to reach them via phone calls and texts
- To give them the freedom to arrange their social life (and free us from this time-consuming responsibility)
- To know where they are
What Actually Happens
These are the reasons we buy our kids a phone: to protect them. To worry about them less. To make sure they are safe.
But what happens in reality is exactly the opposite of “safe”.
A smartphone comes preloaded with these features:
- Distraction and cheating at school
- Toxic social media
- Addictive video gaming
- Porn in their pocket
- Exposure to violence
- Open access for predators
- Depression and anxiety
- Behavior manipulation by Big Data
- Self-harming behaviors
- Sleep deprivation
- Degradation of social skills
- Compromised childhood development
The list goes on. Instead of making our kids safe, a fully-loaded smartphone destroys their humanity. It is the most dangerous object we hand to them.
In our family, we decided to give dumb phones to our kids to opt out from these negative consequences and signed the WaitUntil8th campaign pledge that encourages parents to wait at least until the 8th grade before giving children a smartphone. Considering the ever-growing Ledger of Harms, we might wait even longer. Our oldest is in high-school – without a smartphone.
A dumb phone will increase the chances that he would focus on his education and grow up independent from smartphone addiction.
How do we give our children the gift of connectivity - without any of the dangers?
Below is our overview of safe dumb phones for kids and their features.
I got these phones for my 2 older kids, ages 12 and 15 (who never had smartphones before), and so far, they are thrilled! Here is a detailed post documenting their experience.
What is unique about the GABB phone is that it is a dumb phone that looks like a smartphone so children can preserve their social standing. Kids, especially teenagers, are terrified of not blending in with their tribe – and all of their friends have smartphones. Teens are only rebellious when it comes to parents, with peers they want to conform. With GABB phone, they can look “cool” like their peers with smartphones.
GABB phone looks like a smartphone, but without all the dangers:
- No addictive video games
- No toxic social media
- No porn
- No manipulative advertising
- No distracting apps
- No Internet browsing
- Real time GPS tracking of your kid’s Gabb phone from a parent smartphone
It’s much cheaper to replace than an expensive smartphone if the kid loses or breaks it. The only drawback is that you cannot add it to your existing family plan, but the monthly fee of $19.99-$24.99 is comparable to most carriers. I pay it to protect my kids from smartphone addiction until they are old enough to be trusted with actual smartphones.
Gabb watch is basically a wearable phone. The Gabb Watch triples as a cell phone, GPS device, and interactive watch. It is a stand-alone device with more affordable monthly service plans than the Gabb phone (from $9.99 to $16.99 depending on the length of the contract).
Ongoing discount with promo code TECHDETOX.
Pinwheel Kids Phone
Pinwheel is the child-safe smartphone designed for kids. The company’s mission is to put humans (particularly, parents!) back in charge of technology with the phone that is built to be a tool, not an entertainment center. The phone is specifically designed to resist the toxic dopamine reward loop of addictive technology:
- Has its own operating system to protect kids’ attention and wellbeing
- No Internet browser, no App store, no social media, no video games
- Parents can choose from the list of pre-approved apps vetted by child psychologists to be beneficial – not addictive. Apps emphasize learning, communication, creativity, and wellness
- Unlike Gabb, Pinwheel is dynamic and customizable: it can grow with your child as you add access to apps when you think your child is ready for them. Examples that caught my attention include Kindle reader, Khan academy, Spotify, Google Classroom, WhatsApp, or Uber – depending on what your family needs. You can find the current list of apps here
- Bark child safety software can monitor all activity on the phone and warn parents of any dangerous content (additional charge, with a discount provided by Pinwheel)
- Unlike app-free Gabb phone, every third party app on Pinwheel has a potential for loopholes. The team of engineers is on standby to fix any workarounds kids might find within the apps. If an app deteriorates into addiction, it risks being removed.
- If you want no apps, you can lock the phone down in the basic functions of calls and text, just like a Gabb phone
- Pinwheel currently comes in 3 models:
- Pinwheel Rugged $249 (Incompatible with AT&T and Verizon)
- Pinwheel Slim $159 (Incompatible with AT&T and Verizon)
- Pinwheel Plus $329 (Compatible with all major carriers)
- You can keep your current phone carrier, but a subscription to Pinwheel Parent Dashboard ($14.99 a month) is required to use the phone
- Pinwheel phone is significantly more expensive than a Gabb phone, but in theory can be used longer without switching to the smartphone with all its harms
Get 10% OFF Pinwheel Kids Phone with promo code TECHDETOX
LG Expression QWERTY phone
The problem with most basic phones is that they are really difficult for texting – you have to press the key several times to get to the letter you need. The phones with slide-out keyboard like LG Expression make texting easy, which is what kids want. And they are an earlier version of touch-screen.
Before Gabb phones, I bought these QWERTY keyboard dumb phones for 2 of my children and added them to our family plan – without data. Full disclosure: the 12-year old embraced the basic texting and calling and used the phone to communicate with friends, but the 15-year old refused to have anything to do with an “uncool” phone, and only used it when he needed to call us. The phones also had connectivity issues with our carrier, Tmobile.
Kids Smartwatch with a GPS Tracker - a Cell Phone Alternative
- The main appeal of these devices is that they allow parents to track kids’ location in real time.
- Insert a SIM card and add the device as a line with your cell phone provider (not all providers support them).
- Children can place and receive phone calls only from contacts programmed by parents.
- Pairs with the parent’s smartphone via an app.
- Some still come preloaded with distracting games, which kind of defeats the purpose.
- Gizmo by Verizon was the first to come up with the concept, now a number of options are available, such as this one:
- Calling and texting only 4G phone, only pre programmed numbers are allowed
- No Internet, No Apps
- GPS Tracker sending coordinates to parents’ phone app
- SOS Feature to send a text with a GPS location and auto-dial 3 numbers
- GeoFencing feature allows parents to set a predetermined area and receive an alert if the phone enters or leaves the area.
- The Voice Monitoring feature allows parents to monitor the child’s surroundings.
- Only works with KidsConnect plan, cannot connect to your existing carrier. Monthly plans range from $15-$45.
- A screenless push-to-talk smartphone alternative for kids
- Preprogrammed numbers for parents or caregivers
- Pairs with an app on a parent’s smartphone
- A way to keep in touch and track kids’ location without the distractions of screens
- SOS function for parents to call 911 and send help directly
- No concerns of exposure to inappropriate content and cyber bullying
- Current monthly plans range from $8.33 to $12.50 a month
Light Phone 2
- Texting and calling, no images, no camera, no Internet
- A phone for kids or for adults who wish to unplug: designed to be used as little as possible
- No social media, ads, news or email
- Simple music player and a podcasts tool
- Will work with compatible carriers
ZTE Altair 2
- An unlocked GSM phone, can be activated with a SIM card from your carrier
- Skip the data plan to use for only calling and texting
- Has a keyboard for easy texting
- Not a smartphone – no WiFi capability
A flip phone without Internet connection is a simple and affordable option for the first dumb phone for kids. Here are some feature phones without Internet capability to choose from:
What if my child already has a smartphone?
Even if you gave your child a smartphone, it does not automatically mean a life of 24/7 distractions. The problem is Internet access, not the phone itself. And Internet access on the smartphone can be limited in these ways:
- Opt out of – or limit – the data plan for your child when activating their phone
- Limit WiFi at home to specific hours using router settings and parental controls
- Limit Internet access using cell phone carrier parental controls or screen time management apps
- Take the phone away when it’s not to be used according to family media rules. That’s what our product TechDetox Box is designed for:
- No tech in the bedroom, at the dinner table, or outside designated screen time hours
- No multitasking with the phone distractions during homework
- No unauthorized apps, games, or social media
- Content filters for both family WiFi network and cell phone data to keep out the bad stuff
We plan to keep these rules in place even when our kids are 18.
Dear son/daughter, once you launch as an adult and pay for your own phone, you can set your own screen time rules.