Options To Communicate With Your Kids Without A Smartphone

Dr. Delaney Ruston – With the holidays coming, you might be thinking about buying your kid a phone. I wanted you to know that  If you choose to give your child a smartphone, or they have one, most can be customized to limit its functions. The browsers on most smartphones, including the iPhone, are simply apps. You can delete the Safari App or the Chrome App, etc. In addition, you can put parental controls on it so that they are required to get your permission to add any apps to their phone, and you can set time limits. On an iPhone, you can also go to the parental control settings and disable any third-party or built-in app, including the browsers. Then, set the phone to require a passcode to change or add access to apps.

That said, many parents prefer that their children have non-smartphones. The New York Time’s gadget blog, Wirecutter, recently reviewed what they call “The Best Smart Watches and Phones For Kids.”  Today, I include some reviews of non-smartphones and some experiences and recommendations from other parents. 


Here are Wirecutter’s (the New York Time’s tech blog) top picks for phones and watches for kids:

  1. The Verizon Gizmo Watch2 – Gizmos have been around for a long time. My friend Amy has an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old, and until now, both kids have had Gizmo watches. I talked to her kids about having that watch, and they were overall fine with it, but that said, the 13-year-old was excited that he would be able to get a smartphone this month.  You can talk and text with your kids on these watches and track their location if you want to. You can also control who they are allowed to communicate with. Amy says she allows her kids to text and call her and her husband and text some friends on their watches.  Wirecutter says: “Of the kids’ smartwatches we’ve tested, the Verizon GizmoWatch 2 is one of the most intuitive for kids to use (and for adults to manage), as well as one of the most affordable.”
  2. ​​Wirecutter also likes the TickTalk 4. It is slightly bigger than the Gizmo Watch2, has a camera for photos, and allows video calls. The TickTalk 4 also allows up to 50 contacts vs. ten contacts on the GizmoWatch 2. 
  3. The Gabb Phone Z2 is a phone without a browser or access to an app store.  Your kids will be able to text, call, take pictures and video, listen to music, and use it as a calculator. With no web browser, you’ll have more control over what your kid sees. Wirecutter says, “With no web browser or app store, this Android smartphone limits kids to sending text messages, making phone calls, taking pictures and videos, and listening to music.”
  4. There are many flip phones on the market these days, as they have had a revival. However, not all flip phones are like the old ones, as some have smartphone abilities, and the flip is more for styling. Wirecutter likes the Alcatel  SmartFlip for kids. They say, “If you want a basic phone that doesn’t do much besides making calls, the Alcatel SmartFlip is cheap, reliable, and easy to find.” Although the phone is pretty basic, you cannot control who your child calls or texts on this phone.

And, here are some interesting experiences and recommendations the other parents:

Kathleen B.

“We eliminated our tween’s iPhone and replaced it with a Gabb phone. Zero complaints! It was easy for her to mindlessly scroll Pinterest while awaiting a text reply from friends, and that’s no longer an option. It’s helping her learn to self-regulate screen time and eliminates the temptation to get sucked into apps and trends. This generation will stare at screens their entire lives. For now, a phone is needed for communication purposes only.”

Jennifer C.

“…we have my teen with a Gabb, but now will be switching to Troomi phone. A little bit more options as they grow but controlled by the parent app…”

Kristina C.

“Gabb wireless is a great option. My kids both have them. It looks like a smartphone. My kids are 15 and 18, my older son has the second level, that one enables you to group text and text photos. My youngest has the first level, talk, and text, one person at a time. You can take photos, but there is no way to share photos from the phone without downloading them first. There is NO app store. The only annoying thing is the boys would both like a notes app of some kind.”

Lynn P.

“Just got my almost 17 yo Gabb phone (dumb phone), and is going great, honestly! At night he gets like an hour at home on his old iPhone (on wifi), but overall, we’ve reduced screen time a lot! Reads books for an hour before bed every weeknight!”

Kristina T.

I have one 13 yr old much happier with her flip phone. And my 14 yr old wants a flip phone. The only thing I like about smartphones is being able to have life 360 [an app that allows GPS tracking]

Tinna M.

“ …our 12-year-old is very happy with her flip phone! She is on my parent’s Consumer Cellular plan. They keep it simple for older customers, and that works great for kids too.”

Questions to get a conversation started:

  1. If you were to design the perfect phone, what would it have on it?
  2. If you had to design a phone without access to the web, what would you want on it?
  3. For those who have a smartphone. Have you ever considered switching out our smartphones for something without social media apps or gaming apps?
  4. For those that have a smartphone. What app do you use the most on your phone? Then share what app you and everyone else in the conversation uses the most. Then, ask whether everyone would be willing to get rid of that one app for one week. If you do that, be sure to measure the amount of time you each spend on that app before you take it off. Then, after a week, check-in with everyone about how it is going.
  5. If you have older teens, ask them what age they think is appropriate to give a smartphone to a younger kid.