Your kid has finally made a convincing case for their own phone, and you've decided they're ready. As luck would have it, your device is still perfectly functional and would make an excellent hand-me-down first phone. (If anyone in the fam is getting the latest, coolest device, it’s you!) But preparing a used device for its new young owner is a little tricky. Below are all the steps you'll need to make that happen, including how to remove all your old stuff, set it up with built-in limits, find safe, useful apps, and have a conversation about responsible phone use.
Start fresh by clearing everything off your phone
Performing a full reset on the device will bring it back to its original state. First, back everything up to your preferred storage, either a service (such as iCloud or Google Cloud) or hardware, such as your computer or external hard drive. The reset wipes out all the settings and other cached gunk and clears all your data, including files and downloaded apps. But don't worry, once you set up your new phone, your data will download to it. Here's how:
- For iPhones. Use these backup instructions. Then, go into settings > general > reset > erase all content and settings.
- For Android phones. Use these backup instructions. Then, go to settings and go to Factory Data Reset.
Set up limits for screen time, viewing, purchasing, and more
Smartphones open up a whole new world for kids — which they're not always ready for. Both Apple and Android have built-in parental-control-type settings that make your kid's transition from no phone to new phone a lot more manageable for them — and you. With these settings, you can set a daily bedtime that automatically turns off the phone at night, prevent downloads of age-inappropriate content, and set time limits. It's a good idea to add these settings to the phone before you give it to your kid. It's way easier to take the restrictions off as kids demonstrate responsibility and maturity — and as their needs change — than to reign in kids after they've had a taste of freedom.
- On iPhones, the settings are called Screen Time, and you enable them in the Settings app. There are two ways to set it up: You can either enable the settings on your kid's phone and passcode-protect them or manage your kid's phone from yours through Apple's Family Sharing service. Learn more about Screen Time and get instructions on how to set it up.
- On Android Phones, the settings are available in Google's parental control app, called Family Link. Learn more about Family Link and get instructions on how to set it up.
Consider a phone-monitoring app
Some parents want to stay pretty closely involved in what their kids are doing on their phones, especially when it's their first. While Screen Time and Family Link allow you to set limits, they don't give you real-time information about what your kid is talking about, what they're posting and receiving, and whom they're communicating with. For that, you need a monitoring app, such as Bark, Qustodio, or WebWatcher. These can give you visibility into your kid's texts, social media including Instagram and Snapchat, and even photos and videos. They also alert you when iffy content comes through and provide activity reports for even more supervision.
Keep in mind that, for most kids, open communication about your expectations and occasional spot checks will be enough to ensure kids are using their phones responsibly. And monitors do have downsides: They can make your kids feel like they're being spied on, which makes them feel like you don't trust them and can harm your relationship. These programs also cost money, but most offer a free trial. But if you have special concerns about your kid's social media use or social life, monitors are worth checking out.
Download some awesome starter apps for your kid
Finding cool apps is the fun part. But you can't always rely on the app store's ratings to know whether an app is right for your kid. Check our research-backed expert advice to tell you everything you need to know about how to choose the right apps, or rely on already vetted winners. Use one or more of these expert-culled lists to find a huge array of options, from basic kid-safe messaging apps and learning games to sophisticated photo-editing tools and more.
50 Apps All Kids Should Play at Least Once
Choose from some of the best of what’s out there. There’s something for all ages and interests in this essential list of picks.
Podcasts and Audio Apps for Kids
Podcasts are all the rage these days, and not just for adults. Keep kids entertained, engaged, and learning, be it on a road trip, on their way to school, or decompressing alone in their room.
Homework Help Apps
Turn the phone’s learning potential into a jackpot of tips and tricks to help kids ace their homework.
Apps That Inspire Kids to Play Outside
Yep, there are tons of awesome apps that encourage kids to explore nature, learn about constellations, identify flora and fauna, and even sneak in some exercise.
Looking for more? Common Sense Media has over 150 app lists organized by hobby, life skill, school subject, personal interest, and more to satiate any phone-toting kid.
Discuss expectations before the hand-off
In the excitement and transition of getting a first device (and for you, perhaps a new device!), it’s essential to communicate your family’s rules around what’s expected.
Establish device-free times and zones. Decide which areas of your home and what times of day you want to be no-phone zones, such as the dinner table, at bedtime, or before homework is done.
Be a good phone role model. When kids are around, set an example by using media the way you want them to use it. They learn their habits by watching what you do.
Be clear about your expectations. It's way better to establish basic parameters now than later — after all, the times are ever-changing. A family media agreement is a fair and efficient (and documented) way to set and establish those rules first thing, and all parties are held accountable. A few areas to set rules around:
- Multitasking. Phones off during homework.
- Online spending. Will you allow them to spend real money in games and apps, and if so, how much?
- Downloading content. You can prevent them from downloading anything in the phone settings, but it's a good idea to also establish the routine of asking for permission for what they want to download.
- Spot checks. You don't have to be a warden, but you should prepare your kid for occasional spot checks to see what they're doing and to make sure their online lives are healthy and constructive.
- Basic usage rules. How much time per day? Will you let them use the phone in their bedroom? What time does it go off? You can cover this in your family media agreement.
- Communicating. Stuff will happen on the phone that will affect your kid's real life. You need to be kept in the loop so you can support and guide your kid — and share in their newfound excitement. Let your kid know you still want to keep talking, even if it's just about the latest TikTok challenge.