Let’s face it: Kids want iPhones. Their favorite celebrities are seen using them, they see their parents using them, and some of their friends have them. But which iPhone is best for your kid? There are lots of factors to consider, not the least of which is the age of the child in question.
Whatever iPhone you get, you should consider using Screen Time to manage their use. Built into iOS, Screen Time lets you set limits on how long your kid can use their phone, what apps they can download and use, and when they need to put it down for the night. It’s a great way for busy parents to keep tabs on what their kids are doing when they’re not within eyeshot, and ought to be the first thing you set up.
Now onto the iPhone itself. For toddlers that need a simple device for watching parent-approved videos and playing some games or educational apps, we recommend avoiding iPhones altogether and getting a basic iPad. It’s affordable, you don’t have to worry about cellular connectivity, and the large size is easy for toddlers still working on their fine motor skills. You can check out our best iPad for kids guide to see if this would be a better fit for your child, and we recommend a look at our best iPad deals roundup so you can get the best prices.
But, once a child gets old enough for phone connectivity to be useful (for mobile internet, texting friends, or being contactable by you), it’s time to step up to a proper iPhone. Here’s our recommendations.
Best iPhone for kids
Apple iPhone SE (2022) – Best iPhone for younger kids
No Face ID
Older, less modern, design
MSRP: $429 (64GB) | $479 (128GB) | $579 (256GB)
If you have a grade-school aged kid who’s mature enough to handle a phone, you should look no further than the iPhone SE. It’s got the same A15 processor used in the iPhone 13 range, so you know it’s going to perform well and get software updates for years. With a 4.7-inch screen, it’s also pretty small, which is good for younger kids’ hands and pockets. It’s a more than serviceable iPhone, and there’s really nothing your kid may want to do that they won’t be able to, outside of using features like Memoji or Animoji, which require the TrueDepth camera found in the Face ID equipped higher-end iPhones.
The best part is that it’s inexpensive (for an iPhone) at $429/£449, although that is for the 64GB version, which could fill up quickly if they child in question wants to download plenty of games and content to watch. Stepping up to the 128GB version ($479/£499) can alleviate this, but the price does start to creep up. Still, cutting back on features like the all-screen Liquid Retina display and dual cameras, and sporting Touch ID instead of Face ID saves a lot of cost, so the SE will still be cheaper than all the other iPhones. And since young kids tend to be rough on stuff, even with a good case and screen protector (which are highly recommended), you’re not going to want to risk putting a $700 phone in their hands.
In truth, we don’t really recommend the iPhone SE (2022) for adults, as in modern terms it seems a bit dated and limited, but for a kid’s first step into the Apple world it would be a great choice.
Read our full Apple iPhone SE (2022) review
Apple iPhone 12 – Best iPhone for older kids
Good battery life
MSRP: $599 (64GB) | $649 (128GB) | $749 (256GB)
Older kids—young teens and high school students—have more demanding standards. An iPhone SE may still serve them very well, but that smaller screen is a little archaic and they’re going to want to look cool in front of their friends. More importantly, photo-taking and social media start to become an important part of their social life. So if you’re willing to spend more on an iPhone with a more capable camera, Face ID, and a full-screen display, we recommend looking no further than the iPhone 12.
With a 6.1-inch display, it’s considerably bigger than the iPhone SE, which older kids will appreciate, and it has a more modern design and features without costing nearly as much as the iPhone 13. You’re giving up some features, like the newer chip and bigger battery, but the iPhone 12 is the sweet spot between performance, battery life, and modern features that any “older kid” would be proud to have, but it costs $200 less than the iPhone 13 and even $100 less than the iPhone 13 mini.
Your 9th grader is going to want to take great selfies and pics for social media and texting with friends, and the iPhone 12 will deliver, with battery life that will easily last a full day. And since the pictures they take are going to be your memories in a decade, it’s worth investing in a phone with a great camera.
Ok, technically the iPhone 12 mini isn’t available from Apple any more, but it does crop up in the company’s Refurbished store quite often. If you’ve not seen this part of the Apple Store, then we recommend you check it out. Apple takes iPhones that have either been returned as faulty or unwanted, then fixes them up so they are good as new and sells them at around 15% off their normal price. You also get a full one-year warranty that’s exactly the same one you’d get with a new iPhone. Check out our where to buy second-hand and refurbished iPhones guide for more details.
This is good news, as the iPhone 12 mini is a great choice for kids, especially if you can get it a bit cheaper. The device shares most of the attributes of its bigger brother the iPhone 12, including the processor and twin rear cameras, but it all comes in a gorgeous, compact frame that is perfect for smaller hands. Somehow the engineers at Apple still managed to fit a 5.4-inch display into a device that’s smaller than the iPhone SE. If you can find one on the Apple Refurbished store then we think it could be a great option. One thing to bear in mind is that the smaller nature of the mini means that battery life can be a little lacking. So, if you’re expecting your kid to be on it all the time, especially when out and about, we’d suggest maybe picking up a portable power bank to top up the battery if things get low. As the iPhone 12 mini supports MagSage, you can choose one from our roundup of the best MagSafe portable battery packs and power banks.
Should you not be able to find the 12 mini on the Refurbished store, you can always plump for the excellent iPhone 13 mini instead, although the price may make it somewhat prohibitive.
Read our full iPhone 12 mini review
iPhone 14 – Best latest generation iPhone for kids
If your kid is insisting on the latest iPhone then we’d recommend the iPhone 14 – although we’d strongly advise that you turn their attention to the iPhone 13, which is practically identical. If they are wanting a phone that looks like the newest model then they’ll easily fool their classmates with the iPhone 13.
But if it’s the latest model they are after the iPhone 14 is the cheapest option and it brings features that the iPhone 13 lacks, including the Action Mode for video that we can see kids taking advantage of. Switch Action Mode on and you can film while you walk or even run and still get a smooth video.
The other way that the iPhone 14 is different to the iPhone 13 is in the color choices available. This generation comes in blue, purple, midnight, starlight and red. The iPhone 13 had a similar selection that also included green and pink. Don’t get to caught up in the color choice though – you will definitely want to put a good strong iPhone case on it.
Read our full iPhone 14 review
Buy a refurbished iPhone
Before you buy one of the phones mentioned above our advice is to explore the second-hand and refurbished market. Buying a second-hand or refurbished iPhone can save you a lot of money.
Your first port of call should be Apple’s own Refurbished store where Apple sells ex-display and returned iPhones that have been refurbished. There are various benefits to buying from Apple’s Refurbished Store in the U.S. or U.K., including the fact that all products in the Refurbished Store come with a one-year limited warranty.
But Apple’s not the only place that sells refurbished iPhones though; there are plenty of companies that make a living from refurbishing and selling iPhones.
In fact, there is a growing marketplace for older devices that are fixed up and sold on to prolong their lives. Companies like musicMagpie (UK), Decluttr (US), Amazon and eBay are all now providing this service, along with one-year warranties and money-back guarantees if you’re not completely satisfied with your purchase. Of course, investing in older tech is also better for the environment, as it stops the iPhones from being thrown into land-fills even though they are capable of providing years more service to a happy kid.
So, they come with guarantees, save you money, and protect the planet. What’s not to love?
The other advantage is that you can pick up older devices that will be great for children but not blow a hole in your bank account. Here’s a few models that can be picked up for great prices and would be more than good enough for a young user:
iPhone SE (2022): Basically identical as the iPhone SE (2022) only with an older processor and no 5G.
iPhone 11: Great all-rounder that introduces kids to Face ID. Dual 12MP rear cameras, A13 Bionic chip, IP68 water resistance and nice colours make this an excellent choice.
iPhone XR: Same build as the iPhone 11 but with the previous generation A12 Bionic processor and only a single rear camera. Still a solid iPhone.
Give them an iPhone you already have
Another route to explore is handing over your current iPhone and buying yourself a new one! If you’ve had yours for a while, then it may be out of its contract period, but if you bought it outright then all you need to do is get a new SIM card for your youngster, give them your handset, then head off to the Apple store to give yourself a present for being such a magnanimous parent. If you’re unsure what to treat yourself to, our best iPhone roundup should prove a helpful guide.
Before you hand over your old iPhone make sure you set it up correctly for your child. Have a look at 5 things to do before giving an old iPhone or iPad to your kid and How to set up parental controls on iPad & iPhone.