Five years ago, the major debate regarding cell phones and children was “should my child have one or not?” Now, the landscape has changed. Cell phones have become mandatory for the American lifestyle, nearly every citizen from all walks of life has one, and the question is no longer “should your child have a cell phone” but “what kind of cell phone should I get for my child?”

As far as that’s concerned, you really have two major options – a smart phone or a dumb phone. Here are the pros and cons of each to help you make the right decision for your children.

Dumb Phones

Remember the cell phones of old, the ones that didn’t have operating systems and didn’t have the ability to download apps? Those cell phones still exist on the market today. Known as “dumb phones” or “basic phones,” they can be a great device for someone who only needs a phone for the bare essentials.

The Pros:

  • The Cost.  “Dumb Phones” like the Samsung Intensity III are not only cheaper to purchase, they’re also cheaper to use. Many devices can be obtained for less than $50 with a two-year contract, and they don’t require an expensive monthly data plan to use. This makes them ideal for families on a budget, especially considering how often kids tend to break or lose things.
  • Limited Features. Basic phones can make calls, send and receive texts and take pictures – and that’s pretty much it. If you’re getting a phone just so your kids can call you to check in when they’re away, then basic is definitely the way to go. Some of these phones include a few other features such as email syncing, and a calculator that might occasionally be useful, but will often go ignored.
  • The Plans. Most basic phones can be added to a family phone plan for next-to-nothing. Additionally, there are many basic devices like the Trac Phone that allow you to use a pay-as-you go plan, so that you can provide your child with a preset amount of minutes and texts each month without worrying about overage fees.

The Cons:

  • Limited Features. Having limited features can be both a blessing and a curse. While basic phones won’t burden your child with the ability to download scammy apps, they also won’t be able to download useful and educational apps and tools like a GPS child tracker or an app that teaches them about budgeting their money.

Smart Phones

Smart phones are all the rage these days. Since they come with an operating system similar to a computer’s, they can do pretty much everything via downloadable apps. However, this utility comes at a high cost – one that many parents might be reluctant to take on for their children.

The Pros:

  • Tons of Features. Want to get an app that can track your child’s movements? You can do that. What about an app that can teach them astronomy and arithmetic? You can download those too.  If your kids have a desperate need to stay connected to their social networks and music streaming services, a smart phone is right up your alley. Think of a smart phone as the Deep Blue supercomputer to the basic phone’s Atari system.
  • They’re a Learning Tool. With great power comes great responsibility. Providing your kids with a smart phone gives you the chance to teach them about the “do’s” and “don’ts” of web browsing and app downloading. They can learn how to use the device to keep themselves organized, flexible and connected in a world that demands such things these days.
  • More accessories. Since smart phones are the new standard, it’s easier to find accessories like protective cases and replacement chargers for them.

The Cons:

  • The Cost. Smart phones aren’t cheap. A basic smart phone from Android or Blackberry will cost you around $100 – and even though the new BlackBerry 10 pricing is considered excellent among its competitors, it’s still more than what you would pay for a basic phone. In addition to the monthly charge for adding a line, you’ll also need to purchase a data plan which can cost you anywhere from $20 to $50 a month depending on your carrier. Plus, you’ll probably want to insure the phone in case they break it – which tacks on another $10 a month.
  • The Responsibility. As I mentioned above, a smart phone is a lot of responsibility. If your kid misuses it, they could end up downloading a fortune’s worth of paid apps and get themselves into trouble over social networks and picture-texting services like SnapChat.

In the end, the decision whether to go basic or smart with your child’s phone isn’t totally cut and dry. If you want a basic device for emergency use only, then a basic phone seems like the smarter choice. However, if you think your child is ready to handle the responsibility of a smart phone – and you don’t mind paying for it – they’ll certainly get much more use out of the latter.

What do you think? What kind of phones did you buy for your kids? Let me know in the comments below!