It’s a potential moment of dread for every parent: What happens when your child first asks for a cell phone of his own? Giving your child a phone can make it easier for him to stay in touch with you, but it also gives him access to entire digital worlds you can’t keep an eye on anymore. 

Over the past few years, new types of cell phones for kids have emerged to help parents work around some of these difficult conversations. Kid-safe phones can make it easier for parents to control or monitor their child’s cellular activity, lowering the potential risks of usage down to an absolute minimum. 

Just as regular smartphones evolve to become more powerful, the technology behind kid-friendly phones is likely to do the same. Whereas traditional cell phones use technological innovations to constantly integrate new features, the child-focused alternatives will be turning new tech into advanced options for usability and privacy protection.

While the broad strokes may be clear, knowing the exact path that kid-friendly phones will take is far from easy. Here are a few directions they might head in:

One Step Forward, One Step Back

When it comes to buying a kid’s phone, parents want an option that incorporates all of the necessary features without going overboard. Each new model of smartphone brings with it a number of new capabilities, not all of which you’ll want your child to have regular access to. While mainstream cell phones may continue to push the envelope, kids’ phones might not take the exact same path.

Currently, one of the most popular options for a child’s first phone is a classic flip phone, and it fits a lot of parents’ requirements: It can text and call, has limited internet access, and is reasonably difficult to break into. While kid-safe phones in the future might not have such a retro appearance, it’s entirely possible that they’ll imitate the limited options found on today’s flip phones. 

What this might end up looking like a few years from now is a smartphone that parents can remotely control the features of. When it’s first given, parents might choose to disable all abilities, save for calling. As time goes on, they can gradually give their child more leeway and enable capabilities like texting, sending pictures, or accessing the internet. A phone like this would allow children to gradually gain phone literacy without parents needing to constantly buy them new upgrades. 

Privacy Protection

While there may be plenty of apps out there that can help protect your privacy while you’re on your phone, they can often still fall short of what is necessary. In fact, one in 36 is currently infected with some kind of privacy-breaching malware. While that number may not sound huge, it’s still too high a risk for many parents. Even if the option to download certain apps is always there, more and more families will be looking for phone options that have privacy protections embedded in their operating system.

Plenty of devices today are great at detecting the possibility of malware, but most still give users the option to expose themselves to it. iPhones, for example, warn users before joining unknown and potentially dangerous wifi networks; 92 percent still join regardless. In a few years, kid-safe phones will likely make it impossible to join such networks and prevent the downloading of questionable apps — saving parents a lot of headache in the process.

Tools for Education

Phones don’t necessarily need to be something to wage war against. Used correctly, cell phones can operate as powerful platforms for learning outside the classroom. As schools across the world have been forced to shutter their doors due to COVID-19, many have turned to cell phones as an option for remote teaching. By integrating both the educational and social elements of school into one platform, the right cell phone can go a long way toward imitating the experience.

Phones don’t just have to be replacements for classrooms — they can be great supplements as well. Smartphones’ increased graphical power makes them ripe for potential educational gaming opportunities, and video-chatting applications can make it easy to arrange one-on-one time with tutors. As child phones continue to grow in popularity, so will their ability to act as a tool for education as much as communication.

There are already plenty of excellent kid-friendly phones out there, but the options are likely to get even better as time goes on. By keeping an eye on all the new releases, you can ensure that the phone you do end up getting is the right option for your child.