A mobile phone aimed at four-to-nine-year-olds has gone on sale, promising to help protect nippers from being bullied or exposed to harmful images and videos.

Called the 1stFone, it’s the size of a credit card, doesn’t have a screen, and can’t connect to the Internet. It costs just £55, and is made by OwnFone, the company that also makes phones for the elderly. Sounds like a good idea? Some people aren’t so sure.

“The 1stFone is a brand new design of phone that connects your child with the people they need and that’s it! To make a call on a 1stFone all you have to do is press a name. You can have up to twelve names on your 1stFone and it recieves calls too. There’s no text or internet – just good old-fashioned voice calls and you decide who the phone can call. Peace of mind for you and a first phone for your child.

With a compact, screen-free design, the 1stFone is easy for small hands to use and tough enough to survive bumps and scrapes. It’s also super lightweight and perfect for children to carry or wear when they’re playing outside, walking to school or sleeping over with friends. The 1stFone is delivered pre-programmed and ready to use straight out of the box. So there’s no fiddly set up – simple!” –1stfone

Because of 1stFone’s basic functionality, its maker believes it’ll reduce the risk of its owner being cyberbullied, sexted, seeing what they shouldn’t online, or being mugged. For example, parents can enter 12 numbers into the memory, along with an entry for 999, and the child won’t be able to call anyone else.

“In a world dominated by smart phones, parents face a difficult choice when it comes to finding a first phone for their child,” said Tom Sunderland, founder of OwnFone. “We wanted to design a fun product that appeals to children but puts parents in complete control and minimises usage while still providing a vital connection between parent and child.”

Critics like Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, acknowledge kids do want phones, and that a more limited mobile could be a positive step. But she told the Telegraph that marketing a phone to kids so young is “just another way of trying to make money out of children and their parents.”

Siobhan Freegard from Netmums.com added: “Marketing mobiles to pre-school children is wrong. No four-year-old needs their own phone as they should never be left alone or in a situation where they need to ring an adult.”

It’s a tricky one. Some parents don’t want their kids to start using phones too early, but the children have different ideas. Mobiles could obviously be vital in hairy situations, but then there’s the risk of exposure to the darkest corners of the Internet. Phones and tablets will also be crucial to the way we educate ourselves and work in the future, so keeping a child away from such devices could leave them disadvantaged later in life.

What do you think of the 1stFone?