The number of children using tablet computers is rising, which means parents need to be aware of safety issues.

According to Ofcom, seven in ten children aged five to 15 had access to a tablet at the end of 2014, up from five in ten in 2013, while 34% had their own device.

Tablets have many advantages for children, with videos and apps to keep them entertained and educational games to help with learning.

However when children use a tablet too much, they aren’t active, they are sitting still on their own, missing out on childhood activities like running, jumping and active play - activities that help their mental, physical and cognitive development. Experts believe that if we don’t act now, there could be long-term problems.

As a parent there are a few things you can do to protect your child from this and other issues that children may encounter when using tablets.

For more advice check out Internet Matters, which is packed with advice for parents to help children use technology safely.

Reduce screen time

Parents need to monitor the amount of time their children play with tablets. This time is usually spent sitting still staring at a screen, which isn’t healthy for prolonged periods.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children over two should have no more than an hour or two a day screen time, while infants under two should have no screen time at all.

Supervise your child - a tablet is not a toy

Tablets with touch controls are simple to use and children quickly learn how to use them. If you are a busy parent, it’s tempting to sit your child down with a tablet and leave them to it. It’s important to remember that tablets are not toys.

Child development expert Sue Palmer says parents should treat tablets (and other devices that connect to the internet) as if they were a cooker:

“There’s no way you’d let a child under two fiddle with a cooker, and because you are resolute about it, children listen to you.

“However, cooking is an important life skill.  So, once a child is two or three, you probably invite them to help with meal preparation, showing how the cooker works, but in very controlled conditions.  Gradually, as they grow older and more confident, you maybe let them turn on the gas, stir the pudding, help you put the biscuits in to cook … always under careful supervision.”

Child looking at tablet in lap with reflection

If your child is very young, sit with them while they are using a tablet, so you can answer questions and show them how things work.

With older children, keep an eye on what they are doing - remember you can check their browsing history, if you are happy to let them use the internet.

On an Android tablet open the menu within the Chrome web browser and tap History. To discover how to do this on an Apple tablet click here.

Prepare the tablet for your child to use

Tablets are aimed primarily at adults, so when you get a new device, spend a bit of time making it child-friendly.

Android and Apple tablets let you set up parental controls that allow you to determine the age rating for apps, games, movies and TV shows that can be downloaded.

Android:  Parental controls aren’t on by default.

  1. Launch the Play Store.
  2. Tap Menu – Settings –Parental Controls.
  3. Flick the slider ‘On’ and enter a PIN.
  4. Use the filters to determine the age rating.

Apple: Apple’s filters aren’t on by default either.  Access them via the Restrictions menu, which also lets you temporarily remove features you don’t want children to use, such as the browser. Discover how to do this here.

Read more in our article: Three things to do before giving your child a gadget.

Man and woman looking at daughter with tablet

Talk to your child

When your child gets older and more likely to use a tablet independently, it’s time to talk to them about online safety.

Cyberbullying, privacy and adult content are just a few of the issues they’ll face.  

Internet Matters has produced a free app called CyberSense (soon changing to be Internet Matters) to help.  Aimed at eight to ten year olds, it takes the form of a quiz that parents and children can do together, to encourage them to understand more about online safety.

CyberSense is a free download for Apple and Android tablets.

For more advice check out our article: 12 tips to help children use the internet safely and nicely.

Choose a child-friendly tablet

We’ve covered Apple and Android tablets here, which are aimed at adults, but likely to be shared within a family.

If you want your child to enjoy the benefits of a tablet, without worrying about them accessing unsuitable content, it might be worth choosing a tablet aimed specifically at children.

Amazon Fire Kids Edition tablet

Leapfrog makes educational toys and has a range of tablets aimed at children from three to nine years old, such as the LeapPad Platinum (£74.99) and LeapPad 3 (£59.99).

The Amazon Fire Kids Edition (£99.99) (above) and slightly older Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 Kids (£249.99) are two other options.*

Children’s tablets have bright, colourful interfaces, are made from durable plastic (to survive being dropped by kids), and come with parental modes and kid-friendly web browsers to prevent the little ones discovering unsuitable things online.

*Prices correct at time of writing.

For a comprehensive and easy-to-use resource of the most up-to-date information for keeping your child safe online, check out Internet Matters.