The number of children using tablets is rising, which means parents need to be aware of safety issues. According to Ofcom, more than one in three chldren aged 5-7 have their own tablet and this goes up to half of all children aged 8-11.
While tablets can be a fantastic source of education and entertainment, it can be difficult to strike a balance between letting them enjoy using them and overuse. For more advice check out Internet Matters, which is packed with advice for parents to help children use technology safely.
Try to reduce their overall screen time
Parents need to monitor the amount of time their children play with tablets or indeed with any device that has a screen such as the TV or a handheld games console. 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.
Supervision is key – tablets aren’t toys
Tablets with touch controls are simple to use and as such 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 however 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.”
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.
Child-proof your tablet
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.
Parental controls aren’t on by default so you’ll need to go into the settings of the device and turn them on manually.
Launch the Play Store, Tap Menu – Settings – Parental Controls. Flick the slider ‘On’ and enter a PIN. Use the filters to determine the age rating.
Apple has tools that let you manage your child’s screen time as well as the purchases they make on the device.
You can access Apple’s main parental control features by going to Settings – Screen Time – and then selecting either “This is my device” or “This is my child’s device”. If you select the second option you’ll be able to set a passcode which protects all of the parental controls.
Within Screen Time you’ll be able to set time limits for apps and even block access to many of the tablet’s main functions using something called Downtime which can be scheduled.
To stop your child spending money on the tablet head to Settings – Screen Time – Content & Privacy Restrictions. Inside this menu you can do everything from blocking multiplayer games, in-app purchases, or just making sure that a password is always required to carry out these actions.
If you have BT internet you can activate browsing parental controls straight from within your browser by logging into My BT and clicking this link.
From there you can manage the types of content that your child can access while browsing the internet.
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.
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.
Finally the Amazon Fire Kids Edition (£99.99) provides the best of both worlds by providing an Android tablet but with a heavily curated operating system so kids can’t stray into content that you might be concerned about.
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.