Around this time, two years ago, I managed to convince my husband that our children needed to have tablets because it would increase their educational options. I was specifically hoping that they would read more e-books and they would play with more educational apps and a lot less Super Mario Brothers on their Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS systems.
We were successful in getting them to play less Super Mario Brothers but their love for this game was nothing compared to their obsession with Minecraft. Locking up their tablets with a passcode didn’t wholly solve the problem. Whenever we unlocked it, all they wanted to play was Minecraft. None of the other apps could ever compete. As I set out to test and find great tablets for families, we also gathered some helpful hints to make sure tablet use doesn’t turn into tablet abuse.
1. Block out YouTube, no matter what
Do not count on filter settings. The biggest problems I saw were with thumbnails of videos. Even if the video in itself was not wholly inappropriate, the explicit thumbnail image which was probably set up there to get hits, is visible to anyone. Hopefully the kid friendly-versions that Google announced this month for Chrome and YouTube in 2015 will eliminate this problem.
2. Go with what you know
If you know Android, get an Android tablet. Setting up profiles, going back and forth between parent settings and kid settings is such a pain. Your mental energies are valuable.
3. Consider getting two tablets
It is okay to have certain apps locked out, but I really do feel that there is good in having free reign on a tablet—with only preferred apps—since you want kids to access e-books, dictionaries, weather information etc. just as easily as you can access it.
4. Stop proclaiming tech ignorance and start learning now
This is something with which I have struggled personally. Knowing how to use your computer is like knowing how to cook in your kitchen. The more you know how to use the tools, the more you can do for your child.
5. Children grow and tech keeps changing
Both you and your child need to understand that a parent must be allowed flexibility in order to keep them safe. This can mean that you must lighten your restrictions or that you must rethink things because a new app that can be dangerous for children has surfaced. My children signed an agreement to help them remember who the true owner of the tablets (Mom) is and what they need to do to continue using them.
6. Breaking rules in front of a machine feels different
Kids feel less guilty about breaking security controls on tablets. They almost look at them like one of their puzzle apps. Time between taps and swipes is not a lot for self-reflection. My son once tried to change the timestamp on his tablet hoping he might trick the computer into thinking that time never passed just to get a few minutes more of Minecraft. I saw him do that and I just had to laugh.
7. Monitor usage regularly
…then talk to your child about what you learned. There is no perfect restrictive setting, so you must stay involved. Kids grow, and nothing replaces parent judgment. Discussing usage history doesn’t have to be as creepy as it sounds. You can ask them what was interesting about a particular website they visited. By letting them teach you something new, you will also be indirectly telling them that you are watching and that you care. You may also decide to lift some restrictions and they’ll love that.
8. This is a teachable moment. Use it.
We may know what the hottest gadget out there is, but if we don’t know all that our devices can do, we are wasting our money and setting a bad example. Thus, as part of the testing process, I made my kids read the user manuals of their Windows tablets. If they refused, I would find another tester for those beautiful tablets. It was important to me that they were grateful for these privileges and I knew their gratitude would only grow if they understood all that their tablet offered them—and what was required to maintain them. They care for their tablets now so much better than they did in the past.
9. Cover it up
If you are not buying a kid’s tablet and you are not buying an iPad then you should shop for a cover at the same time you shop for a tablet. Ideally, it should cover the corners and back of the tablet. Kids do not like folio covers. If you wish to cover the screen, try getting an Otterbox Defender, especially if you want to prevent your child from opening the case. However, we find that connected toys like the OSMO and Tiggly work better when there isn’t a screen protecting case involved. In that case, go for covers that are thick and are easily removable.
10. Parents are the best medicine
The best offense against tablet abuse that parents have is themselves. My children would choose family game night over Minecraft anyday. However, if you are really exhausted, help your child choose alternative ways to spend his time. I like to ask my kids what they will do after their video game time. Usually kids do not have a clue—which is why they ask always beg for more time.