Turn your tablet into a guilt-free digital babysitter
Anyone with a child knows the drill: You can hardly take your phone out of your pocket or sit down on the couch with your tablet without their grubby little hands reaching for it. Kids love our new touch-enabled computing world, and to be honest, tablets can be great tools for kids. The devices’ size and their touch-centric interfaces seem tailor-made for little people who don’t have fully developed motor skills.
But most tablets aren’t made for kids. They’re delicate electronics, and they provide full Internet access and a wealth of apps and content that are at best incomprehensible to—and at worst totally inappropriate for—young minds. Fortunately, making your tablet safe to hand over to your toddler is, if you’ll pardon the pun, child’s play.
Use parental controls
iOS 6 and later come with a suite of parental controls that let you limit the sorts of apps and settings your children can access on your iPad.
To turn on parental controls on iOS, open the Settings app, tap General, and then tap Restrictions. Tap Enable Restrictions, and iOS will ask you to set a passcode, which you’ll need to enter to change any Restrictions settings in the future. Enter a four-digit passcode of your choosing and confirm it when prompted.
With iOS’s Restrictions settings, you can prevent your kids from opening apps above a certain age rating; disable Safari, the camera, and FaceTime (among other things); prevent explicit songs and videos from playing; and modify privacy settings for various aspects of iOS.
Android 4.2 and later include a user-profiles feature that, much like user accounts on your computer, lets everyone who uses the tablet have a separate profile. Android 4.3 improved upon this feature by adding a restricted profile type, which lets you lock down—at least to some extent—the apps your kids can access.
To create a restricted account, select your owner account on your tablet and unlock it. Next, open the Settings app, select Users, and then tap Add user or profile. Android will ask what kind of profile you want to create. Select Restricted profile, and from there you’ll be able to specify which apps you want to prevent your child from accessing.
Load it up with the right apps
Once you prevent your kids from accessing the wrong apps, you’ll want to make sure that they have plenty of the right apps to occupy themselves with. The App Store has an entire section dedicated to kid-friendly apps, such as nonviolent games, educational apps, app-ified kids’ books, and more.
The App Store’s Kids section also highlights apps that may appeal to certain age groups: For example, it provides suggestions for ages 5 and under, as well as for ages 6 through 8, and 9 through 11. You may also want to check the Games section, as well as the Entertainment and Education sections.
Apple supplies a recommended age rating for each app: Those rated 4+, for example, are free of objectionable material.
Google Play doesn’t offer a dedicated childrens’ app section, so your best bet is to focus on apps in the store’s Education, Entertainment, and Games categories, and to look for age-appropriate titles. Pay close attention to the Content Rating, which you can find under ‘Additional information’ on each app’s information page. If you have young children, focus on titles with a Content Rating of ‘Everyone’.
Get a case...just in case
You do want your iPad to stay in one piece, right? If so, a durable case is a must. In general, you’ll want a case that can provide some protection against the inevitable drops and bumps, so look for one that can absorb some shock—a rubber or silicone case can help.
Second, look for a case with a screen protector or fold-over cover. (Have you seen your kid’s hands lately?) Cases that use snaps to stay closed aren’t ideal for young children—instead, choose one that either uses a magnet (on the iPad 2 or later) to stay closed or employs Velcro strips.
Kid-specific cases exist, too. One such case is the iGuy from Speck Products. This heavy-duty anthropomorphic rubber case for iPads comes complete with legs that it can stand on, as well as arms that double as grabbable handles.
Ballistic is another company whose cases are worth a look: Its ruggedized tablet and smartphone cases come with shock-absorbent corners that can help prevent damage in case your tablet takes an untimely spill.
Don’t forget the soap
Lastly, be prepared to find peanut butter and jelly smeared all over your tablet’s touchscreen. When you need to clean your tablet, avoid anything containing alcohol or harsh detergents, as those substances could damage the screen’s coating. Instead, stick with a damp, lint-free cloth. You might also be able to get away with a mild dish-soap-and-water solution instead of plain water—I’ve used that without any obvious ill effects—but not all makers sanction using soap on electronics.