Jason on
21st February 2015

The current generation of children have more technology integrated with their daily routines than ever before.  Primary kids are receiving computer based homework at almost every level and if you were to give a nursery child a smartphone or tablet I bet they’d know how to unlock that sucker, fire up a game and spend £500 on gold coins.  So with this recent trend away from wooden blocks and towards digital entertainment how do we as parents make sure our kids are safe and getting enough of the other things they need in their daily routine?  I can only share my experience.

Being a bit of a tech junky myself, my boys Noah and Elliot (four and one) of course have access to some of the latest gadgets and I was quick to buy them some gadgetry of their own.  We started Noah out with the InnoTab from vtech.  This is a somewhat limited tablet device that can run learning games from cartridges (warning: the cartridges are where they make their money!).  It comes with some nice parental software which, if you can be bothered jumping through the hoops to set it up, gives you nice reports about how your child is doing when playing games on the device.  Such as how many tries it took them to complete a puzzle or what level of spelling or math they are achieving.  You can also send fake “email” to the InnoTab from the software and your little one can practice reading the message and possibly replying.  From a safety perspective the InnoTab is great as everything on the tablet is geared towards kids: no unfiltered web browser, no external email, and no app store.  Unfortunately this level of lock down is also the devices biggest problem, Noah tired of its restrictive nature and after roughly a year this toy was passed down to Elliot (who can’t really do much with it at the moment but loves the touch screen and camera feature).

After the InnoTab we decided it was time for Noah to have a proper tablet (with some persuading from myself, after all a gadget is a gadget!).  So for Christmas this year he received a hudl2 by Tesco.  It’s important to do a bit of research before buying your child a tablet, I had two requirements:

  1. That it was powerful enough to run the kind of 2D and 3D games that kids love, without breaking the bank (knowing my kids it WILL be broken at some point.)
  2. That it could be “rooted”.

Now the second point is a bit of a geeky one and many of you probably don’t know what I’m talking about.  “Rooting” an Android device basically allows you to take full control over it and lets apps do things that they couldn’t normally do, such as protecting system apps with a PIN number (see where I’m going with this?).  Yes to achieve the functionality I wanted from the tablet and to create a secure environment for Noah within the tablet it had to be able to be rooted, and not all tablets can be.  What follows is a bit of a guide as to how I set up the tablet.  Firstly I followed the rooting process detailed on the web and then set up Noah with his own Google account.  Then using the app Titanium Backup Pro I froze out all of the apps that come as standard with the tablet that he wouldn’t use, mostly Tesco shopping apps and some paid media apps.  I also installed AppLock which allows you to specify a PIN number to lock certain apps, and Hide App which hides specific apps altogether.  After locking up all of the system apps, app store and YouTube and hiding apps that I didn’t want to be accessed at all such as Gmail, google plus etc. I knew I could hand over the tablet and let him play without worrying too much about what he was getting up to.  As for YouTube it’s PIN locked so he needs an adult to go on there, his account settings are set to filter explicit results and I have filled his subscription list with child friendly content meaning his entire front page is kids only stuff.  As he can’t yet type to search this really limits what he is exposed to.  I’m really pleased with how this setup is working out so far.

So when is enough, enough?  I know for a fact that Noah would happily sit playing on his tablet all day (or at least until the battery runs out!) – And sometimes it’s tempting to just let him!  We try to treat tablet time and TV time as the same thing and negotiate the limits per day, although I must say I prefer them to use their tablets over watching the TV.  If behaviour is good screen time may be increased and the opposite is also true.  Also when we are doing other things, like playing outside or messy art time I make a point of stating “well you can’t do this on a tablet can you?” or something similar (I know, I know, it’s my cheesy dad line ok?)  All in all I think the kids’ edge on a little too much time in front of screens at the moment, but nobody’s perfect!