Like most parents, I end up experiencing a lot of “trial-and-error” lessons. This happens a lot and for many different reasons, but one of the ongoing lessons in my family’s household is figuring out which electronics are okay to use with which kid. With one being 7 and the other being 2 and a half, there are major differences between which things are appropriate for each kid, so I try to tailor to each’s experience accordingly.
Things have changed a lot between my first and my second, which is surprising considering they’re “only” 4 and a half years apart in age. I don’t recall my oldest being as intuitive regarding touchscreen technology as early on as my youngest is. It's definitely a result of exposure, as I didn’t own a tablet of my own until early 2012, and I rarely let my oldest use my phone when he was younger. Now we own multiple tablets and smart gadgets, and my toddler is surprisingly crafty when it comes to generally knowing how to use a tablet.
Content, however, is more of a pressing issue than actually knowing how to use a tablet. I’ve owned a few tablets before, most of which I’ve shared with my oldest. At some point, however, after giving him access to YouTube Kids (which has since been taken away – I do not recommend allowing kids to use that app without constant supervision, but that's for another day) he took a serious interest in gadgets. Just before he turned 6, he begged for an iPad. Not just any tablet, but specifically an iPad. It wasn’t until Christmas that year that I decided to hand down my old iPad Air to him. He was elated.
Between Christmas last year and now, my Fire tablet pretty much exclusively became my toddler’s plaything. It was loaded up with various educational apps, and he plays it for a little while most days. Eventually, we decided to let him use a free trial of FreeTime Unlimited, a monthly service where kids can download from thousands of videos, books, or apps depending on their age range.
While FreeTime Unlimited didn’t necessarily work out well for the 2-year-old (downloaded everything; ran out of storage), my oldest noticed that his sibling had considerably more “freedom” to do as he wished on his tablet. Although my oldest was pleased to have an iPad, he was still severely restricted in what he was allowed to do without parental consent.
The thing about the iPad is that there are a lot of restrictions available for parents to use for their children, and we used just about all of them. You can restrict app store installations and deletions, Safari, messaging, mail, and pretty much everything you can think of. I installed apps I thought would be okay for him to use, and usually that would be that. Sometimes, though, even the apps I thought were okay would require the use of Safari to sign in, needing me to go into the restrictions, un-restrict Safari, and re-restrict it afterwards. It wasn’t the worst thing ever, and every month or so we’d go through the apps he doesn’t like, delete them, and replace them with something else.
I didn’t blame him for getting a little jealous when he saw his little brother download games on the fly. It does have a certain sense of freedom about it. And unlike the iPad, which usually charged money at one point or another for the quality apps, FreeTime Unlimited has plenty of high quality apps for a small monthly fee. In my opinion, this is perfect for kids who are easily bored and are always looking for something new to try. I am much less reluctant to pay for a subscription than I am to pay for an app that I know will be forgotten about in a week or so. (On a side note, the "Kids Edition" includes a 1 year subscription to FreeTime Unlimited, as well as a bumper case - it's a great deal).
I gave him the option of trading in his iPad for a Fire tablet. The nice thing about iPads is that their resale value is pretty great, and the nice thing about Fire tablets is that they’re extremely affordable. He eventually decided he wanted to trade his iPad for a Fire tablet, and I think he made the right choice.
I hadn’t known about this before, but Amazon has some pretty awesome features in place to monitor children’s activity as well. While it doesn’t work in FreeTime, it does work outside of FreeTime. So, when the time comes for him to outgrow FreeTime, I’m not completely out-of-the-loop regarding his tablet activity. For now, FreeTime seems to be the best solution for us. I can closely monitor what he does, and he has the “freedom” to remove and install age-appropriate apps as he sees fit. With the addition of microSD card in newer Fires, there’s also plenty of room to grow.
In addition to our experience with the iPad and Fire, we also have a Shield tablet. Android does offer the use of restricted profiles, but again, there doesn’t seem to be much of a gray area here. You either give a user full access with their own Google account, or you can set up a restricted profile and enable content for somebody else to use. Both Android and iPad’s restrictions are good solutions for younger kids, but for those “in between” kids who are old enough to use the app store but too young to venture out there on their own, Amazon’s Fire tablet appears to be a solid choice both in price and features offered.