My Granddaughter, Rowan, turns 5 on May 6 and we’re giving her a tablet for her birthday.
We didn’t rush into the decision. It came with plenty of consideration and introspection.
A Google search leads you to plenty of information on why too much screen time can be bad for kids and reasons for limiting it. If you want to dig into the topic, start with the screen time recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. I totally understand this and talk about it often in presentations. Kids should be in the world Doing Stuff more and slouched in front of screens less.
On the other hand, there is no denying the fact that today’s five-year-olds are digital natives. Rowan does not know a world in which iPads did not exist. She is aware of technology and beginning to understand it’s power.
On the third hand, I love and respect technology as a tool for simplifying, learning, and problem solving. I want to help her build that same love and respect.
That’s why our consideration and introspection led to a plan to offer her up a bit of technology–with training wheels.
The plan grows from the wise words of my buddy Lisa Murphy–“control the environment so you don’t have to control the children”. When we adults are thoughtful about what exists in a child’s environment that environment can be much more empowering because we have less need to micromanage, nag, and hover.
Let’s take a look at the technological environment we are giving her and how we will control it.
There was no way I was going to spend a ton of money on a tablet because there is a decent chance it will be left out in the rain, dropped off a ladder, or forgotten on the floor where the dog can eat it. I also did not want to go super-cheap. You can buy a tablet for under $40, but they really lack speed and power. We settled for the upper end of cheap and ordered an 8 inch Fire HD Tablet. It has all the power she will need and I will not flip out when it gets destroyed. We also went with this supposedly kid-proof case. I spent a fair amount of time looking at the options and feel pretty good that this’ll be a decent setup for her.
How We’re Controlling It
Here’s a basic rundown on how we are controlling the environment so we don’t have to control Rowan as much:
Limiting The Tools
To start with, she will have access to 4 basic tools: books, a note pad, the tablet’s camera, and email. No movies. No games. No music. No Internet. Not even a drawing app. If she wants to draw a picture she can grab some paper. The rest of the digital world is locked out of the device with a 10 digit password that no one knows but me. In addition, books have to be loaded via my Amazon kindle account, all the photos or videos she makes are automatically uploaded to my cloud, and the email app is limited in power (more on that in a bit). This will be a pretty restrictive environment to start with. As she grows we may add more functions, but for now this’ll be enough.
We’ve limited her to these 4 things because
- I want her to use this device to read. As a digital native, over the next 90 years she will probably do most of her reading on a similar devise. She’ll have a nice collection of books pre-installed when she opens her present and we will add plenty more. Her personal library will always be available.
- She’s starting to write and the notepad will be a place to practice her writing skills. She’s watched the adults in her world punch words into keyboards or touchscreens her whole life–to her, that’s how most writing happens.
- Cameras are fun and, since we travel a lot, I want her to be able to share pictures and videos when we are not together.
- The email access is a way we can connect. Tasha and I spend months away from home each year for speaking gigs. Now that Rowan’s starting to write email will be a great way to communicate.
Limiting The Time
The tablet comes with parental control software that allows me to limit her access to the device. I can set a total screen time per day or give her unlimited access to her books and then limit the time she can access the notepad, camera, and email apps. I’m still playing with settings, but the recommendations of the AAP, linked to above, will play a big part in how much screen time she gets.
I’ve also realized as she’s grown up that I have to modify some of my tech behaviors and I’ve been working on it. For her to learn to responsibly zoom around the internet without training wheels, she needs to see her adults doing so. I’ve been working to spend less time online and not jumping every time the interwebs yell for my attention.
About That Email
I really wanted to find a way for us to stay in touch and after a lot of hunting I found KidsEmail. For a couple bucks a month you can set up children’s accounts that have a ton of flexible parent controls. To start with, Rowan will only be able to send emails to and receive emails from an approved list of addresses. It’ll start with her parents, grandparents, and a few others. Then the list will grow as she does. I can also control whether or not she can send or receive photos or other attachments and I can set things up so all her emails are also forwarded to an adult’s email address. As I’ve played with it over the last week I’ve found it to be a pretty robust platform–a useful tool that’ll keep her safe.
This Is An Experiment
We put plenty of thought into this (including this episode of the Child Care Bar And Grill podcast) and expect it will work out well, but it is an experiment. My plan is to keep a close eye on how she uses the tablet and do followup posts as she uses it. I”m really interested in seeing how this all turns out. She may love it and we may end up spending a lot of time snuggled up reading stories and exchanging emails. She may also hate it–the lack of videos and games may make it uninteresting to her. Stay tuned.
What Are Your Experiences?
I’m also really interested in hearing how others have introduced kids to similar technology and how that’s worked out. Please share your experiences in the comments.