5 Dangers for Kids Using Tablets: Safe practices for you and your children

Author: Jessica Lamore 

Tablets are becoming a staple in many homes with children. They can be very valuable as learning tools to help develop various motor, cognitive, and language skills. A study conducted by PBS involving children 3 to 7, found that educational apps can improve a child’s vocabulary by as much as 31% in two weeks. Tablets can also come to the rescue during long car rides or lengthy trips at the grocery store. However, like almost everything else, there are some disadvantages and dangers that go along with the perks. Here is a list of the most common dangers along with solutions to make tablets safer for your children.

1. Vulnerable to predators. We have all been warned about the dangers of location-based apps, which can track your child’s location when using the app – usually from home. Depending on the app, it may be easier than you might think for a predator to locate your child and drum up a conversation.

Solution: Make sure you disable location options on your tablet and in every app.

2. Susceptible to hackers. Most people have difficulty memorizing several passwords and tend to use the same one or two. Whether it is the child or the parent logging onto the app, the password is susceptible to hacking depending on the security measures the app takes. Apps designed for children might not be on par with adult apps, but once a hacker gets a password, they are likely to try using it for your other sites, like online banking, to hack into valuable information.

Solution: Be wary of the app your child is using (especially the free apps) and change your passwords regularly. Free apps often have tracking mechanisms built-in and should be investigated even more than the ones that aren’t free.

3. Getting billed or bound to an agreement. One obvious danger is opt-in sites, which could be inviting to a child who doesn’t realize the ramifications, to accepting the terms that bind parents to a financial obligation. A parent could find themselves in a precarious position if suddenly they were billed for services ordered by their underage child. While there are legal protections, using them can be very time consuming and aggravating.

Solution: Teach your child (if age appropriate) to be cautious and ignore opt-in sites. For your younger ones, make sure the app does not present those situations to begin with.

4. Losing out on social interaction. Perhaps the greatest danger is using an iPad or other tablet as a babysitter. While it is true moms and dads need a break, particularly if they have other young children, using a tablet too often replaces the necessary social face-to-face interaction needed developmentally by children. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests limiting all screen time for children to one or two hours per day, which includes tablets, television, and any other electronics combined.

Solution: Limit your child’s time on a tablet and encourage more face-to-face interaction with friends and family.

5. Interfering with the development of imperative skills. The number of toddlers using tablets has increased significantly over the last 2 years. A recent study shows 38% of children under 2 have used a mobile device or tablet for media compared to 10% just two years ago. But, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under the age of 2 should have no screen time at all.

“Child development is optimized when children engage in activities that are cognitively and sensorily stimulating,” explains Nancy Darling, PH.D, professor and author of Thinking About Kids. “Screens provide a very limited sensory environment. Run your hand over a rug or the couch. Now run it over the screen of your iPad. Which is more interesting and provides a richer textural experience? There is no such thing as screen time that is good for children under 2.” Another reason to hold off on the crib-side iPad mount, during the first two years of life, children’s brains are developing so significantly that it can be challenging for them to differentiate the real world from what they are seeing on the screen.

Solution: Wait until at least age 2 before introducing your child to a tablet. Once age appropriate, participating with them on the tablet, as well as time limit enforcement, are ways to encourage your child to use other senses for crucial development

The bottom line, formative years are a period when parents have the most influence over the child, especially when teaching values and socialization skills. Tablets and their apps are not a replacement for that guidance, no matter if it is a Disney app or a dubious game. Apps should be used in moderation and under patents’ guidance. If used safely and responsibly, tablets can serve as an excellent tool to enhance a child’s learning.