If you have decided to buy a smart device for your child, whether it’s an internet-enabled toy, a tablet, a phone or some other internet connected device, you will want to make sure you buy the right one. More than just another toy that will end up discarded in a box, a smart device can be a learning tool, a gateway to the world’s information and a facilitator of friendships.
Here are some questions to ask for choosing the best smart device for your child along with some insight into what other parents believe is the right age for a smart device like a mobile phone or smart speaker.
Ask the right questions
When looking for a smart device, find out what you can about it first. Read up on the device and ask the salesperson some questions about it so you know exactly what you are getting.
Here are eight you can start with.
1. What parental controls does it have?
Any smart device that is meant for children should have parental controls built in. These settings will allow you to restrict content and internet usage and create your own password so only you can change these settings.
There will likely be information on the product’s website about the parental controls and other features for parents, as well.
2. Does this device let kids access chat rooms or online game rooms where users can communicate with each other?
Young children should not be allowed to access unmoderated chat rooms or game rooms, so if you’re buying a device for a younger child, this could raise some red flags for you.
3. Am I able to register the device as a child’s?
Some devices allow you to register them as belonging to a child, which means they will automatically restrict access to content that is rated as being for adults.
4. Are there content filters and how do I activate them?
Mobile operators have to provide filters on phones to help block material that could be harmful to children. You can ask a salesperson to show you how to activate the filters, which will likely be with the parental controls.
5. Is the device Bluetooth enabled?
Bluetooth can be great, but it can also lead to receiving unwanted messages from other nearby Bluetooch enabled devices. This is something to consider when thinking about buying your children a device.
6. Are there any games bundled with the gaming console that are inappropriate for children?
Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, the makers of the three most popular gaming consoles, support the ESBR rating system for games, which can tell you if a game is rated as suitable for all ages, teenagers and adults or if it’s for adults only. The console isn’t likely to come bundled with any adult-only games, but you can ask just to be sure. You should also learn how to look for the ratings on the games you purchase.
7. Can you filter apps?
Apps equipped with face recognition, photo tagging and location services may not be suitable for children to download and use with their phones or other devices. Ask to see if the settings on the device will allow you to block any age-inappropriate software so it doesn’t make it onto your child’s device.
8. Does the device include a camera with uploading, tagging and location identification?
Virtually all phones and tablets and many gaming consoles now come with cameras so people can easily upload photos and videos to the internet. While that can be fun for kids, it can also be potentially dangerous if those photos and videos fall into the wrong hands. Even innocent uploads can be dangerous if the location information is turned on.
You may want to restrict camera usage until your kids are old enough to appreciate what they can and can’t share online and until they know how to turn off the location tracking.
What is the right age to buy your child a smart device?
While there is no right answer as to what age you should wait until to buy a smart device for your child, you may want to look at what other parents think to help inform your decision. PC Mag polled 1,000 parents with children ranging from preschool to college to find out what age their readers thought was appropriate for a range of devices.
The majority of parents, 27%, thought 9-11 years old was appropriate for having a tablet, but just behind that at 26% was the group who thought tablets would be appropriate for 6-8 year olds. Twenty-three percent said parents should wait until children are 12-15 to buy them a tablet.
The vast majority of parents, 53%, said 12-15 years old was the right age for a mobile phone. The next closest group was 23% of parents who said 9-11 years old was okay for phone ownership. Coming in third, 17% of parents thought that people should wait until their children were 16-18 before buying them a phone.
Laptops followed the same pattern as mobile phones, with 41% of parents polled saying a laptop would be appropriate for 12-15 year olds, 26% saying they’d be okay for 9-11 year olds and 20% saying parents should wait until kids are 16-18 before giving them a laptop.
Smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo or Google Home should only be for older kids, according to the poll’s results. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said a smart speaker would only be appropriate for teenagers 16-18 while 27% said they’d be okay for 12-15 year olds and 20% said 9-11 year olds should be able to have one.
Ultimately, it will probably come down to how mature your child is. A mature 11 year old might be more responsible with a smart device than a less mature 15 year. Parents are the ones who know their children best, so it will be up to them to gauge how ready they think their children are for smart devices.
If you feel like your child is ready for a smart device, choose wisely, do your research and ask a lot of questions. Your child’s safety is paramount and taking your time with the decision is well worth it to keep them safe.