As a parent of 3 and being the tech geek that I am, the topic of managing technology with children is one I have a bit of experience with. Since I've been through this a time or two with my own children I thought I would share my experieniences. Kids and technology are often a great combination, but there are some very obvious things to consider. I am going to share my thoughts and experiences on a few of the more common decisions you have to make as a parent when managing an iPad with a child:
- Purchasing Options
- Cases and Screen Protectors
- Device Management
I am a big proponent of our purchasing Apple prouducts from Apple's own refurbished section of their online store. Most people aren't even aware Apple sells refurbished products. Why buy refurbished? Two main reasons. First, you do get a discount on the product which is always a plus. But the main reason to buy refurbished is the extra quality assurance checks that is done on a refurbished item as opposed to a new product. Brand new products have quality assurance (hardware checks), but only a small sub-set of the products on the assembly line are pulled and tested. In the case of a refurbished item, some or all of the internal components are slightly used and all of the external surfaces (case, screen, etc...) are new. In order to ensure the newly refurbished prouduct is good enough to be sold as an Apple refurbished product on the their website, Apple tests every one of their refurbished products. This is a big plus because it reduces the likelihood that you have a bad component just waiting to die 1 year and 1 day after purchase (just outside of warranty). Also, Apple refurbished products have the same warranty and are eligible for the same extended warranty options that new products are. Yet, despite all of this I still don't recommend buying an iPad for a child directly from Apple.
It's all about warranty and accidental damage protection when it comes to electronics and kids and Apple doesn't have the most cost effective kid friendly warranty...Walmart does. I have purchased (actually my kids paid for their own iPads, I simply made the purchase for them) both of my kids iPad minis from Walmart and purchased the extended protection plan from Walmart. The Walmart protection plan adds another 2 years of protection on to the existing 1-year Apple warranty on the iPad, but it adds the all important accidental damage coverage. If you accidentally damage your device Walmart will repair or replace the device with no additional cost to you. Apple does have a similar coverage plan, Apple Care+, but it is more expensive to purchase and you have to pay a deductible for each repair or replacement and are limited to 2 over the life of the product. So assuming just one replacement or repair ove the lifetime of the product you the Walmart coverage is cheaper than Apple Care+. If I were buying an iPad for myself and wanted to buy extended coverage I would purchase from Apple, but my budget isn't nearly as tight as that of my children (especially when they are the ones saving up for the iPad). $50-$100 makes a big difference in how long it takes them to save up for the iPad, and that amount of savings is worth the extra hassle you have to deal with when getting a damaged device serviced through Walmart. It can take up to 2 weeks to get your device back from Walmart, while with Apple you can generally get a replacement device the same day if you walk into an Apple store. Again, it's a matter of what you are willing to pay for. Best Buy also offers their own protection plans against accidental damage, but theirs is not as cost effective as Walmart's. Earlier this year I got the "privlidge" of getting to use the Walmart warrenty on my daughter's iPad Mini. She had her mini in a case with a screen protector, but that still wasn't enough. Her ipad fell off the bed and the screen hit the edge of a metal step stool and that was the end of the screen. Unless she had some kind of clamshell case and the case was closed there was nothing that was going to protect her iPad from its ultimate demise in this instance. So I called up the Walmat warrenty center and they had me mail in the iPad for repair. It took about 10 days and I got the same iPad back with a brand new screen.
iPad Cases For Kids
This is where the decision becomes a lot more difficult...what case to buy? This is something only you can decide. It is going to depend on the resposibility level of your child and how often the iPad is going to be taken outside the home. I personally like carrying around my iPad Air with just a screen protector and a "carbon fiber like" skin to protect from surface scratching and to give the iPad a little more grip. But for a child you are probably going to want more protection than that. Is your child going to want an external keyboard? If so, there are some excellent cases that have keyboards built-in. Both my wife and I (I used to have but don't anymore) have used the TwelveSouth BookBook case and while they are pretty exepnsive they are very durable, hide the fact that you are carrying an iPad and look better the more they are used. For my 9 year old I went with a very inexpensive rubberized case by i-Blason, the ArmorBox Series 2.
She has owned this case for about 2 years now and just recently the plastic knobs that hold the kickstand in place have broken (not bad considering the amount of use). This is the case she had when the screen was borken, but again given how the device fell there was no protecting it. She had dropped her iPad many, many times and this case has provided excellent drop protection. It is a little bulky, but for younger kids the extra bulk and grip actully makes it easier to hold. Another thing to look for is the "Made for iPad" marking, also known as [MFi][mfi]. This means the manufacturer had tested the product and it meets the minimum standards set forth by Apple. In the case of iPhone cases, this means the case will protect the device from a 1-meter fall on to a hard surface.
When my kids were younger I locked down their i-devices. The Safari web browser was not available, they could only email people that were in their contact lists and the App Store app was not on their device. However, now that they are older I have relaxed most of the restrictions on their devices. They are now able to surf the web because I am using Open DNS. Katie Floyd from the Mac Power Users Podcast has an excellent screencast on how to setup this very powerful and free service that will protect all internet users in your house from porn and other dangerous sites.
Since it has been a while since I have setup and used much of the iOS parental controls I am going to point you to another site to use as a guide. iMore has a great article that walks you through all the various options within parental controls and how to set them up. I will say that I have been quite disappointed with Apple's parental controls on iOS. Parental controls on the Mac are much more useful. What is missing on iOS is the ability to setup time limits. My son has an iMac and I am able to configure the iMac so he only has the ability to play games for a certain amount of time on weekdays and a different amount of time on weekends. I can also restrict the time of day he can access the machine. I then setup a seperate account on his iMac that allows him to play internet radio (he likes to listen to music just before he goes to bed), but he can do nothing else on that account. I then setup a 3rd accound on his iMac that gives him unlimted time (within the time of day restictions I have set) to do things like read and access educational content on the internet). I do not have options like this for iOS devices, but Amazon allows these kind of restrictions on their Kindle devices. I woud really like to see Apple step it up and give us parents more options for managing these devices for our children. In the mean time I guess we will have to do it the old-fashioned way...by being parents and paying close attention to what our kids are doing with these devices.
iOS devices are great devices for kids, but they must be protected (both the kids and the devices) and use of the devices must be managed by an adult. Just like anything in this world too much of a good thing can be bad. There is no single piece of advice I can give you because every child and situation is a little bit different, but hopefully this article gave you a few things to think about. Good luck and have fun with your kids using these great devices!