There’s a stigma attached to children and screen time nowadays as TVs, computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones offer up a constant temptation. Experts recommend no more than two hours a day for school-aged kids and even less for preschoolers. Many parents, this one included, struggle to keep to that target. Android can be a life-saver at times, especially when you are out somewhere waiting and your little monster hasn’t yet learned that patience is a virtue.
You can reduce the perceived negatives by engaging in play and activities with your child. Touchscreens can be great for developing hand-eye co-ordination and many Android apps and games have a real educational element. The important thing is not to use your Android device as a replacement for your attention (at least not too often) and to carefully monitor the content your child is enjoying. Get it right and you have a recipe for fun.
For various reasons I would not recommend letting your child have an Android device without installing some kind of parental controls. Making an Android device safe for toddlers and young children is different from making it safe for older kids and teens so let’s take a look at them separately.
For older kids and teens, a smartphone is going to be highly desirable, but you have to remember that it offers unfettered access to the web. There are two dangers here – exposure to content you’d rather they didn’t see and the risk of running up a big data bill.
Start with some software protection to prevent them from being exposed to pornography or other undesirable content online and also to safeguard against questionable app downloads and in-app purchases. Net Nanny for Android offers that kind of protection for $20 per device per year and you can update the filters and uninstall or block apps remotely.
If you have a teen who drives then it would be wise to install something like DriveSafe.ly, a free Android app that reads incoming texts and emails out loud and offers speech to text so that you can reply hands-free.
With Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) or Android 4.1 Jelly Bean devices you can take advantage of data alerts and limits. Simply go to Settings > Data usage and check the box that says Set mobile data limit. That will ensure that your child doesn’t exceed the data limit for the month. You should also advise them to use Wi-Fi wherever possible. An app like WiFi Finder can be a big help.
If you want to be able to track your kid’s location then you have various options. Many carriers offer subscription based services like Verizon’s Family Locator which is $9.99 per month for all the phones on your account. You can use it to locate your family members and get arrival and departure updates so you’ll know when your child has arrived at a specific destination.
You might prefer to use a free app like Life360 Family Locator because there’s no monthly charge unless you want to track a non-smartphone and even then it only costs $5 per month. The problem with tracking solutions is that you need GPS and data on for them to be accurate and that will drain the battery.
You should ideally avoid leaving younger kids or toddlers alone with your Android phone at all. Obviously you’ll be there to keep an eye on them, but for those moments when your attention is focused elsewhere on a call or making dinner, you can install apps to ensure that they don’t get up to anything they shouldn’t.
We use Kids Mode by Zoodles, but Kids Place is also highly rated and you’ll find plenty more on offer in Google Play. With Kids Mode the phone is locked down to the app and you can select what games and apps your child has access to. The child lock features ensure no random calls, in-app purchases, or ad click-throughs.
The lock-down options are pretty standard, what elevates Kids Mode is the free content. There’s a simple art package, stories, games, and cartoons. You can also set up different profiles for different kids. The parent dashboard is accessed via a separate icon and it gives you good control over what content your child can access. There are optional premium features like a violence filter and the ability to promote specific subjects, but the free version will be powerful enough for most people.
You’ll find a wealth of Android apps and games for children in Google Play. Our three year-old especially loves Talking Tom Cat, AniWorld free animal kids game, and Kids Preschool Puzzle. Babies are obviously too young for Android in general, but you can get help sending them off to the land of nod with apps like Sleep Sounds.
Older kids will pick their own games, but you might encourage them to use apps like Evernote, WolframAlpha, and MathStudio to help them stay organized and study. Check out best Android apps for high school students to find more suggestions.
We’re starting to see more and more Android tablets aimed specifically at kids. We did a roundup of the best Android tablets for kids a while back, but since then there have been a few new options, including one from Polaroid for $150. Are dedicated devices worth it? Probably not for most people. They generally come with a manufacturer interface and they tend to try to lock you down to a specific app store.
If you buy a decent Android tablet and install some of the apps we’ve been talking about along with a bumper or protective case, you’ll have a decent tablet for the kids and you’ll be able to use it after they’ve gone to bed. If you don’t want the hassle of doing that and you’re happy for the kids to have their own tablet then a dedicated kid’s device might be worthwhile for you.
You won’t find any Android smartphones aimed at kids, but if you don’t know what to do with your old Android phone when you get an upgrade – give it to your kids – it’s a great way to squeeze a little extra life out of it. Even without a SIM or a contract an old Android smartphone is capable of making emergency calls and you can set it up with whatever apps you want your kids to have access to.
If any other Android parents out there want to join in with an app suggestion or a tip then please post a comment, we’d love to hear from you.