Healthy tips for giving your child access to tablets – the ‘play diet’

Dr Rosie Flewitt argues that rather than setting fixed time limits with digital technologies, it’s more helpful for parents to think about how these technologies can help their children to learn.

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Follow the ‘play diet’ pyramid as advised by leading child psychologist Dr Amanda Gumner

Follow this ‘play diet’ and your kid should feel happy and healthy, Dr Gummer says

As long as you balance out your tots’ physical activity and social interactions with iPad games and movies – it’s perfectly healthy to allow them access once a day.

At what age can I allow my kids to use iPads and smartphones?

Children under 13 are not allowed to use Facebook or Twitter

Children under 13 are not allowed to use Facebook or Twitter

Technically, a child can use an iPad or smartphone from when they’re a baby, but it’s important you only let them watch or play with age-appropriate content.

Try looking through the Fundamentally Children Good App Guide, which has independently reviewed apps for each age range.

You can also browse the Literary Trust’s selection of calming and focus-boosting apps too.

Here’s a selection you might want to try:

  • Toca Nature: Children can plant trees and bring the animals that live in them to life. They can also grow mountains and create lakes. Once the children have created their world they can go through the magnifying glass to visit their world and feed their animals.
  • Pinnochio: Published by Pink Paw Books, this story app is based on the popular fairy tale and is a good one for use before bedtime.
  • Snap Scene: Kids can take photos of their surroundings and tag it with their own voice recordings. It’s great for creating a story around a photo and for developing speaking skills.
  • Geo Challenge For Kids is full of quizzes and puzzles which teach players about the world we live in.
  • Crazy Plant Shop Breed bizarre plants and deal with mysterious customers while learning about genes and biology.

Kids under 13 are not allowed on Facebook or other social media sites, but it’s easy for them to fake their date of birth if they want to create a profile.


Make sure you install parental controls

Pete Turner, consumer security expert at cyber security company Avast has several top tips for keeping your tablet safe:

  • The best technology-based defence for keeping your kids away from things they shouldn’t be seeing is to install parental controls. Although this is best for younger children who won’t be able to work out how to circumvent them.
  • If you’re using wifi while away from home, check your connection before giving the device to your child – there’s a padlock symbol which tells you if your connection is secure.
  • Ensure that location services are turned off on all devices when you aren’t using them. A child could easily share a photo, whether by mistake or on their social network profile and inadvertently give away their location.
  • Use protection – security software like Avast’s even comes as a free mobile and tablet version to minimise risk to your devices.
  • Make sure you talk to children of all ages about what they are doing online, what they might see on the internet and most importantly, what to do if something happens.

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How long should you let tots use tablets for every day?

A woman plays the game Candy Crush Soda Saga

Candy Crush Soda Saga is meant to be for adults – but plenty of kids love playing the game

It’s the golden question: how long can I hand over a distraction gadget without morphing into a bad parent?

Unfortunately, there’s no golden answer.

Dr Rosie Flewitt, an expert in early communication and literacy at the Department of Learning and Leadership in University College London says “we must stop blaming parents” for child’s over-use of gizmos.

She says that rather than prescribing a healthy ‘dose’ of digital interaction, it’s more helpful to think about how you can help your child learn with technology.


Should I give let them use a tablet before bedtime?

Kids who use their phones before bed are more likely to sleep badly

There’s been a lot of debate over screen use before bedtime, with some research suggesting it stops little ones from getting enough kip.

One study showed that kids glued to phones, laptops or tablets 90 minutes before bedtime were twice as likely to suffer a bad night’s sleep.

But Dr Gummer says it’s OK to allow your kids iPads in their PJs, but they must hand them over before they’re tucked up.

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Let them use iPads with you so they become a tool for life – rather than a prized toy

Dr Flewitt says that it’s all about making sure any interaction with a tablet is for a specific purpose and not a lone activity.

“There’s nothing wrong with handing a child a suitable app for five minutes while you’re doing the washing up, but you can make sure that what they are doing has a purpose.

“For example, you could sit and talk with your child about what to say in a text message to a friend, or help your child make a short WhatsApp video message to send to a family member.”

Change privacy settings on every app

Snap Map

Snap Map allows users to share their locations with their friends

Pursey adds that many children use Snapchat to communicate with friends, but the recent Snap Maps feature is a great example of why you need to check settings.

“The new feature tracks locations, which can leave children vulnerable but instead of turning off location services which would disable apps like Find My Friends, you can get your children to select “Ghost Mode” on Snapchat, which prevents their Snapchat friends and strangers seeing where they are but still allows them to use the app.”

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Set ‘house rules’ for technology


Brief your kids on cyber security so they don’t put them – or your other family members – at risk

Nick Shaw, vice president of internet company Norton advises setting some house rules for chatting online, downloading files and visiting safe websites. 

He says: “As the parent, don’t become the enemy, become the friend – be aware that children like to imitate your behaviour so teach them the best way to surf online safely and lead by example to provide them with a positive role model.

“Teach young children to use strong and unique passwords across all their accounts and never to share passwords, even with their friends. We’re seeing account theft (a junior version of identity theft) happen to children in primary schools.

“Encourage kids to think before they click: whether they’re looking at online video sites, receiving an unknown link in an email or even browsing the web and seeing banners or pop-ups, remind your children not to click links which may take them to dangerous or inappropriate sites. Clicking unknown links is a common way people get viruses or reveal private and valuable information to criminals.”


Online safety: Helpful advice and tools you can use to help keep your child safe whenever and wherever they go online.

What children do online and through social networking

Children and young people go online to connect with friends, and make new ones, to browse the internet for information, chat with others and play games. They may:

  • search for information or content on search engines like Google and Bing
  • share images and watch videos through websites or mobile apps like Instagram, Pinterest, Vine andYouTube
  • use social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter
  • write or reply to messages on forums and message boards

    Online safety

    Helpful advice and tools you can use to help keep your child safe whenever and wherever they go online.

  • play games alone or with others through websites, apps or game consoles
  • chat with other people through online games, BBM (Blackberry Messenger), game consoles, webcams, social networks and tools like Whatsapp

When online, children and young people can learn new things, get help with homework, express themselves creatively and connect with friends and family.

There are also risks, but by understanding and talking about the dangers you can help keep your child safe online.


Find other useful information on the NSPCC website