My Kids' First iPad

Tips to help manage the challenges and embrace the positives.
Ingrid Simone Senior Editor, Apps | Mom of two Categories: Early Childhood, Screen Time
Senior Editor, Apps | Mom of two

Before there were any apps for kids -- before there was an App Store, even -- my 2-year-old son was quite handy with the iPhone. Incoming call interrupting his Sesame Street podcast? Decline! Not saying this is good or bad -- it just ... is. Both my ex-husband and I tend to be early adopters, and in general we both embrace technology. This is reflected in the way we raise our kids.

So when the iPad launched, we were all over it. And while our kids have had other electronics of their own -- Leapsters, Nintendo DSes, a laptop computer, and now a Kindle -- the iPad was different. It presented amazing new opportunities, but it also raised new questions for us as parents. If you're planning to buy a new iPad for your family, consider these questions and suggestions.

Think about ownership. Deciding who the device "belongs" to can help head off problems, foster a sense of responsibility, and provide a basis for accountability. Is it Mom's and/or Dad's iPad that the kids can use? Is it owned by the family collectively but managed by the parents? Does it belong to a specific child? In one family I know, the iPad belongs to the 7-year-old boy, while the 5-year-old girl owns the iPod touch. Some parents may cringe at the thought of young children "owning" an expensive device, but it's really about what works in your family.

In my home, the iPad is mine, and I allow the kids to use it. But after Apple's iBooks 2 textbooks announcement their dad declared that the kids each need their own iPad because it is "the single most important educational tool ever created." It's not in the budget at the moment, but if money were no object, I'd be on board with that -- I agree that it's a powerful tool.

Set it up beforehand. It's just no fun to open a new device and then wait a few hours while Mom and Dad set it up with iTunes, install some cool apps, make and organize folders, set restrictions, and more. Get that stuff out of the way before handing it over for the first time.

But definitely set a passcode for unlocking the device. It's just a smart thing to do -- if it ever ends up in the wrong person's hands, you don't want to make it easy for them to access your data. In my family, the kids know the passcode to unlock the iPad, but they don't know the restrictions passcode or my iTunes password, so they can't change key settings or buy stuff. Speaking of restrictions: Use them. How you use them will depend on your kids' age and maturity as well as your own requirements, but use them -- they're in your settings, under "General." An extra bonus: If you're not familiar with the device, this pre-setup gives you some time to explore it before introducing it to the kids.

Once it's ready to go, depending on your kids' age, it can be fun to put the iPad back into its packaging for the big moment. This sends the kids a strong message that the device is special and a harbinger of great things to come. Plus, who doesn't love a good unboxing? (And be sure to record it -- even if you don't add it to the thousands of iPad unboxings on YouTube, it'll be fun to share with family and friends.)

Establish some ground rules. Introducing an iPad (or any tablet) in your home the first time will require setting some ground rules. Even if you have other electronic devices the kids use, you'll want to think about the questions the iPad will raise. A few examples:

  • How does iPad time figure into overall screen time limits? In my house, we don't have hard-and-fast screen time limits. But maybe you're a one-hour-a-day max family. Is iPad time now included in that hour?
  • Is it OK to make in-app purchases? We have tips for how to approach this question.
  • Is it OK to use the iPad without asking first? For us, no. Always ask first.
  • Is it OK to use the iPad while also watching TV? I encourage my kids to do one screen at a time.
  • Is it OK to take the iPad into the bathroom? I didn't think I needed to address this until my 6-year-old son took the iPad into the bathroom so he could continue with the Bobo Explores Light science book app while taking his bath. The iPad was resting on a bench outside the tub, and he reasoned "but my hands are dry." It could've been a disaster, and I could've avoided the close call by establishing that rule up front -- and of course by making better use of those eyes in the back of my head. (Side note: Clearly this is a thoroughly engaging app! A 5-star keeper!)

Explore, explore, explore. You'll find many, many uses for your iPad. Yes, there are lots of fun games for the kids. But with the right apps, it can also be an excellent homework helper. Plus, it adds a nice twist to shared reading at bedtime, it's great for watching movies on long plane or car trips, and board game apps are a lot of fun for family game night.

You might try loading your iPad up with a variety of types of apps and just letting your kids explore. You might be surprised to see what your kids gravitate toward. I've had the Woozzle puzzle app on my iPad for months, but only recently did my son discover it, and now it's one of his favorites. My daughter discovered that she loves hidden object adventures the same way. Of course, this only works if you keep age-appropriate apps on the device. (We have lots of great suggestions for you.) You can't set up separate profiles for the kids, so other than the apps you can block in restrictions -- YouTube, for example -- pretty much anything on the device is accessible to anyone using it.

Bringing an iPad into your home will be an exciting event for your kids -- and for you. Together, you can tap into its enjoyment and potential as you find new and useful ways to use it.

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About Ingrid Simone

Ingrid joined Common Sense Media in 2010, bringing more than 15 years as an editor and writer, a passion for providing quality content focused on kids, and a love of most things digital. She earned a bachelor’s degree... Read more

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Comments (14)

Parent written by dyese

I really like the topic you posted here. It was a great help for me. I gather many ideas and information through it. Im looking forward for your next post sooner. Thank you so much for exerting effort on posting this one. ipad mini case for kids
Kid, 12 years old

You all need to consider that it is much less expensive to buy a ebook then an actual book. And children should be exposed to technology, but in limited amounts. The world is becoming more electronic. They need to learn to adapt. I am 12 and I have 2 computers. I have amassed more knowledge then you could imagine. I lead my class in history and geography and have excellent grades everywhere else, while still attending soccer trainings 3 times a week and having extra time to do YouTube Let's play's. All in all, expose your children SLOWLY to the new technology. On a road trip bring games (Bingo is my favorite) so if the battery life dies your children won't moan.
Educator written by muqtadaegenie

I am thinking I will use my Smart Board to project the game with big screen and sounds. This will certainly get my students engaged by bringing them up to the board, selecting the plays, and getting ipad application development help for answers from the audience. Looking forward to Friday already !
Teen, 13 years old written by gotairsoft

im 13 and i own just a kindle for reading and 4 games i have. i i enjoy this more than i would enjoy an ipod people call me crazy but thats how i am.
Educator written by Jan Kuyper Erland

I am an education tech consultant, former teacher, parent of 3 grown children, program content developer, and website IT project manager. I embrace new technologies, even tablets with touch screens for children. Now, having said that, I am concerned with the rapid text flow seen on touch screens, and lack of reading continuity, that the iPad, or other tablets, offer children's young minds. Attention spans and concentration needed for learning acquisition are at an all time low within all classroom levels, from early elementary through college classes. Tablet material is presented rapidly to the learner, and subsequently, students do not always create or think for themselves. They merely touch, look, and move on to the next screen. Where is this leading? The tablet will have to be carefully monitored by parents and the classroom teacher to create meaningful, interactive, learning acquisition. - Jan Kuyper Erland, Ed Consultant
Parent of a 10, 12, and 15 year old written by janmac

Jan K. Erland - Don't muddle things up with facts. These people just want to justify their tech purchases, keep their children quiet, and impress others. The fact that it is not only helpful but is also developmentally inappropriate is not of interest to them. But I admire your for knowing this and trying.
Parent written by Rod B

My little Max is 5 and he ADORES playing w my iPad... There is no reason to specify who the iPad belongs to, I want him to learn how to share things... I read my news papers on the iPad and he plays games and try to read stories... Especially at night, he loves to read or watch his fairy tales before going to bed! Max loves The Three Little Pigs and the version he likes the most is the one by this Italian company called Jekolab! So cool, take a look at it...
Teen, 13 years old written by zappyo29

Totally agree, CSM. Our family owns an ipad and it is definitly a great tool. Its amazing for keeping children occupied on long (2-4 day) car trips. While im not a big fan of ebooks, ibooks is definitley a great app for learning. My mom uses our ipad to help teach us math, french and spelling (we're homeschooled). All in all, a great device that every family should consider.
Parent written by CSM Screen name...

I don't agree with all this excitement about the idea of kids using technology since an early age! Kids should play outdoors with their friends, they should enjoy a sunny day at the park or at the beach! Adults are already slaves of tech devices, they should keep their kids away from them as long as they can!
Teen, 14 years old written by ferret lover

I agree, children should not be on electronics at such an early age. They should be playing outside with their friends, make crafts, make food with their mother, and read with their parents. Electronics just seem wrong for such a young child to do, companies have made preschool games for the wii! I think kids should be ten and up to play on a electronic.
Teen, 14 years old written by ferret lover

I agree, children should not be on electronics at such an early age. They should be playing outside with their friends, make crafts, make food with their mother, and read with their parents. Electronics just seem wrong for such a young child to do, companies have made preschool games for the wii! I think kids should be ten and up to play on a electronic.
Parent of a 7 year old written by mgimpelev

totally agree! what's so educational about bunch of electronic games? and parents should help with homework, not ipad. Reading on ipad? what's wrong with paper books? with pictures?