Commentary

How parents can make 'iPad time' safe for kids

These days, some "iPad time" is factored into trips to the malls with my six-year-old daughter Ollie.

My husband and I do not allow her to play games or watch movies on our iPad and phones during meal times. So she bargains for "iPad time" - the phrase she has coined for fiddling with mobile devices - whenever we pass by telecom shops like the Apple or Samsung Experience stores.

During one such visit last month, an Apple evangelist casually asked: "Does she have access to a computer or mobile device at home?"

The perfect product demonstration trap, I thought. But I felt obliged to reply.

Sure enough, what ensued was a product demonstration. But the evangelist was savvy and steered it in a direction that mattered: how to limit your child's exposure to apps and the Internet.

I realised I should be thinking about what ground rules to set when we relax Ollie's mobile device access, even though I have not decided when to take the giant leap to give her a mobile phone.

Currently, I do not even allow any iPad or computer time at home. And the only shows she watches are vetted content in DVDs.

Access to the Disney Channel, which I subscribe to, is limited to public holidays.

My rationale? It is easier to switch off the TV once the DVD show ends. But there is no end to Disney Channel broadcasts.

While discipline is my main motivation now for limiting gadget access, I'm also wary of sinister motives - bullying, cheating scams and sexual predation - lurking behind every unsupervised Web screen.

The Straits Times reported last week, citing a poll of 2,500 upper primary and secondary school children, that a third of the older students and a tenth of the younger ones had met someone they had first encountered online in the past year.

About a third of the students who had these meet-ups rated the encounters as slightly or very unpleasant. The survey was done by voluntary welfare group Touch Cyber Wellness from January to May this year.

It is also not surprising that Facebook was named by the children and teens as the top platform through which they got to know the people they eventually met.

As much as I would like to keep Ollie away from the Internet, I feel the better approach would be to learn how to use the parental controls that come with most computers and mobile devices.

On Apple devices, for instance, I could set a passcode to prevent access to certain apps such as Facetime, or to disallow in-app purchases or the downloading of Facebook. A master passcode can be created to prevent children from turning off parental restrictions.

I thought about spying - and would inform her about that - as one of the many conditions for using the mobile phone. And there would be no turning off the location sharing function so I could track her exact location. A feature that forwards the text messages she sends to my device could also offer some peace of mind.

  • What would you do to safeguard your child's iPad time? Write to us.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2015, with the headline 'How parents can make 'iPad time' safe for kids'. Print Edition | Subscribe