Like many modern parents, I rely on my tablet computer, smartphone, and other gadgets to keep my kids occupied. Unfortunately, however, children don’t always care for pricey items the way their parents do. That’s why when I first get a new electronic device, I take steps to ensure that it’s sufficiently kid-proofed before I hand it over to the little ones.
If you appreciate the convenience of educational apps for your kids or games and music on-the-go, don’t take unnecessary chances – kid-proof your devices first.
Kid-Proofing Your Electronics
Whether your kids have a penchant for buying online goods or are merely accident-prone, there are tons of ways in which they can put a cramp in your gadget game. Set a precedent for proper usage now to keep your electronics safe and your kids happy:
1. Turn Off Buying Options
We’ve all heard the story of the kid who used her dad’s iPhone to bid on – and win – an antique car on eBay. You may have also heard about children using their parents’ accounts to purchase games, tokens, and even pretend food for their digital pets. Whether it’s accidental or intentional, your kids can rack up huge bills when you’re signed into your various online accounts.
But the solution is simple – turn off in-app purchases. While it might be a slight inconvenience when you actually do want to buy something, it only takes a few seconds to toggle on and off – and it can even stop you from making some questionable purchases of your own.
You can usually find the option to turn off in-app purchases under your iOS phone or tablet’s “Options” menu. If you have an Android phone, open Google Play and select “Settings.” Then, go to “User Controls” and set a PIN for in-app purchases to prevent your children from spending your money while playing games.
2. Disable the Power
I’ve worked from home for the last seven years, and I can’t tell you the number of times a curious toddler, wayward cat, or even a mischievous preschooler has turned off my computer before I had a chance to save my work. It’s caused me to wonder why computer manufacturers always seem to make the power button so sensitive and covered in bright lights – in other words, very tempting for a child.
Save yourself the frustration and disable the power button so chubby little fingers don’t have the ability to switch your devices on and off. In Windows, you can go to “Power Options” in your control panel, click “Choose What the Power Buttons Do,” and click “Do Nothing.” The next time your toddler tries to power down your computer, it won’t work.
Macs do not have the ability to disable power buttons; however, you can use an app to accomplish the same thing. Download PowerBlock, which runs an optional AppleScript when the power button is pressed, allowing you to setup your system to immediately shutdown, restart, sleep, or eject a DVD.
3. Set Passwords
My daughter has her own iPhone, but definitely not her own iTunes account. Instead, I simply linked her iPhone to my own gadgets, and they all fall under the same account. That way, any time she wants to download an app, she has to bring the phone to me. We talk about the price, look for a free option, and if it seems reasonable, I enter my password to authorize the download.
Strong passwords do more than just protect your personal information – they can be used to protect gadgets from unauthorized purchases, as well. Putting passwords on your phone or accounts lets you know exactly what your children are doing, and keeps you in control of what they can and can’t download. Just make sure you don’t slip and accidentally give your kids the password.
4. Use Sturdy Cases
Smartphones are notoriously delicate, so purchasing a good case is essential to protect your investment. Cases exist for almost any mass-market device, from Kindles to tablets, and Androids to iPhones. The online marketplace has a huge selection – just perform a search for your device and “case” to see what’s available.
I personally love silicone cases, which seem to offer the best shock protection. I also choose better cases for gadgets such as the iPad, which my kids are more likely to use – as opposed to my work phone, for example. When in doubt, ask other parents which cases they like best. Chances are that they have some ideal products and cautionary tales that can help guide you to the best case for your electronics.
You can buy a cheap silicone case for as little as $5, but if your children are going to be using your devices, you may want to upgrade to better quality. I love Speck cases for my iPad. They cost approximately $30 to $40, and have kept my iPad safe and sound. If you really want to protect your goods, try OtterBox, which offers waterproof models for $50 and up.
5. Sign Out of Shopping Accounts
I absolutely love my Kindle. As an avid reader, it’s tempting to take the easy road and stay signed into my Amazon account so I can download the latest books with just one click. However, this can be perilous.
Whether you buy books online or you shop for clothes, electronics, or games, it’s important to always sign out of shopping accounts like Amazon and eBay. For extra safety, you should also turn off one-click purchasing options on Amazon. Just sign into your account, scroll down to “Settings” and choose “1-Click Settings.” Click the button that says “Turn 1-Click Off” and sign out.
Kids can easily get online and begin clicking or tapping without realizing that they’re purchasing real items. However, device security extends well beyond your family. If someone were to steal your gadgets, they could potentially have easy access to all your accounts if you leave yourself signed in. Instead, sign out and remove any options to enter the password automatically.
6. Set Off-Limits Rules
You’re in charge of your devices, so it’s wise to set clear rules for your children’s usage. When it comes to the iPad, my house has very specific rules: It’s never put on the floor, it’s not allowed when the kids are roughhousing, and it can never go in the bathroom.
My kids follow these rules because they were set the moment the new gadget came into our home. They understand that using electronics for entertainment is a privilege which can easily be removed if the rules are broken – in fact, my children have been grounded several times for using the iPad. Strict enforcement of these rules ensures that my kids understand the value of a pricey electronic device, as well as how to treat my personal belongings with respect.
Set specific times that your children can use your gadgets – such as 20 minutes after school or while in the car – and times during which they’re entirely off-limits, like when playing rough or eating dinner. You can also create rules for where your devices can be used. Do you want the kids to take your electronics into their rooms or are they allowed to use them in common areas of the home only? Ultimately, it’s up to you to set rules that teach your children to respect your things and keep your investment safe.
7. Download Apps
Certain apps, programs, and even browsers can help protect your gadgets and electronics by limiting the ways in which your kids can interact with them. I especially love the KidZui browser (free), which makes the Internet safer for children by blocking inappropriate content and preventing online purchases. Another app, called Kytephone (free), allows parents using Android phones and tablets to track online activity, messaging, and other actions, and it facilitates setting up timers for things like games.
Some parents might argue that the use of third-party apps to control device usage is too much like spying, but I recommend being open and honest with your kids about why the apps are in place. Let your children know that you want to keep them safe from any negative stuff on the Internet and ensure that they don’t use gadgets in place of physical or social activity.
8. Use Mounts
My kids love using the tablet in the car and it’s now a must for any road trip. However, when they’re just watching movies, I’d rather protect my iPad by keeping it out of their hands – in the car, it’s way too easy to drop it, smear food on it, or otherwise damage what is a pretty sensitive piece of equipment.
My solution? I paid about $30 for an iPad car mount. It attaches easily to the back of the front seat and it comes with two sets of wireless headphones. When I know we’re going to be on the road for a while, I pop my iPad into the mount, hand over the headphones, and enjoy the peace and quiet – as well as the knowledge that my kids aren’t ruining my device. Mounts are available for a range of gadgets. The $30 product I purchased has movable arms, so it can fit devices up to approximately 10-by-8 inches all the way down to those the size of Kindle Fire, which is 7.5-by-4.7 inches.
9. Apply Screen Protectors
The first thing I do when I get a new device is put a screen protector on, which prevents it from getting scratched up while my kids play with it. The particular product your device needs completely depends on its make and model, but most electronics stores carry a wide variety of sizes and brands. Some stores even apply the protector for you for a small fee (usually about $5 to $10) if you’re nervous about handling the thin polyester film yourself.
Screen protectors can run anywhere from $5 to $30, depending on thickness, clarity, and the protection provided. I prefer a matte screen, but others may prefer one with a glossier finish. Try heading to the electronics store and asking to see a number of protectors in action before you decide which one you like best.
Computers, smartphones, and tablets are all excellent ways for your children to play, learn, and stay occupied so you can have a few quiet moments to yourself throughout the day. By taking the time to put a few safeguards in place, you can ensure that you’re able to use your gadget for a long time.
Do you let your kids use your pricey gadgets? How do you make sure they stay safe?