There is no official or recommended age for a child to have their own tablet.
Tablets continue to be the most popular device for going online for young people, used by 68% of 5-15s in 2019 - up from 64% in 2018. This increase has been driven by the 8-11-year-old age group – from 66% to 72%. (Ofcom 2019).
As they have a larger screen than mobile phones, tablets are often used by children and adults to watch videos. Compared to 2015, children aged 3-4 are more likely to watch TV programmes on mobile devices. Also, between 2016 and 2019, the percentage of 3-4s who used YouTube increased from 37% to 51%. (Ofcom 2019)
As with any piece of technology, use your judgement to decide if you are happy for your child to use it. If so, it’s important to explore the parental controls on offer, to set up boundaries with your child and to make sure you give them the confidence to talk to you if anything does go wrong while using it.
A good way to do this is by treating the tablet as an item for use by the whole family and taking some time to use it together. A shared tablet can be a great way to come together as a family – you can play games, explore, learn and spend time together. Using the tablet with your children is a fun way to familiarise yourself with the device, how it works and how they like to use it. For younger children especially, a shared device can be a great way to model responsible and positive use of technology, preparing your child for when they become more independent and have their own.
Like any piece of technology, tablets have both benefits and risks. There are some key concerns people have about children using tablets in particular:
- Cyberbullying and harassment from both friends and strangers
- Unwanted contact from others and strangers
- Over-sharing personal information, such as your name, location or images
- Accessing inappropriate content
- Accidentally spending money or spending too much money
- Excessive screen time
Many of the risks associated with tablets depend on how it is being used and the apps that are installed. For example, a risk of unwanted contact from strangers is increased if a child is using certain games (usually the ones that allow chat and messaging) or social media. A key part of understanding and minimising the risks is to know what apps have been installed. Parental controls can help you further monitor potential risks, such as blocking new app downloads so that you can check if the app is suitable beforehand. On a shared device, you may be able to set up individual profiles so only certain apps are available to a specific child. For further information on how to set controls on a tablet, you can read step-by-step guides on the Internet Matters website.
If you are going to give your child a tablet that was previously owned by someone else, you should ensure that it has been restored to its factory settings. This means deleting all data on the tablet and returning it to the state in which it would have been if purchased brand new. This will avoid you or your child potentially accessing someone else’s personal information, private messages, photos, accounts, etc. It will also allow you to set up parental controls that are most suitable for your child.
For further information on tablet security, please visit Internet Matters’ Q&A on this topic.
There is no single solution to the problem of cyberbullying and online harassment but there are steps that you can take to help prevent it.
Talk with your child about their understanding of what cyberbullying is and how it is different to bullying face to face. Young people can sometimes confuse bullying with ‘banter,’ especially online when physical clues such as tone of voice and facial expression can be missing. Ask your child how they would react if they were targeted with unkind behaviour online or if their friend was. Reinforce the message that they should not reply, save any evidence, and that you are always there for them to talk to about any online problems.
For further information on cyberbullying, you can read more on Childnet’s Cyberbullying Hot Topic.
When playing on games and using social media children may be sent messages or be able to chat with strangers. Remind your child that even if someone online seems really friendly, it’s difficult to know how truthful they are being.
Speak to your child about their social media profile settings. The safest option is to use the ‘private’ setting, meaning that only friends they have accepted can see what they share. Check they know how to use safety tools such as blocking and privacy settings by exploring these together.
Encourage your child to tell you if anything makes them uncomfortable or upset while using their tablet. Make sure they know to speak to a trusted adult immediately if anyone they only know online (a stranger) asks to meet up, for their personal information, or for photos or videos of them.
Unwanted contact that is hurtful or upsetting can also be reported using social media’s different reporting functions. More information on these reporting methods can be found on the Childnet website.
A lot of personal information can be stored on tablets, such as photos, videos and email and account logins. Help your child to set up a PIN, passcode or thumbprint or face recognition to secure their device. Speak to your child about the importance of not sharing any personal information when communicating publicly online, such as their phone number, school, address or current location. Location services can usually be turned off for individual apps but they can often be turned off in a tablet’s settings as well. You can find out more about location services here.
Tablets also often have cameras, so it is important to talk with your child about using them sensibly. Encourage your child to ask the permission of friends before sharing their photos online. Remind them that taking photos or videos which upset others is a form of bullying.
Remind your child that if they send images to people, there is a possibility those people could share it with others. Feeling pressured to send intimate photos to someone is not a sign of a healthy relationship, and any child in that situation needs to feel they have an adult in their life they could go to for help.
Make sure your child knows they can come to you with any problem or pressure they feel online. It is also possible that younger children may take or send these types of images as a joke or because they do not know any better. To avoid this, you may find it helpful to talk about the parts of the body which should be kept private. For more advice on sexting (sending sexual images), including conversation starters for children of different ages, see advice here.
If your child will be connecting their tablet to your home Wi-Fi network, or already does, then any parental controls or filters you put on your home network will apply when they browse the internet on their tablet too. Find out more about putting parental controls on your home internet connection here.
Most tablets also have built-in parental controls that can be switched on that will activate filters against some inappropriate content. Visit Internet Matters for step-by step guides to putting parental controls on the type of tablet your child already has or the new one they will be using.
Ask your child what they like to look at and where they go for information online. Give them some trusted websites they could use. For younger children, you could install a child-friendly search engine as an app or a ‘favourite’ in their tablet’s browser. You could also ‘favourite’ some sites that you trust your child to use. ‘Favouriting’ a site will make a website remain clearly visible on your browser so that it can be easily accessed later.
Another way a young person may access a content on a tablet is through streaming services, such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime. Tablets have larger screens than phones but are still portable and easily accessible, which makes them very appealing for watching films and television shows on. Each streaming service will have a range of content suitable for a variety of ages and you can use the service’s individual parental controls to manage what content your child can access.
YouTube, which can easily be accessed on tablets, is often used by children to watch a very wide variety of videos. When logged into a YouTube account, restricted mode can be activated via the profile icon to filter out “potentially mature content” and to block user comments on all videos. However, to do this, YouTube uses things like video titles, descriptions and age descriptions, and they are not always accurate, meaning that some inappropriate content can still appear. Especially for very young children, consider downloading child-friendly video apps instead, such as Jellies and YouTube Kids.
For guidance on how to set parental controls on entertainment services and search engines, you can read Internet Matters’ step-by-step instructions for each provider.
Inappropriate content can also be reported using social media’s different reporting functions. More information on these reporting methods can be found on the Childnet website.
Most people only use a tablet’s internet connection features when connected to Wi-Fi. However, if you do have a data plan for the tablet, ensure that you and your child understand the tablet’s internet data allowance. Using the internet uses data and if your child goes over the allowance it may cost the bill payer. When tablets connect to the internet through Wi-Fi, data allowances are not used up. It is a good idea for your child to connect to this when using the internet, particularly at home, as it will mean any parental controls on your home Wi-Fi will also protect the tablet.
Your child may also spend money by buying apps and making in-app purchases. While many apps are free, some can cost money. In-app purchases are not always obvious; they may have downloaded a free game app but to upgrade to the next level they are asked to make an “in-app purchase”.
Discuss the cost of apps and in-app purchases and decide spending limits together. For younger children, you could have a family agreement about only downloading apps together. On many phones, it is possible to block in-app purchases and downloading apps. Visit Internet Matters to find out how to set this up.
See phonebrain.org.uk for advice for young people.
With the internet at their fingertips, it is easy to see how young people can end up spending a lot of time on their tablet. The draw of non-stop entertainment and the pressure to reply to messages instantly can be difficult to switch off from. Also, as its screen is considerably larger than that of a smartphone, watching videos and playing games on it can be very appealing.
However, it is important to remember that there is no concrete evidence linking screen time to real harm. Tablets can also be a valuable part of a child’s development: they can be a great way to develop skills and can help young people channel their creativity and imagination. There are also a wide variety of educational apps that can be downloaded to help with their learning. It is important to balance the kind of activities that they are taking part in on their tablet. For example, over several hours, a child might do some homework, video call their grandparents, watch a video and play some games. Children should also balance time on a tablet with time away from it.
A family agreement can be a positive way to help your child manage their tablet use. You could agree rules on when your child can use their tablet and for how long. You may want to suggest that any homework or other important tasks are completed before they can use their tablet. It might also be a good idea to set a time in the evening for the tablet to be switched off so that they are not playing on it too late at night and not too close to their bedtime.
Reassure your child you are there to listen and help. Ask about the problem and try to find out how it happened.
If you suspect that your child is or has been the subject of inappropriate sexual contact by another person, you should report this to Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre at www.ceop.police.uk.
If your child has been involved in cyberbullying, talk through how they are feeling. Report or block any unacceptable behaviour or other users. Contact your child’s school for further support, particularly if it involves another pupil at your child’s school. If the cyberbullying is a potential criminal offence, consider contacting the police.
With any problem that happens on a tablet, reassure your child they have done the right thing by telling you. Learn together from the experience and talk about how it could be avoided in the future. Explore the settings to see if you can do something to limit the risk of it happening again.
For help for on specific problems, see the following advice on screen time, cyberbullying, grooming, sexting, apps, in-app purchases and digital wellbeing.