Finn is sitting next to me on the couch playing Roblox on her shiny new iPad Mini. This is a gigantic upgrade from her grotty 4-year-old Kindle Fire, which used to be my old Fire. She’s getting into playing games with her friends online, and while this is making Jen and I very nervous, we’re also not going to completely lock her social life in the basement. She had a friend over on Wednesday who has a new iPhone X—yes, you read that right—and they tried to play Roblox together. Finn’s Kindle kept crashing and needing restarts, and Jen texted me and told me she was getting frustrated.
I’ve been bumping up against the limitations of the Kindle since we set it up for her; Amazon funnels parents into a paid model for parental oversight on your kid’s device, which I was too cheap for. I disabled a lot of the functionality and made it so that she couldn’t do any in-app purchases or browse the web, and that seemed to work OK for what she was doing. But the unit is old, and slow, and the battery is weak, and it was two-year-old technology four years ago, which means there were games within Roblox that wouldn’t run properly, and that app isn’t supported very well on Android from what I can tell. And all the kids are playing Fortnite, which it won’t run at all.
Her laptop actually turned out to be harder to manage. I set up a very strict internet whitelist to start with: Baltimore County Public Schools, PBS Kids, dictionary.com, National Geographic, and about four other sites of the same quality. But because any and all of the pages BCPS serves pulls scripts and content from other domains, all of these have to be whitelisted—over, and over, and over again. I had to make a second account for her with no firewall so she could do research online, and monitor what she was looking at.
Bless her heart, our daughter doesn’t have tantrums or whine or act like a baby about shit like this, but Jen is great at staying tuned to her frequencies and knows when things feel wrong. We decided that she should be able to reach out and play with her friends online without feeling embarrassed by her gear. There are a lot of seismic social shifts happening right now, and we want to make sure we’re not holding her back, while also not pushing her too far forward.
So we had a family talk over dinner, and after setting some ground rules we all came to a decision.
Jen and I weighed the options of different devices first; any phone is out of the question, as she’s not going to have one of those for several years—I don’t care what all of the crazy alarmist parents around us say, she doesn’t need to get in touch with me during recess in the fourth grade. I considered buying a new iPhone and giving her my old one with cell service disabled (it’s a 6, and beginning to show its age, but still functional), but there are a couple of modern games that won’t play on it. I considered an iPod Touch, but I figure she’d lose that pretty quickly. I looked at all of the models of iPad and finally settled on the Mini for its size, capacity, and price. It sits comfortably in the middle of each segment, and I figure it’s got enough room to expand into a schoolwork device as she gets into middle school. It’s big enough that it’s easy to see and hard to lose. But it’s also smaller than a full-size iPad.
I had to do a little sleuthing to figure out how to set it up for her correctly; at first I logged in with my account but quickly realized I’d have to undo that after I set her up with a Family Sharing account. She’s now got a subaccount keyed to her age, and she’s not able to purchase apps without her iPad sending me a confirmation alert. It’s set up with three hours max of screen time between 7AM and 9PM, and I’ve gotten pretty granular with the other settings. (I’m hesitating with the whitelist so I’ve set it to Block Adult Content, and we’ll see how that works).
Overall, I’m impressed with how Apple has thought some of this stuff through; out of the box it has a lot of the features I wanted without having to pay extra for—that’s part of the premium price, I suppose. The real test will be how she butts up against the parental controls I’ve set up, and if we have to modify any of them. But for now, she’s over the moon, and already talking about what case she’s going to buy for it.