Game Console or Tablet on your Child’s Holiday List

How to make a new device kid friendly

christmas presentThis holiday, many kids will discover elves have expanded their toy making enterprise to include all sorts of electronics. In our house, my youngest has high hopes that his first device is under the tree. Honestly, I am excited to give him his first electronic present but I am also a bit uneasy. The internet is a big place. I want him to have freedom to explore but I also want to keep him out of adult areas. Thankfully, setting up these devices to make them kid friendly is becoming easier.

If a new game console or tablet is on your child’s holiday list, I have compiled a list of resources for how to set up parental controls on these devices. These controls are important, especially for young kids. The internet is an all age’s venue and if a child is not ready for an R rated movie, they are not ready for unlimited access to the world wide web. However, controls alone will not teach kids digital life skills. After setting controls, take some time to slip in an online safety PSA or create a device contract. If you are feeling a bit unease navigating the digital world, you may want to include Talking Digital: Tips and Scripts for Parenting in the Digital World on your holiday list.



For setting controls on game consoles, ESRB is a one-stop shop. Here, parents will find information on how to set parental controls for many popular consoles. If you are a visual learner, the ESRB also has a video series on YouTube that walks you through how to  set parental controls on the Xbox OnePlayStation 4, and WiiU. One of the best ways to teach kids about playing responsibly is to play together. To find age appropriate games for the whole family, check out CommonSenseMedia and the ESRB for ratings and reviews.


For tablets, parental controls vary widely even within a family of devices. Below are links to how to set up parental controls for some popular tablets.


Parents should set restrictions on the iPad itself and on the iTunes account. First, parents can go to “Settings” then “General” to set limits on the device. Here, parents will see a list of features and apps they can turn on or off. For example, parents can turn off Safari to eliminate web searching. If you want to allow some internet, parents can also activate safe search within Safari.  BeWebSmart has an excellent article on how to set up safe search for kids. Second, parents should also set restrictions on their iTunes account to limit inapp purchases. Parents can do this by requiring a passcode for every purchase.

If the latest iPad with IOS 8 is on your holiday list, parents can set up family sharing on their apple devices. Family sharing lets family members access each other’s books, music and apps and allows parents to set limits on what children can buy and download. Family sharing is another great tool but does not replace setting up parental controls on individual devices.


Amazon Kindle Fire allows parents to set parental controls using Amazon FreeTime. The Kindle FreeTime app lets parents choose which books, videos, and apps a child has access to. The FreeTime app is not only for content. Parents can also set limits on screen time and set educational goals such as 30 minutes of reading a day. With a new Kindle Fire, parents receive Kindle FreeTime Unlimited free for a year. This is basically prime for kids. Kids have access to free books, games and shows based on their age.

Android Tablets (Samsung, Nexus etc.)

The parental controls available for these devices depends on the manufacturer. Some controls are more robust than others. Given this variability, parents may want to go with a free app designed to make a tablet kid friendly. Tom’s Guide reviews many popular parental controls apps. If you want to play with the controls available on the device, GeekSquad walks parents through how to make an android tablet kid friendly.

Windows Surface

Microsoft has Family Safety Controls for their PCs and Tablets. I found the best explanation for how to set these up at GottabeMobile. Parents have a lot of options for how to tailor these controls. They can choose what sites kids can visit, whether to restrict online communications and how much time kids can spend online. If sharing a tablet, parents can set up accounts for each child.

Talking to kids about scary chain emails

scared kid A few weeks ago, I had chance to talk with elementary school parents about internet safety. It was a great evening and a chance for me to discover what problems young kids were encountering in the digital world. One of the concerns that came up was scary chain emails. These chain emails usually start with a frightening story and end with “if you don’t send this to 5 friends, I will come to your house in the middle of the night and kill you with a butcher’s knife.” Quite a few parents shared how upset their child had become upon receiving such a threatening email.

At home, I asked my 3 kids about scary chain emails. Predictably, my tween and teen rolled their eyes. My eldest recalled at time in 5th grade when they all sent around these emails. They were excited to have their first email accounts but received so little email they started sending each other chain emails. It is easy to find examples of funny and scary chain emails online. Both of my older kids said these emails were not a big deal and most of the time they simply deleted them.

My youngest was not so dismissive. In fact, he was concerned and confused by how the stranger would have gotten his email address. He thought if the stranger knew his email address, they could also know where he lived. To him, these threats seemed within the realm of possibility. Honestly, I was little surprised by his reaction. Our conversation was a reminder that I still needed to talk to him more about evaluating digital content.

First off, we talked about how someone cannot find your home address through your email address. I reminded him how when we signed up for email. He only shared his name and birth date and this information is protected via his password. (I also slipped in a quick plug for choosing a strong, unique password). Most likely, this email either came from someone who guessed his email address or a friend forwarded the email. Either way, the original author does not have his home address and does not know where he lives.

Second, we discussed how these stories are not real. These chain emails have been floating around the internet for a long time. A great place to check for the origin of these stories is on Snopes investigates chain mails and other urban legends and provides reliable explanations. Here is an example of how to dissect one of these stories for a kid. Snopes not only investigates the different versions on the web but takes a part the story as well. A quick lesson in critical thinking.

Finally, kids should never forward these emails. Some of these emails may a contain a virus so you want to nip these in the bud before they can infect a computer. The best thing to do is just delete them so that no other kids will get scared or have nightmares. For more information on talking with kids about chain emails, check out the blog Media!Tech!Parenting! by Marti Weston which has a lot of information on protecting kids from email hoaxes, scams and viruses.