Buying a tablet for a toddler can be a confusing prospect – is it right for your family? There are pros and cons of buying a tablet for a toddler, which are all discussed here. With screen time for kids being argued often, it’s important to keep your family in mind when deciding, but this post will definitely help you decide.
These days, ‘screen time’ is just as controversial as letting your kid eat junk food, roam the neighborhood freely, or juggle knives. (I kid, I kid.) Some parents are vehemently against it, others see it as a saving grace. Regardless of your own personal views, there will quickly come a time in your little one’s life where they start to notice the ubiquitous devices. After months of pulling your phone out in secret while your toddler isn’t looking because he’ll immediately want to play, you may find yourself thinking about buying a tablet for a toddler.
Yes, it sounds crazy, considering if you’re like me, you didn’t even have flip phone on an actual network until you were 16, but times are a’changing and they actually make tablets specifically for children. These products have so many pros and cons and it can be difficult to navigate the waters of deciding whether or not to jump in and get one.
Today, I’m sharing with you an extensive list on the pros and cons of a tablet for a toddler, what to think about when buying a tablet for a toddler, and an Amazon Fire Kids review – the tablet we ended up getting for our kids. When reading this, please remember that I am not a pediatrician, an expert on screens or tablets, or a techie geek. This guide is simply that – a guide meant to help parents in a similar position I found myself – trying to figure out if a tablet for a toddler is the right choice for THEIR child.
Should You Buy a Tablet for a Toddler?
There are so many pros and cons to a tablet for a toddler – Ryan got his tablet for Christmas when he was 2.5, and we relegated the ‘old one’ to Owen on vacation and gave Ryan the new one. (same exact model, just new to avoid tantrums on a long car ride.) Here I’m going to go over the basic pros and cons so you can make an educated decision on buying a tablet for a toddler.
PROS of buying a tablet for a toddler
This is the world they are growing up in.
I’m a big believer in exposing my kids to technology and learning how to grow and adapt WITH it since, let’s be honest, this is the world they are growing up in. I feel like if I completely restrict my kids’ access, they will be at a disadvantage down the line from the kid who has been learning how to work with it since he was 2. By exposing them early, not only are they picking up the basics quicker, but I have more time to set to ground rules for screens and teach them that they aren’t 100% necessary all of the time. In my mind, teaching kids to use screens responsibly from a young age is similar to the kid who is allowed to eat sweets (within reason) – the fact that it’s not an ‘off limits’ thing or a ‘treat’ decreases the desire to always want it. <– just my own 2 cents, though!
No, not all of the apps on Ryan’s tablet are 100% educational, but from the start I saw such a change in his knowledge. He got his tablet before he started school, and within a month I would randomly find him counting or pointing out letters. From numbers, to new words, to how things work, it’s clear to see how much the tablet is helping his mind evolve. I love using certain apps or games to help with something we’re struggling with at the moment. For example, getting Ryan to brush his teeth is a pain, so we play the Daniel Tiger game where you get Daniel ready for bed (including brushing his teeth for him!) and then we do the same.
When you live in a small house, anything that can pack THAT much entertainment into such a small object is a WIN. Since it holds everything from games to movies to books, I’m able to cut down of the ‘stuff’ in our house and rely a little more on the tablet.
Perfect for car rides and traveling.
On the same page, the small tablet is also perfect for car rides or going ‘boring’ places. Yes, I believe that kids should learn to deal without constant distraction, something we make sure Ryan and Owen do learn, but when you’re in the car for 16 hours or 26 hours straight, a car-friendly tablet is a God send. It was perfect on our trip to Disney and a lifesaver when we went to Nashville.
CONS of buying a tablet for a toddler
Increased screen time.
This is the most obvious downside of getting a tablet for a toddler. I think there is a way to manage this responsibly, and there are settings on many tablets that restrict use to a pre-set amount of time per day. I think if you’re monitoring the use and are in control of the use, you’ll be fine. BUT screen time is such a weirdly personal thing for each parent, so go with your gut here.
Tantrum city when it dies.
Have you ever tried to explain ‘batteries’, ‘charging’, and ‘power’ to a 2-year-old? If you have, then you understand the issue with this one. There is no way around a battery dying, short of having it constantly plugged in and charging (a feat if you have a toddler who inevitably wants to roam the world with tablet in hand.) Explaining to your toddler that although he was just playing with it 3 seconds ago, he can’t play it for a few hours while it charges can be trying at best. I avoid this by charging overnight and taking it away whenever he’s not using it.
** I should add here, as soon as we started adding a very strict time limit to his tablet (it turns off when he has used his time up) this issue ended.
You need Wi-Fi.
While most (all?) tablets will actually function off of the internet, some do require the internet connection to do things such as stream video and download apps. Not a huge issue unless your kiddo has an affinity for deleting apps and then wanting to play that specific game the second you’re in a moving car away from Wi-Fi.
What to keep in mind when buying a tablet for a toddler
Made for kids
is the tablet you’re buying made with kids in mind? Can they go onto the internet and iffy sites or download inappropriate apps or books? Can they make purchases? (with or without a password!) Will they need your help every time they want to download a different app? How much storage is there? Is it easy for them to lock and unlock? All of these are great questions to ask and know when thinking of buying a tablet for a toddler.
Let’s not beat around the bush – your toddler will do everything short of set it on fire. Every night I have to clean off dried food smeared across the screen off. It will be thrown and spilled on and used with dirty hands. Toddlers are not careful, so look for an option that is super durable when buying a tablet for a toddler.
Like everything, a tablet is typically not the ‘only’ cost. Here are some additional costs that you may want to keep in mind before buying a tablet for a toddler, as they could quickly add up.
Additional costs associated with a tablet for a toddler:
- Protective cases
- Screen protectors
- Protection/warranty extension
- Additional tablets for other children in your family
Is your child old enough to manage a tablet? When Ryan first got his tablet for Christmas, he understood – kind of. He was used to playing games on my phone, but didn’t always understand the process of some games or how to hold, drag, or click something. He picked it up very quickly, but I’m not sure if I would recommend buying one for a kid much younger than her was at 2.5. That being said, you know your kid best, and if you feel that your child is ready, go for it! Consider downloading a few apps to your own phone or tablet and let him use it that way to gauge interest and ability.
**Owen used Ryan’s tablet on vacation at age 1.75. He definitely did not really get it – the only game he enjoyed was a peekaboo game that only required on action as well as the videos. He definitely got VERY frustrated any time he got out of the screen he was watching – which happened often.
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While I can’t give the most unbiased option on a tablet, since I only have experience with one, my dad and I both did a decent bit of research on tablets before he decided on the Kindle Fire for kids. Here are some highlights and also a few of the ‘negatives’ I’ve encountered in the 2 months we’ve had Ryan’s.
They’re pretty affordable, sitting at $99.99 which, if you’re giving it as a gift isn’t too bad as a ‘big’ gift or something for the whole family to pitch in on. There is also usually deals on them – at the time of my updating this (2/27/18) the deal is 2 for $150, but I’ve also seen them for $79.99. This includes Amazon FreeTime Unlimited (more on this below) and a kid-proof case in either blue, yellow, or pink.
Honestly, this is the real gem of the Kindle. Amazon FreeTime Unlimited is a kid’s service featuring videos, books, and apps that your kids can download and use on their Fire WITHOUT having to bother with the annoying and ads or in-app purchases. After hearing horror stories of parents who had hundreds or thousands of dollars charged to their accounts from apps, this is a game changer. The content is extensive, (they claim over 13,000 apps, videos, and books) high quality, and features all of their favorite characters (Disney, Nickelodeon, Sesame Street/PBS, etc). For one kid, it costs 2.99/month for Prime members, which isn’t bad, but it’s free for a year with your tablet! I’ve spent nothing on a single app or book for Ryan, because he has so much to choose from for free.
This is actually how your kids can access a kid-friendly profile. Through their FreeTime account, they can ONLY access kid-friendly, parent- approved, age-appropriate content. You can log out and into a password protected parent profile (looks and acts like a normal Fire account, with internet access, Kindle books, social media and email access etc., so you could reasonably share a Fire with your kid if you’d like) where you can change your kid’s FreeTime settings. This might be my favorite part – you can limit SPECIFIC content/screen time to encourage more learning and less messing around. For example, if you want, you could restrict videos and games to just 1 hour a day and make books unlimited. Whatever works for your family. FreeTime also has a browser that you can enable and your child will be able to access kid-friendly websites and YouTube videos. (you can learn more about FreeTime and all of the features HERE! You can also get a free 30 trail account that can be used on any Android Fire device. There is so much more than I could cover here and it’s honestly such an amazing program.)
With the kid’s case, it’s pretty indestructible, and it also makes it easier for little hands to hold. BUT if for whatever reason something happens to it and it breaks, Amazon will replace it for free for 2 years, no questions. I think every parent can appreciate a policy like that. I’ve actually cashed in on this once and it was super easy.
Ryan can download and delete apps willy-nilly. Sometimes he just hits all of the apps because he likes to see the downloading bar, but then he starts getting an error for low storage. It’s a quick fix, and once I put in my password I can see a setting menu of all of the apps and delete. There is also an option that deletes apps off the tablet that he hasn’t used which I think is genius, since it can be hard to know which one he’s used recently. The other issue is that he tends to delete apps he likes, and then wants to play them. Sometimes he has no storage and others he has no internet access, so it can be trying when he really wants to play a specific game but we have to wait until we get home to redownload it.
This isn’t that big of a deal, but it does have limited built-in storage. (8 or 16 GB, depending.) It can be a pain if your kid starts downloading books and games without your knowing. That being said, you can buy additional storage via an SD card.
UPDATE: below I talk about the inability to download videos – this has changed. You can now download videos to your device. There is a 48 hour limit – once you hit play after downloading, you have 48 hours that you can watch them off of Wi-Fi. You just need to reconnect to Wi-Fi to watch but it is a bit of a strange rule.
Not a huge deal, but the movies on FreeTime (I’m not sure if you actually bought them on your account and then ‘shared’ the content with his account) cannot be downloaded and watch later off of the Wi-Fi. This is obviously an issue since if you’re in the car and your kid wants to watch Stinky and Dirty, he can’t. I wish there was a way to completely hide all videos that he can’t access off of Wi-Fi once you’re out of range since you can still see all of the options/icons, but will get an error message if you try to open it.
Honestly, I’m being nitpicky here, at this point. When you lock the tablet or the screen times out, rather than unlocking to the same part of the time, it completely reloads the game you were playing which can be a hassle. Also, Ryan does find it a bit difficult to locate and determine the correct button for locking since it’s right next to the volume.
That’s about it! I hope this post is a great resource that helps you decide whether buying a tablet for a toddler is right for your family and if the Amazon Fire for Kids is right for your kiddo. While a tablet for a toddler can be a bit of a bizarre concept, we are definitely raising kids in such a technology-heavy time, so it’s worth it to really think out your options.
So tell me – would you buy a tablet for a toddler? Do you have one already? How has it been? Let me know in the comments!