The Internet’s a great place, but a lot of it is designed in a way that legally assumes kids under 13 aren’t using it. They are, and it’s a big problem for parents.
Many social networks have come up with ways to protect teenagers. But it’s time for the big tech companies to start making room for kids of all ages, including those under 13. It’s in the companies’ best interest to get the kids hooked on their products early, so what are they waiting for? This is what parents want.
Parents Want Smartphone Games Without Adverts
What parent ever wanted their kids to click on ads? No one. But the decision to view or not view adverts is not the only one that comes into play when choosing games for smartphones and tablets. The thing is, adding adverts changes the usefulness of the app completely.
When I hand my tablet or phone to my toddler, it’s because I want her to be able to spend five minutes playing a game by herself. Believe me, there are dozens of reasons a parent might want five minutes all to themselves (scoffing chocolate in the kitchen comes to mind). An ad-free game within a secure child-safe app environment is perfect, as she can play happily without me looking over her shoulder or worrying about anything but the safety of the device itself. But with adverts? Not possible. That ham-fisted toddler will inevitably click on that blinking advert and within no time at all I have a toddler sticking a phone in my face saying “It’s broken! Make it work!”
It’s for this reason primarily that any toddler games found to include adverts get deleted ASAP off my phone. I’m fairly certain I’m not alone on this one, too.
So, wise up app-makers. Add as many in-app purchases as you like (as long as they’re accessible from a parental screen kids won’t access easily), but skip the ads.
Our Kids Need To Be Able To Create Accounts Legally
Most parents see the sense in having dedicated child accounts on their computers with parental controls in place. Yet when it comes to the online services our kids want to use, it’s often legally impossible for the kids to get an account of their own.
Legislation designed to protect kids online, like the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), are idealistic – but not at all realistic. Despite social networks and services restricting their services just to over-13s, it’s clear many of the under 13s are simply faking their birthday and using the services anyway. In fact, in the case of services like Gmail, many parents are faking the child’s birthday for them simply to enable them getting an account.
What would parents prefer? That social networks and other services acknowledge the needs of children and incorporate them into their system safely. For instance, allowing parental controls on accounts for the under-13s (perhaps forcing the under-13 accounts to be created by a parent in the first place), restricting friends, making under-13 accounts only viewable by other children and family members, ensuring the kids can’t click on outgoing links, limiting the things kids can post (to avoid embarrassment and bullying), adding profanity filters, and continuously teaching the kids how to use the service responsibly as they go along.
Perhaps this isn’t going to happen for US children until the COPPA legislation changes, but in many countries outside of the US this sort of under-13 account is entirely possible. I’m all for restricted child accounts being trialled on the most popular services.
All Media Sites Need To Have A Kid Mode
Netflix has a kid mode, but occasionally offers some kid-friendly movie suggestions that, while G rated, are completely uninteresting to kids. Meanwhile, Vine has recently introduced a kid mode that got raving reviews from parents and kids alike. Now, if only all media sites and apps offered a service like this!
For YouTube there are dozens of third-party sites that offer kid-friendly viewing, but it’s limited to things that have been pre-approved by their in-house parents and teachers. That means users are relying on this site to continue approving new videos in order to stay interesting. It would be far better if YouTube itself had a kid mode, ensuring only kid-friendly content and advertising was shown and recommended in the first place. It would take a while to set this up, but with millions of parents worldwide willing to approve the occasional video, this could easily work with a combination of crowd-sourcing and oversight.
Similar kid-friendly modes would work for equally well for Vimeo, Flickr, and many more media sites. I’d love to see my kids searching Flickr for cute kitten pictures, only to get distracted by fennec foxes and other interesting wildlife. This is what it’s all about: I want my kids to be able to explore safely, at will.
Safe Searching Environments For Kids & Teens
More important than any of the media sites having a kid mode is for search engines to offer a child-friendly search. When kids need to search for things, parental supervision can help to avoid the worst results being seen or clicked on. However, in an ideal world, these off-colour results should not feature in a child-friendly search at all.
I would love to see Google offer a kid mode, with kid-friendly search suggestions, kid-friendly search results (especially images), appropriate advertising only, and perhaps a bit of useful instruction for the kids on how to search more effectively. This could evolve into a teen-friendly search mode that offered more advanced search education, while still filtering results somewhat.
What Do Other Parents Want?
I’m sure many of you are parents too. And if you want to avoid having to spy on your kids, there are certain measures that website and app creators would have to put in place. What would you like to see technology companies offering soon? Let’s get their attention!
Image Credits: Boy on smartphone Via Shutterstock