Are Parental Controls Enough? How Tech Startups and Parents are Keeping Kids Safe Online.

We want our kids to feel empowered with technology while keeping them safe.

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The parental controls on YouTube’s newly launched web version of YouTube Kids are guarded by nothing more than a simple multiplication question. Any kid with a third grade education can hack them. The FTC recently investigated YouTube to see whether they were violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). YouTube has since discontinued targeted ads for children, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stop showing your kids ads altogether.

Facebook is struggling with COPPA as well, as a flaw in its Messenger Kids app left thousands of children exposed to contact with random strangers. Messenger Kids previously dallied with COPPA violations by harvesting children’s data without clearly outlining their practices in order to gain parental consent.

Parents are worried about the simple workarounds allowing unaccompanied teens to bypass the half-hearted ‘no minors’ policies of rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft, sometimes with fatal consequences. “The fact is, these apps weren’t built with families in mind,” says Diondre Lewis, founder of the child-safe rideshare app ScoopM. “They’re trying to patch up safety issues as they arise, instead of building a child-safe app from the beginning. It’s not good enough.”

Pausing to Use Technology Intelligently

So take a moment to pause before giving your kids access to whatever that new app is. Before you put that IoT device in your children’s bedroom. Before you hand your toddler your phone to veg out for a while so you can get something—anything—done around here for once.

Not to fear monger. But as our lives develop more complex relationships with technology, the stakes keep escalating and the rules keep changing. Vigilant guardians of their safety and privacy, and that of their families, need to be constantly learning. Here are a few apps designed with the safety of children as a top priority.

ScoopM Wants to Make it Safe Enough for Kids To Rideshare Alone

“There’s no reason ridesharing can’t be safe for kids,” says Lewis. “We have the technology for it, and a lot of parents rely on less efficient transportation services, like public transit or carpools, to help get their kids around.”

Lewis designed ScoopM to provide enough security that a parent would be confident dispatching a car to pick up the kids from school and bring them home or to work. Parents can check in mid-ride through livestreaming dashcams to make sure their kids are safe. Kids have a color swatch to match with their driver’s to make sure they’re in the right car, cars are overtly branded so strangers can’t mimic ScoopM drivers, and all drivers are FBI vetted.

PBS Kids Offers Free, Quality Programming Without Ads

YouTube is a jungle. And while we all try to minimize screen time as a parenting crutch, when you need to give the kids a cartoon break you want them to have quality programming and a safe interface.

The PBS Kids app continues the PBS legacy of making children’s programming safe, developmentally appropriate, and educational. Kids can enjoy modern classics like Curious George and Daniel Tiger, as well as groundbreaking new shows like Molly of Denali, the first cartoon in history to center around Native Alaskan children and culture.

Browser Alternative Zoodles Offers a ‘Safe Digital Playground’

Someone has finally thought to develop a young child-centered alternative to Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc. Zoodles offers kids free browsing through a curated network of educational and developmentally appropriate content. It also includes a parental dashboard with breakdowns about how your child is spending their screen time: on math, reading, creative development, and so on.

A premium package allows for more nuanced parental management, additional languages, and some other good features, but the introductory version is free.

Qustido Helps You Monitor Your Kids’ Device

As you introduce your teens to independence and freedom, it’s important to keep an eye on their safety as well. Qustido gives parents a window into their kids’ device usage, allowing them to filter internet content, monitor messaging and social media, and provide time limits.

It works for iOS and Android, as well as MacOS, Windows, Kindle and Nook, and operates from a clean and easy parental dashboard.

Keeping your kids safe from dangerous technology doesn’t have to mean taking technology out of their lives. It’s just a matter of using the technology designed with child safety as its first priority. “The best, in my opinion, is when you know an app was developed by a parent,” laughs Lewis. “That’s when you can start to rest a little easier.” We may not be getting this kind of concern from tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, or Uber, but lucky for us there are plenty of innovators stepping in to help other families stay safe.

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