Safe ways for kids to use today’s technology
Published: April 26, 2019
By: Caroline Knorr
If a genie were to grant your every wish, you’d waste no time making demands in your home: “Add milk to my grocery list,” “Lock the doors,” “Help my kid with algebra!”
Today, smart devices give families that kind of magic — for a price (in this case, your data). But internet-enabled products aren’t going “poof” anytime soon. In fact, more than 6 in 10 parents say their young kids interact with voice-activated assistants.
So if you’re weighing the pros and cons of products such as smart watches, smart speakers and even smartphones that track pretty much everything you do, this peek behind the curtain will help you determine what they can do for you and your family, how to use them as safely and securely as possible, and, ultimately, whether or not the benefits to your family are worth it.
Types of smart products
- Home assistants: Google Home, the Echo, Siri.
- Smart appliances: washing machines, refrigerators, coffeemakers.
- Connected home products: electrical outlets, light bulbs, thermostats,
- Wearables: smart watches, smart sneakers and, yes, smart diapers.
Ways to use a home assistant
There are many useful, educational and fun ways to use these smart devices. Pretty much right out of the box, you can use voice commands to “wake” them (say, “Alexa” or “OK, Google”) and ask them to do simple things like set a timer, tell a joke or read a weather forecast. But to do more, you’ll need to dig into the companion smartphone apps to connect your accounts and enable your preferences.
Once you personalize your device, you’ll be able to request music from streaming services like Spotify, Amazon Music or Google Play Music. You can also select preferred news sources, restaurant delivery services and more.
For kids — and those with attention issues or even dyslexia — home assistants can help with reading, writing and math as well as tasks that involve organization and time-management. With their hands-free operation, on-demand information and scheduling ability, home assistants can supplement the assistive technology that kids are already using. Scan the companies’ website for the “skills” (for Echo) and “actions” (for Google Home).
Some safe ways to use smart devices
Most families want more insight into how companies collect their data and what they use it for — they just don’t know how to do it. It’s also true that many families actually like some of the extra benefits, such as grocery store deals and restaurant coupons, that they receive from the collection of their data.
How you allow companies to use your data is, ultimately, up to you. Ideally, you are making an informed decision and know what you are agreeing to. The tips below are optimal but not necessarily realistic for everyone — especially busy families. And most companies could do a lot better in making these things easier for us!
- Understand what companies collect. Read through the privacy policies of each product you enable. If you don’t understand something, dig into the company’s website — for example, their blog or the help section — to research specific topics. If you’re not getting the answers you need, email the company or post a query on their social media. Explore user forums — where other product owners gather to discuss issues related to the products — either on the company’s site or on others, such as Reddit. Pay special attention to what companies collect “for future uses.”
- Check privacy settings. Carefully review each privacy setting (usually found in the app associated with the product or in your user profile on the company’s website). Pay close attention to any setting that is “on” by default.
- Use strong passwords — and make sure your kids do, too. Strong, well-protected passwords can thwart hackers looking for easy combinations to gain access to your information. Also, take advantage of additional security measures such as two-factor authentication.
- Protect children with parental consent. If kids will be interacting with smart devices and companies give you the option of setting up profiles for them, take advantage of that feature, as it can limit what’s collected. If you want your kids to have their own home assistant for their room, just make sure you enable all the privacy settings you can. To be ultra-safe (some might think paranoid), you can turn off the device’s microphone at night after the kids go to bed.
- Remind your kids to connect safely. Public networks are prime targets for hackers (both local and international), so try to avoid them. If you have to use a public network, consider downloading a VPN (virtual private network) and make sure to enable the browser setting “always use HTTPS” to add another layer of encryption to your data.
- Keep your software up to date. Companies release security updates on their software all the time, so you should definitely stay on top of the updates. And it’s a good rule of thumb to recheck your privacy settings after an update. Also, make sure your virus protection is current. If you opt for a free virus-protection download, do your research to make sure it’s from a reputable company (some scammers imbed malware in their free offers).
- Periodically review your data. Some companies give you access to at least some of what they collect. Take a look at it and delete it if you don’t want it on your history. Depending on the company, deleting it doesn’t necessarily wipe it from the company’s servers, so try to check how long the information is stored. That knowledge could come in handy if there’s a breach.
- Model respectful communication with assistants like Alexa and Siri. Anytime you introduce a new technology into your home, you’ll need to guide kids on how to use it and what the expectations are. It’s best to remind kids that even though Alexa doesn’t mind if you’re rude, parents do.