Introducing Parental.IO

The question on how to raise a successful child is ranked probably as difficult as how to get rich. Partly, it’s because parents know how important early child development is, starting from when kids were inside the mom’s tummy, to their university degree. Partly it’s because we don’t know what is in store for kids who are born today. We will have to know what the future is like in 25 years down the track – when the baby will enter the workforce.

Some say creativity and critical thinking are two of the most important assets to build. Some say social ability and empathy are more important, and some say coding abilities are important, because of the digital nature of the world the kids are entering. Who is right? Would it depend on the personality of the kid? Would it depend on their interest? or would it depend on the age of the kid? Younger kids may need to be able to practise their motor skills, to improve the dexterity of their hands. Toddler may need to learn to read better so that they’ll be able to connect to the world around them. Older kids of the age of 10 may need to learn how to socialise safely in the virtual world.

Stories of successful entrepreneurs, one man who is able to be innovative, creative, and productive such as Steve Jobs is the bar that parents want to beat. Steve, single-handedly created several companies, each worth millions, if not, billions of dollars. The possibilities of what kids can achieve are boundless, and consequently, parents are obsessed to provide the best education for kids to reach those dreams.

Couple that obsession with the explosion of mobile technology in the last decade. Pre-mobile, kids need to be able to know how to use keyboard and mouse in order to benefit from technology. Now, babies as early as six months old are able to interact with an iPhone. Touch here, touch there, they get somewhere. Maybe it’s learning what a triangle looks like, or which circle is coloured red. Either way, educational games have huge potential to let kids learn any sorts of skill early on. More and more quality games are developed: games that encourage creativity, social interaction, and even family bonding. The numbers are increasing rapidly, and this is great news.

Unfortunately though, the technology also brings some side effects that can be dangerous to the very kids we serve it to. In the last five years, the same story has appeared over and over, on a range of issues attributed to excessive technology usage. Health issues such as early vision impairment and RSI, repetitive strain injuries, that are usually common among adults over 40-years-old, are now hitting teenagers. Kids are now reportedly late in developing their motor skills as they follow a more sedentary lifestyle, not playing much outside the house. These kids are also more likely to develop anti-social behaviour and to experience difficulty to even bond with family members.

More alarmingly, mental issues such as social media addiction and game addiction are on the rise especially when the side effects are not addressed. Just last month, a 14-year-old girl committed suicide related to the deletion of her facebook account. Another tragic event unfolded when a 16-year-old boy killed both of his parents last year over restrictions that the parents have enforced on his iPod usage. “I just remember getting mad”, he told the police. The extreme rage shown in this case is unhealthy. Try to snatch an iPad out of a five-year-old after playing several hours with the device, the kid will show a glimpse of that same rage.

In light of this, child psychologist and concern parents tried the unthinkable: digital detox. The detox program ranges from home bound, to a full blown camp for kids, learning to live without devices. Some of them reported success. In fact, one of my friends told me that it takes about 10 days for his daughter not to use her iPad, in order for her to completely forget about its existence. That is a great news, if only that is the solution.

You have to admit that it is impossible to imagine a future without technology, hitherto no psychologist has ever advised to cut technology from the kids’ life completely. The effect will be debilitating, similar to telling a twenty-year-old to never learn how to type or use the mouse. For all we know, kids growing up in today’s world may even need to know how to code in order to be able to manipulate technology in their day-to-day jobs. How can we then keep technology to be a part of the kids’ lives, without suffering the repercussion?

The answer lies within creating a healthy routine whenever any technology device is involved. The earlier the parents are able to establish this routine, the easier it is for both the parents and the kids. It starts from selecting good quality apps and programs for kids to learn, setting attractive rewards to promote responsible usage of devices, and also creating usage limits and “screen-free” zones where kids understand the boundary of which they are not supposed to cross.

This is the idea where we grounded our work, Parental.IO.

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Parental.IO is a site where parents can remotely control their kids’ devices. It recommends quality apps that are suitable for the age of your children. It tracks what your kids like to play, and use that data to recommend future apps, so that, as your kids grow, the applications they are playing will continue to be appropriate for them. It sets daily limits and quiet hours suitable for their age, and lastly, it recommends events and activities you can do with your kids when they are not on the device.

Since its inception in 2007, the app store is now filled with high quality apps that have been beautifully designed with educational purposes in mind. Dora’s Cooking Club, is an app handy for kids as young as three to learn to count within the context of cooking. Herotopia, is an app fitting for seven-year-old kids where kids become heroes by combatting bullying. Google Earth is marked relevant for teenagers around 13-years-of-age who want to explore the outdoors further.

We think Parental.IO can also help parents in recommending the time limit that fits the kids’ age. Just because the apps have high educational value, it doesn’t mean that the kids should play on devices for the whole day. What about time to bond with their parents? What about time for homework? The general consensus spans from one to two hours a day, and some psychologist also advise for weekly limit of ten hours and let the kids choose when they want to spend it. Parental.IO ensures that those limits are strictly followed by automatically locking the device when the time is up. At times such as dinner time, parents can also use Parental.IO to instantly lock all devices to get the kids’ full attention.

Another important feature of Parental.IO is to recommend activities that the family can do outside the virtual world. We will recommend them based on the age of the kids as well as the kids’ interest. For example, if the kid likes to play cooking game, we may suggest baking cakes as a good bonding time for the family to do. It is also good to see what other families with similar aged kids are doing to get some ideas.

In the longer term, we want to help parents build good routine whenever any device is involved. Parental.IO has rewards and tasks functionality where kids can claim brownie points after they’ve done their chores, such as making their bed, or doing their homework. The rewards don’t just have to be more screen time; it can be a family day out to the movies, or simply getting ice creams. The main thing is that kids understand that screen time is a privilege, obtainable only by demonstrating good behaviour. If they abuse it, they run the risk of getting less screen time.

So, how does this all sound? Would you be interested to try Parental.IO or would you recommend us to some of your friends who are parents to kids under 12-years-old?

We came up with the idea after I got addicted to Hay Day, spending a good 12 hours a week on the game alone. Supercell, the creator of Hay Day, employs dedicated, highly intelligent developers, whose sole purpose is to get people addicted to the game. We think it’s unfair for kids having to fight these developers on their own, a battle so one sided, where the losers will obviously be the kids and their families. Our wish is for Parental.IO to level the playing field in the favour of the families.

 

 

PS. Min’an came up with similar post last week. We are not trying to duplicate the content, but we’re tweaking the message to be a more positive, hopefully more attractive preposition. Let us know if this is a better message i.e. more sellable. Any feedback will be immensely appreciated!

Parental Analytics

Folks, today I’d like to tell you about a problem. A problem that is all around us and getting worse. A problem that affects some of the most vulnerable members in our society.

I want to tell you how this problem is really an opportunity, and why existing attempts to address it have fallen short.
And finally, I’d like to tell you what we want to do about it 😀

I’ll start by relating the account of Guy Adams, a writer at the Daily Mail newspaper in the UK:

Waking up at the ungodly hour of 4am, I see William, my 3 year old son with a pleading look. He had entered our bedroom and shaken me awake to say “Daddy, I need the Ipad” with as much urgency as his 3 year old voice could muster.

I marched him back into his room and told him to get back to bed, only to wake up at 7 in the morning and find him in the sitting room, iPad in hand. He had stolen it from our bedroom and been at it for a good 2 hours or so judging from the remaining battery life. Removing it from him lead to the biggest tantrum I had seen him throw, to the point that it was difficult to feed him breakfast.

We live in a time of change. Many of us live a large part of our lives in front of a screen, whether it be for work, play or to socialise. And this digital drug is affecting our children more profoundly than any other technological revolution in the past century or so will. The ability of devices like the iPad to occupy kids is so effective it has been dubbed the iNanny by many parents. There are over 40000 kids apps on the app store today – it is a booming market catering to the app consumers of tomorrow.

Perversely, this means that there are literally legions of smart, educated programmers out there whose sole job is to defeat the psychological safeguards of kids who have not even developed the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves. Their sole purpose is to keep the kids hooked, to play more and buy more in the apps. The odds are stacked against a kid today having a healthy relationship with the digital world from the beginning.

By the time parents realise they have a problem, it’s not a good place to be in. Just a week ago, Vincent Parker, a 16 year old honour-roll student from Virginia admitted murdering his parents to death over routine punishments, like depriving him of his iPod. “I just remember getting mad,” he told investigators. “Itís all from my dad. All this stuff like my dad taking away my iPod and stuff”.

I’ll let that sink in for a bit – a smart young boy murdering his parents over digital restrictions. It is obvious that the implications of digital addiction are not well understood.

Yet in mainstream addictions, to cigarettes, drugs or gambling, taking away the substance usually leads to a better quality of life. Arguably, taking technology away is not an option for many parents, not in the digital world we live in today. Technology is here to stay.

As they say, knowing is half the battle. Digital addiction is becoming more recognised, but how to deal with it less so. Approaches range from a no-device and no-access policy to more moderate approaches, involving close parental supervision and hard restrictions, but all of them start from first contact with any digital device.

Unfortunately, many of these approaches focus solely on restrictions, limiting the amount of time spent, on blocking potentially harmful apps. I believe we can do more. Rather than just limiting to try and minimise adverse side effects of digital exposure, we should actively seek out ways to make use of technology better to harness its potential, whilst still maintaining a healthy relationship between kids and devices.

Rather than just making sure kids don’t spend too much time playing angry birds, find and also have them also play games like Sandbox, where they solve complex puzzles using the laws of physics.
It extends beyond the digital frontier as well; rather than just making sure they’re not playing something violent, taking them to cooking classes because they like playing games like Cooking Mama or Cake Cooking Challenge.

In fact, rather than giving them access as an allocated entitlement, let them work towards it, allow them more screen time if they help out around the house or do well at school.

In many ways, looking after your kid in the digital realm is nothing more than an extension of good parenting. You’d never let your kid swim unsupervised in a pool, but they weren’t always in the pool. Today, they’re always in the pool whenever a screen is involved because it’s just become that easy. And constant supervision seems like a luxury, especially if both parents are working, an increasingly common situation today.

And this is exactly where we come in. We’re starting Parental Analytics, a company that tries to make it easier in two ways – Firstly, we provide apps that not only cater to the limiting usage of the devices, but also ways to analyse your kid’s usage and suggest ways to take your use of technology with them a step further; be it through suggestions of similar apps with stronger educational content or real life activities you can do with your kid when they’re not in front of a screen. Apps that allow you to track and give rewards for desireable real life behaviour in the form of screen time. Secondly, we want to build a community of parents around these tools, parents who share the same problems dealing with bringing up kids in the new digital future, and curate strategies and techniques that have worked for them.

We don’t want to a substitute for good parenting – we don’t believe there is one, but we definitely believe we can use technology to make the task easier. We hope that we’ve given you an idea of the challenge we’re trying to solve, and that you’re as excited as us in harnessing technology to change the narrative of digital device relationships from just one of digital addiction, to one of digital opportunity. If you are facing this problem yourself, or know anyone facing this problem, please let us know, we’d love to have a chat about our beta testing program before launch.