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.
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!