Tech-wise parenting: eReader & Accountability

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One of the great challenges of modern parenting is figuring out what is the appropriate age to allow our kids greater access, or even ownership, over electronic devices. For my wife and I, the core issue is how much time, and unfettered access to the internet.

Consider that the best-selling book on Amazon.com for 2012 is a sexually explicit so-called “romance” book. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to see how our culture’s entertainment, gaming, music, literature, and yes—even education have become quite sexualized. The challenges of maintaining sexual integrity is no longer the challenge just for me.  Both parents and children of both genders are facing–or going to face–a barrage of sexual content that is easier to access than ever before. This is a serious and important factor to consider when determining what sort of access we’re going to give our children.

This is all particularly challenging when faced with the decision to let your child have their own eReader, or make use of educational software on a tablet or mobile phone. Here is the challenge: there is currently no technical solution to limit adult content while searching or buying from Amazon Kindle store, or from the GooglePlay bookstore. If you think for a second, “what’s the big deal? It’s not like my kid is going to search for anything bad.” Think again.

Hank Osborne, the writer of the “Daddy Life” blog (daddylife.net) describes the following incident;

A couple of months ago a parent asked me how to control search results when browsing the Kindle Store. And by the way, this question applies to all Kindle devices, eRaders for other devices like the iPad, or just searching within a computer browser. Her 11 yr old had saved money to buy her own Kindle Fire and was freely browsing for her favorite children’s books.  When searching the Kindle store for “American Girl” which is a popular book series 11 yr old girls, the mom was shocked by some of the results her daughter was exposed to. …as of today the 12th result in the Kindle store for the search term “American Girl” is a very explicit/erotic eBook by the same name. It is certainly not appropriate for an 11 yr old by the standards of any parent that I know.

An additional problem to accountability in this area is that search history can be deleted in any amazon account. Additionally, the Kindle’s parental controls are not effective at all. To make things more challenging, any internet filtering software you may have installed at home is bypassed by the Kindle Amazon store and when using the Kindle app in any mobile device.

Here are the steps you might consider for the use of the Kindle App. Not all families are created equal, so you’ll want to use these as discussion starters with your spouse and determine what steps should be taken in your home, for both your children and/or yourself.

  1. Block the use of amazon.com in the Android tablet browser. Limit shopping on Amazon.com to the home computer or laptop.
  2. Create accountability for the use of the Kindle app through use of a mobile filtering & accountability app like Funamo.
  3. Consider having a single Amazon.com account. This allows family members to hold each other accountable of past browsing history.
  4. Set up the payment account on the tablet or eReader so that you as the parent can know what the child is purchasing. This transparency is probably healthy for men as well.

On his blog, Osborne also suggests de-registering your children’s device from your Amazon account and creating a separate amazon account for your child, which you control. Assuming your child can be obedient to not purchase something without permission, I would suggest the opposite—use the same Amazon account. This will allow you to notice patterns in what your child is searching for or viewing on the account. Either way, you’ll want to make sure that only you have access to the email address associated with this account.

The idea is not to operate from a foundation of mistrust, but rather to willingly build transparency and trust through intentional hedges of protection.

At the end of it all, technology will never absolve you or me from our God-given responsibility to be dads and moms of integrity, and intentional parents who are proactive in training and disciplining our children, and being an example in living out our lives in humble accountability and transparency to other believers. This includes being intentional in learning about new technology, so we can train our children on how to use these responsibly. The privilege and freedom to use electronic devices should be tied to simply having the technical ability to use it, but rather to the maturity and character to be Godly in what we do with it.

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