Kids love the Kindle Fire, but for parents trying to safeguard young eyes from questionable content, the tablet is often a nightmare.
The growing affordability of tablets makes them an educational and entertainment staple in many households, but parents busy themselves figuring out how to keep children's curious eyes diverted from inappropriate material or from making unauthorized purchases. This challenge is increasing, especially as the devices become more child-friendly and the operations they perform become more sophisticated.
Cheaper Tablets: A Great Opportunity to Reach Kids
Apple's iPad paved the way, but this past holiday season Amazon boasted its closely integrated Kindle Fire tablet, with its affordable price and enticing retail connection generating impressive holiday sales.
Many parents are familiar with Amazon's reputation for shopping ease and perceived good value. The Kindle maker capitalized on this with its low-cost tablets like the Fire, which also proved ideal for young technology users, bringing in another audience for companies like Amazon to cater towards.
But How Do You Kid-Proof This Thing?
Now, however, many of these parents wooed by Amazon's familiar ease-of-use for purchasing are crying foul, as children rack up purchasing charges on the devices at the same time parents report a decreased ability to "kid-proof" the Kindle devices.
One parent complained on an Amazon forum, "This thing was designed to get you to buy stuff. I would like to have seen a password purchase protection option for kids. I mean the cat could walk on this thing out of the box, and buy a refrigerator with one-click purchase.... not kidding!"
This complaint echoes others from parents who are dealing with post-holiday hoopla upticks on their designated credit card or learning their children are using the device to visit inappropriate or dangerous sites.
A Quick Fix
Some frustrated parents say Amazon made it as easy as possible for young users to buy things because that is the primary purpose of the device -- a means to tap into and buy Amazon's content. Last week, after weeks of complaints on message boards and forums, Amazon announced a new Fire update, which provides password-protected parental controls.
The 6.3.1 update allows owners to lock down specific content libraries, such as movies or music, and disable access to the device's Silk web browser for making purchases. This may be good news to parents, who can have greater control over purchasing.
In addition to the content controls, the update lets Fire users easily highlight and share favorite passages and notes from books directly from Kindle Fire on social networks, provides supplemental material about characters, authors and settings, and changes movie rental procedures.
Users can tap the "Quick Settings" icon and tap "device" to determine what software is running. If the information doesn't reflect "Current version: 6.3.1," users can tap "Sync" to automatically download this latest version.
Other Ways to Lock Down Tablets
The Fire's latest download should allay many parental concerns, but there are other products that monitor devices and give parents greater piece of mind. After all, most of these devices are designed to serve educational needs, and not be a Wild West portal to all the Internet has to offer.
Software like SurveilStar let parents monitor children's online activities remotely in real-time -- including recording emails, IM chats and visited websites.
The product starts at about $70 and gives parents the ability to preview tablet activity silently and unobtrusively from their office or home computer. The program can help filter the data children have access to, block certain IM chats, and view summary reports of Web usage, complete with recorded and time-stamped URLs visited.
In addition to products, some tablet-makers are taking heed of parental concerns and building them directly into their devices.
For example, MEEP is a 7-inch color touchscreen, Android-based tablet aimed at kids six years and older. The MEEP looks like most other tablets, but supports a parental-restricted web browsing experience.
MEEP's kid-friendly controls lets parents remotely access the device from a computer to update restrictions and settings, or monitor Internet activity. The tablet appeals to those who want to give their tech-crazy kids a device all their own, while assuring them their kids' activity doesn't lead them into inappropriate avenues.
Toddler tablets often lack a wireless connection to keep babies from the outside world and parents safe from expanding data bills. Still, they do ready the youngest members of the mobile generation to join the tablet craze, news that may make parents even more resolved to get a handle on the devices.
Not Going Away Anytime Soon
Tablets have the potential to help children engage with reading and help them interact with content on a deep level. But kids' enjoyment of tablets can cross the line from education into hyper-consumerism and inappropriate content viewing.
As tablets in particular become more popular for kids, they blur the line between learning and play. So, weary parents will welcome the news news companies can easily stock a relatively inexpensive tablet like the Amazon Kindle Fire with educational games, children's books, cartoons, and movies -- all of which can now be used without a connection to the Internet and its accompanying dangers.