Preparing The Littles For The Internet

When I asked my six-year-old what he hoped Santa would bring him for Christmas, he said “you know… It starts with an F… A phone!” When I informed him that he couldn’t have a phone until he was sixteen, he said “oh, well how about a computer?”

I probably would have said the same thing if I were him, and he made the geek dad in me proud. Both the little mini-me’s are given supervised iPad time as a reward and they’ve grown quite fond of playing Plants vs. Zombies and Temple Run and watching Lego Star Wars stop motion animations or videos on how to be a ninja or how to fold origami on YouTube. If I had that shit when I was six, I would want unrestricted access too.

Now that the holidays are here, I began wondering what is the most appropriate way to introduce my kids to the web without just handing them the keys to Google. I’m firm in my belief that web access is a fundamental human right at this point in civilization. The web is such a powerful tool for self-directed learning that I don’t want to wait too long to give it to my kids. However, it’s also like a modern mash up of the Library of Alexandria, the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, and the Red Light District of Amsterdam. Everything on Earth is represented on the web and Google has flattened it and made it all instantly accessible, not to mention the inherent linked structure of the web leads to all kinds of accidental, sometimes serendipitous, sometimes unfortunate, discoveries. Porn, people, I’m talking about porn.

So I’m not about to give a six-year-old a computer, but there are an impressive number of kid-friendly options out there right now. The best that I’ve seen is an Android tablet designed for kids called the Nabi 2. It’s a powerful 7” tablet, similar in specs to the Nexus 7, but is has a customized operating system with two modes — parent mode and kid mode. Parents have full access to the latest Android OS, but kids have a simpler sandboxed interface, showing them only those apps approved by parents and a set of kid-friendly websites in a browser that doesn’t allow navigation off-site. It comes with a whole slew of prepackaged games and educational software, streaming music and age-appropriate TV. It doesn’t have access to Google Play, so app options are limited to Nabi’s built-in app store, which currently contains about 500 kid-friendly apps, and the Amazon Appstore, which contains thousands more. It has a camera, which means the kids can take pictures and even Skype with their grandparents (or, more likely, each other from opposite ends of the house). And it comes with a robust protective bumper so you don’t have to worry so much about damage when the inevitable occurs. “I only dropped it a little bit!” It runs for $199 at amazon.com or nabitablet.com.

It’s a relief to know that I’m not the only one thinking about how best to balance access to technology with an age-appropriate, phased introduction. We’ve got a couple of Nabis on the way and I think this is exactly the tool we need to start the process.

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Matt Olson is a systems thinker, hacker, and social entrepreneur proud to call Chico home. He's a software engineer with a particular interest in using social business to address seemingly intractable problems. When it's time to relax, you'll find him on the roads and trails of the North State on his Homer Hilsen, playing bocce, or building robots with his boys.