Time for the Kids to Become the Online Teachers

Change has always been the domain of the young. From the end of the Vietnam War to the Arab Spring, it’s not parents who are out there advocating change, it’s the youth. In the online world, it’s time to get kids, especially the web-savvy ones, to take a stronger role in their own safety and etiquette.

I attended the annual meeting for FOSi (Family Online Safety Institute) a few weeks ago and was gratified that instead of the decades of scare tactics about how much trouble kids can find on the internet, there was a commitment to good research and to working hand in hand with kids instead of trying to hand down ultimatums.

What Kids Know That Parents Don’t: For one thing, they know how much of a mess the Internet really is, and how ill-equipped their parents are to serve as guides. The research FOSi commissioned found that while 84% of parents felt they monitored their teen’s online behavior very closely, a much smaller percentage of teens (39%) actually felt as if they were being monitored closely. The same perception gap was reported when 91% of parents felt they knew about their teen’s activities, while teens reported that their parents were not particularly well informed. Parent’s biggest knowledge gaps were in social networking areas, especially with newer sites and topics like Pinterest, Instagram and mobile apps. Parents and teens both claimed to worry about identity theft, invasion of privacy and a blotted school record. Teens expressed concern that parents didn’t fully understand the ferocity of images that are posted without consent, and “regrettable” comments online.

A Platform for Good: Most of the research underscores that kids are a bit more in touch with the realities of connected living, and learning quickly how to show caution when necessary. That’s real evolution. One of the best things to come out of the sessions was the launch of Platform for Good, where parents, teachers and kids can band together to effect positive change in the world using online connections. In a nice sway from the predictable, the project features high school students that appear in small vignettes teaching parents about what goes on that they ought to know about. They use a little charm, a lot of humor and offer up good honest kid advice on subjects as wide ranging as: mobile apps, setting up mobile phone features, reputation, and gaming.

For parents who don’t know a Pintrest from a pint of milk, an hour on this site goes a long way towards a reality check.


No More Eye Patches: Kids with Amblyopia Wear Cool Electronic Glasses Instead

No, they’re not for skiing, or for looking cool. Amblyz electronic glasses are the modern-day answer for all those young kids forced to wear eye patches as a treatment for amblyopia. Amblyopia, often referred to as “lazy eye”, is a neural disorder affecting three to five percent of all children. For decades, young patients have been treated by patching or penalizing one eye with chemical agents. This forces the lazy eye to work harder and ultimately becomes normally functioning.

Amblyz glasses (created by parent company Xpand, makers of all sorts of 3D glasses solutions) are made to fit kids ages 3-10 and are meant to help de-stigmatize the disease. The glasses have a built in electronic shutter that intermittently makes one eye’s lens transparent or opaque, sort of like a shade coming down over the child’s good eye. The company believes that the glasses are much more appealing to kids and eliminate the discomfort – and social unease – of wearing a patch. Top ophthalmologists and optometrist have tested the glasses in clinical studies that demonstrate comparable effectiveness to current products and superiority in esthetics and comfort.

You’ll be able to buy XPAND Amblyz glasses at select ophthalmologists and opticians beginning in December 2012. Pricing will be about $500, and includes a guarantee against breakage.


Ebooks versus Apps for Kids

What’s the difference between a kid’s app and a kid’s ebook?   Oh, about $10.

There are a few other differences, sure.  E-books tell more of a story and have less in-book games. Apps have more interactivity and play.  But just by calling something an ebook and not an app you can command a higher price. Call it an app and you can expect to charge anywhere from 99 cents to 3 or 4 dollars, and fall subject to all of the app store rules. Build a similar product, call it an ebook and you can get $9-$15 – very similar to what you’d pay for the hardcover printed version.

Stranger yet, interactive books tend to be easier to produce. Much less programming and coding. Without the built in game experiences of number of interactive diversions, they require less work. It’s an irony that’s not lost on companies like Disney and Sesame Street as they plan their next title launches.

Attending a WiCM (Women in Children’s Media) event called Turning Books into Apps, you could see the audience’s collective mouths drop open as this tidbit of information was released.

I decided to do a little investigation.  Chomp, a children’s book by Carl Hiasen listed for $10 on the Nook, one dollar less than the hardcover book. Angry Birds Space, the bestselling app of the week on iTunes was available for 99 cents. Tangled, what Disney calls a StoryBook Deluxe, with a storyline, character voices, coloring activities and a few games sells for $6.99. Disney’s Motor City, a full fledged car racing game for kids is absolutely free.

There are exceptions to the rule: Marvel’s iStory Books – a collection of stories for kids –  is free on Android, but while they call it a book, it’s basically a bunch of games…more like an app. Cinderella from Nosy Crow, a true interactive book experience, is priced at $9. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss from Oceanhouse Media is only $3.99 – a good value for a book. In part, it’s because Oceanhouse has created a publishing platform to turn ebooks out quickly.

Of course part of the reason for the discrepancy in price is cultural. Our expectation is that a book is more expensive than an app.


And parents should take notice that ebooks can be really well done. Julie Hume’s study appeared in the School Library Journal and the results are pretty impressive. Hume, a reading specialist in Missouri, decided to set up her own experiment, comparing the results of 24 3rd-5th graders who struggled with reading. Half spent their reading enrichment time at a computer working with the Tumblebooks ebook program, the others received traditional intervention from a teacher with paper books.

Last November, three months after starting the project, the average fluency rate for the Tumblebook group was 23 percentage points higher than that of the control group. By January, all the children in the ebook program had achieved enough fluency to be integrated back into their regular classrooms. It took the control group two months longer. (See: Are Ebooks Any Good? )

Of course there are hybrids in the works, and you’ll start seeing more and more ebook reading. “E-enhanced” apps like The Death of Bunny Munro are offered up as examples of the future of the ebook. For $16.99  you get “the full ebook, the unabridged audiobook  synchronized to the text, read by the author with an original soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and 11 videos of Cave reading from the novel.”

Also note that e-books tend to require more storage on your device, in part because of the rich art and spoken word.

No doubt that over time, ebooks and apps for kids will grow closer in capabilities and in price. But for the moment, publishers are pretty happy to publish an ebook title, and are still trying to figure out how to make a buck off of an app.


Can Gamification Help Solve the Kids’ Privacy Problem?

Sigh.   We’ve seen this one before. The stage is set for the next bout between concerned parents and watchdog groups and web and mobile sites that cater to kids.  Because it’s so easy to glean information about kids habits, whereabouts and friends using the technologies in today’s smartphones, there’s a movement to look for ways to, an minimum make kids and their parents more aware of the issue and at maximum, pass legislation with penalties for taking kid’s information inappropriately.  This week the FTC issued a report that included a strong wag of finger to kid’s apps creators. The report asks them to do more to make the information they’re getting from young users more transparent.

One of the recommendations is a simplified explanation terms and conditions. This should work about as well as telling your kids that they’ll have to read the manual that comes with their new bicycles!

But, what if terms  and conditions could be integrated as part of the “play” experience of a site or an app.  What if you got points for completing the brief “what could happen/what information we’re sharing” game?  Points that you could later spend on the game itself.

I’m no game designer, but I know the power of games to lure and engross.  So, how about creating an intro game to sites for kids that give a quick overview of the nasties or lack thereof — you don’t play them… no prizes for you.

For a good overview of the latest FTC findings on kid’s privacy:

For the full report:

History is Made at CES Kids@Play: 6 Mobile Devices Just for Kids

Here’s the logic. If kids covet their parents iPads and iPhones,  and if Android devices are beginning to catch up on sales of phones and tablets, will kids then want their own Android devices.  Hard to predict, but at CES Kids@Play, Warren Buckleitner, moderated a history making panel that looked at a new crop of mobile devices designed just for kids.

Vinci , a complete learning system tablet for toddlers, announced at last year’s CES returned to announce  a “little vinci” – iPhone sized unit, for half the price.  The Mini tablet will cut the price in half.  Vinci’s focus is on leveraging technology to create a curriculum for kids with clear objective. The company’s CEO has often said that “every child should play their way into Harvard”. An Android with a touch screen, built in camera and WiFi comes with software that teaches everything from colors and shapes, to emotional thinking, to math and music. Priced from $379

Fuhu is a clever Android based device with a 7 inch screen. Designed for a slightly older child, the Fuhu comes preloaded with  Netflix and Angry Birds, both hits for the primary school kids. It has a book reader, pre-loaded music, gobs of math problems, and higher end features including HDMI out , USB, audio out for headphones and a camera.  An Ask Mom button sanctions buying when your child asks.  And Fuhu costs under $200.  Read what the Hollywood Reporter said.

Playbase  Go is another Android tablet with a clean simple design just for kids.  It too has a 7 inch capacitive touch screen and plenty of storage and RAM. The special protective covers for the unit come in various colors and actually convert to a book stand type cover. It’s got a built in camera and comes with its own version of special software including . Of the various devices, it’s capable of showing 3D  and is built to take a beating but still thin and light. Read the Pocketlint review.

LeapPad, introduced this fall is a $99 educational experience from Leapfrog.  LeapPad has quite a few features for the price , a built in camera, creativity like an art tablet, a music player, games, books and more.  The big difference between it and the other devices is that you can’t just download any apps.  The apps must be downloaded by connecting the tablet via USB to a PC and going to the Leapfrog site. Still, it’s tried and true content and was one of the most sought after products this holiday season.  See the live video from CES.

The PlayStation Vita is really a different beast, developed to take play to the next level.  It’s got more of everything: not just one, but two capacitive touch surfaces on both the top and the bottom of the mobile device. It’s got the traditional PlayStation dual analog stick controls, WiFi, 3D and front and back cameras.  This makes it an incredibly diverse game play experience – one that can grow with your child.  Demo games include augmented reality and lovely hi definition games.  See what USA Today had to say about the Vita demos at CES.

Finally, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC XO3)  is a totally redesigned tablet version of the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child that relies on a touch screen rather than a keyboard ). A Linux based device that runs open source games and programs, and a scaled down version of Wikipedia called Wikipedia slices, OLPC is being used mostly in developing countries to provide equal access to computing power. The focus of OLPC, a project of MIT and Nicolas Negroponte is to provide an environment where you can build your own games, explore source code for your applications, create and surf the web. There’s even a hand crank feature to generate power for the machine. Every feature, including a very special looking interface shaped like a spiral begs for exploration.

Nearly 100% of Kids in US Play Video Games

According to a new kids and gaming study by the NPD group, video gaming popularity among kids ages two to 17 is still growing at a rapid pace with 91% of kids in the US using electronic games of some type. Equally as impressive, the market for gamers gets younger and younger with preschool gaming showing the biggest increase. KidScreen offers a deeper look at this revealing study.

Brazil Leads in Pre-Teen Social Network Usage

Trend Micro, an Internet safety and security company, recently released findings of a technology use survey of parents and kids across the globe. Interestingly, Brazilian parents and kids seem to have a growing, and perhaps the largest, problem with social networking.

While the survey asked parents about smartphones and their kids, far fewer of those surveyed had actually purchased such a device for their children than those who had. Globally, about 17 percent of parents have purchased a smartphone (as opposed to a standard cellphone) for their kids. This percentage is highest in Brazil at 27%, and lowest in Japan at 5%. The average age of a child receiving a smartphone was 13.

Globally, parents are not passive bystanders and are implementing household rules on smartphones. The vast majority of parents surveyed (86%) have given their kids guidance on safe and responsible use of the phone. In Brazil, over 90 percent of parents who bought their child a smartphone indicated they have given their child guidance on how to use their phone appropriately.

While mobile phones were less of a problem overall, nearly half of parents surveyed globally say their kids have accounts with social networking sites (SNS) that require a minimum age of 13 but the average age of their kids who use these sites is 12. Children in Brazil are joining social networking sites at a younger age than most other countries, at an average age of 9.

On the bright side, over three-quarters of parents surveyed are friends with their kids on their social networking sites, and two-thirds of them monitor their kids’ use at least weekly. And more than half of parents surveyed (51%) believe their kids act responsibly on social networking sites. Of U.S. parents surveyed, 67% believe their child acts responsibly when it comes to sharing personal information.

Trendspotting: Parents Earn Play Rewards for Kids

I first saw this with Knowledge Adventure’s Spa Adventure game – a Facebook social game where moms could earn points for their kids to spend in the virtual JumpStart world. Now WebKinz from Ganz is offering parents a chance to do the same. In Ganz Parents Club, parents of WebKinz world devotees can earn extra KinzCash and items for the kids. All the parents need to do is play a few games, read a little content and share some thoughts.

On one hand, its fostering parents/kid communications. But on the other, as parents we‘re already accused of doing everything but going to school for them. Now, it seems we’ve got to play video games for them to help feed their virtual appetites.

What do you think?  Should parents play to win for the kids?


MyKeepOn Combats Autism

The adorable, plain-looking robot KeepOn was initially invented to be a therapists tool in helping to treat autistic kids. Developed by Marek Michalowski, the idea was for a therapist to control the toy from a remote location using a video camera embedded in the robot to observe the child. The simple facial expression and its yellow-non threatening blob shape, as well as the lack of flashing lights and startling sounds all helped evoke positive responses from autistic children, who tend to dislike overstimulation.

But, a funny thing happened. After noticing that the KeepOn videos were going viral and there was “something in the way they moved”, Michaelowski teamed up Dr. Hideki Kozima (Sendai, Japan) to create a simple robotic toy, a less expensive scaled down version of the original research tool. It sits on your desk responding to music and doing its little dance. Looking like a blob of yellow with button eyes and nose, I must confess, the dancing MyKeepOn robot didn’t do much for me, nor did I find enough variation in its moves, but clearly it has it fans.

If you’re looking for a dancing sidekick to your PC, MyKeepOn will be available throughout the US, UK and Europe starting this month for $50. A portion of every MyKeepon purchase will be used to expand the KeepOn Pro family of research robots, which will be distributed to researchers and practitioners investigating the use of robots in autism therapy. A good cause, and a cute dancer.