When Tech Becomes Mom

kid playing with phone

So who’s in charge here guys? Who, or what, is really making the decisions for your kids? The answer—in this day of burgeoning technology—may not be as cut and dried as you think.

OK, first of all, I’m not simply talking about the current trend of parents letting techy doodads do their babysitting. We all know that grabbing a few minutes of me time by letting the tykes play with your phone has become an acceptable, run-of-the-mill, I’m-gonna-do-this-whether-the-experts-say-it-rots-their-brains-or-not sort of thing. That’s a given.

And I’m not really even talking about how social media now informs many of our parenting decisions. I mean, who doesn’t look to Instagram for visual pointers on the latest kindergarten fashion trends? That’s all as commonplace as facial lenses and chatbots, right?

What I’m here to talk about is how tech companies are starting to put your kids in charge of their own online consumption when they—that is the companies—decide your kids are old enough.

Google, for instance, has a new parental control app called Family Link. It’s got all the plusses that you, the average mom or dad, might be looking for: It’s free. It packs in thoughtful features for monitoring game time and regulating web browsing. It can even lock things down when it’s bedtime. And did I mention it’s free? Yep, it don’t cost a thing.

Why is that a problem, you ask? Free is good.

No problem at all. But what you might not read in the Family Link fine print is that if you want any of those nifty protections to last beyond Junior’s 13th birthday, you’re out of luck. At that wisdom-inducing first day past 12, Google has decided that the kids should have free reign to undo anything you’ve put in place.

Why 13? Well, Google’s product manager Saurabh Sharma told The New York Times that it’s because 13-year-olds can get their own Google accounts. The article also points out that their set-them-free decision “complies with a federal regulation in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which forbids companies from collecting data from children under 13 without a parent’s approval.”

Hmmm. So in Google’s learned opinion, kids over 13 needn’t have any silly limitations placed on their online travels anymore. And it’s at that point that Google is no longer legally limited from scooping up all the data that results from the kids venturing forth. Isn’t that an interesting coincidence?

Well, thank goodness companies like Google know your child so well and have all their best interests at heart. And thank goodness that the technological world is prepared to start stepping up to relieve you of all those messy parental decisions.

Don’t you feel better?

Who wrote this?

Bob Hoose is a senior associate editor for Plugged In, a producer/writer for Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey, a writer of plays and musicals and one-half of the former comedy/drama duo Custer & Hoose. He is a husband, father of three and a relatively new granddad.

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