The internet is a gross place. Think about it: Would you let your kid hang out somewhere full of vulgar language, racists, and thieves. And yet you let your kid online.
Don’t worry – I’m not saying that makes you a bad parent. It’s impractical to think you can keep your children offline these days, or monitor what they’re doing 24/7. But even though you can’t control what other people post and say, you do have some control about what your kids are exposed to online.
Here’s how Google, Nintendo, Netflix, and YouTube – some of the world’s most popular companies – are keeping the internet a safe place for kids.
Google’s Be Internet Awesome
You know how every other week there’s a story about a data breach or a phishing scam? We can’t really help it if hackers keep targeting credit card information, but we can make sure our passwords aren’t "password". Google, in conjunction with The Internet Keep Safe Coalition, ConnectSafely, and the Family Online Safety Institute, is teaching kids how to do just that.
The Be Internet Awesome initiative is an online/classroom curriculum that teaches the fundamentals of online safety. Kids are given tips on protecting themselves against phishing schemes, malware, viruses, and bullying. They’re also taught the basics of creating strong passwords and using social media responsibly.
The entire course, complete with lesson plans, is available for free online. Kids (and adult personal finance writers) can also play Interland, a video game composed of mini-games that help reinforce the lessons. Kids play as an "Internaut" and do things like outrace hackers to collect the characters of a strong password.
Google has a lot to gain from kids growing up to be internet-savvy, so it’s hard to say they’re doing this for altruistic purposes. But the ends justify the means in this case, and raising a generation that knows the ins and outs of data privacy benefits everyone.
Nintendo Switch Parental Controls mobile app
Nintendo has a huge hit on its hands with the Nintendo Switch, and it’s making sure parents have some control over how their kids play with their Parental Controls app.
The first thing you’ll notice is this super-cute video of Bowser concerned with how much playtime Bowser Jr. is getting:
The second thing you’ll notice is the app itself. There are two aspects to it: the way your kid interacts with the Switch and the way they interact with people online.
Most parents want to limit the time their kid spends playing games or watching TV, and the Parental Controls app makes it easy. Straight from a smartphone, parents can put time limits on how long the Switch is in use. Limits can be set for individual days, and parents can even have the console go to sleep when time runs out.
Parents can also filter available games by rating, so kids can’t play Mature-rated games, and at the end of the month, they can elect to receive a monthly summary to see exactly what their kid has been playing and for how long. It’s a good way for them to assess if the controls are working as intended — and/or figure out which days are available for them to play themselves.
The second part of the Parental Controls app restricts how kids communicate online. Parents can control how and when online chat is available, and what kids share on social media through the console.
Nintendo makes some questionable decisions – its voice chat has to be done through a smartphone app, which is literally just using a phone – but the Parental Controls app is one area where they’ve got a winner.
YouTube and Netflix’s kids programming
Netflix, the winner of all future Emmys, and YouTube, the only other place you watch videos online, have surprisingly robust kids platforms perfect for sitting your kids down for a few hours and getting some peace and quiet.
Netflix has been making a big push into original content for a while, and it’s not leaving children’s programming behind. The streaming service already has a number of kids shows, and it’s planning on aiming 15% of upcoming programming toward kids. Netflix has even started interactive choose-your-own adventure shows to keep kids engaged in what they’re watching. Plus, parental controls mean parents can choose the type of shows kids watch.
Google-owned YouTube is a more perilous playground than Netflix, since it’s less curated and you never know the quality (or content) of video you’ll come across. That’s why YouTube Kids is a great alternative to the hit-or-miss nature of OG YouTube.
YouTube Kids has as dedicated app, so your kids won’t accidentally find themselves watching inappropriate videos. It’s even redesigned the UI to make it more kid-friendly, with streamlined menu options and cartoony icons. Parents also get the obligatory parental control and timer options.
YouTube Kids might not be for everyone – as one review for the app puts it, "Way too many baby-ish videos like who watches kids bop anymore?!!! (Sorry to anyone who likes kids bop)." – but for parents who want to keep their kids from the seedier corners of the internet, it, along with Netflix, can be a lifesaver.
P.S. – If you’re not into Netflix or YouTube, other video streaming services have kid-friendly shows, too. HBO is home to Sesame Street for some reason, and Starz recently announced a commitment to add over 60 kids series by the end of the year. For now, they’ll have to make due with things like the mid-90s The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3.
You can’t know what your kids are doing every minute they’re online, but you can teach them the right skills for navigating the internet safely and give them a safe space to play while they’re still learning the ins and outs of digital life. Parenting is hard enough as is, and Google, Nintendo, Netflix, and more are making it easier to keep your kids safe.
Looking for more parenting tips and tricks? We’ve got a few every mom or dad should know here.