Monitoring My Family: The Gift of Parental Controls on a Tablet
My sons have been stealing my first generation Kindle Fire from Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) for the past year. They like it for the games — Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Where's My Water and Pocket Minecraft. I've also downloaded Kindle chapter books for kids. Did you know that Encyclopedia Brown is now available on Kindle? Of course, my sons haven't read the books. Just played the games. As the mobile device management administrator at my house, I wasn't entirely happy with how the technology was being used. But I didn't want to ban it either. So enter an MDM solution designed for parents.
I was happy when Santa delivered Kindle Fire HD with FreeTime Unlimited (Amazon's parental control technology) to my boys. Now, I've never owned an iPad, but I have owned other tablets. This is the first time I've felt comfortable letting the boys use one without me looking over his shoulder. That's because Amazon has put together a bundle of age-appropriate books, apps and videos for kids up to 7 or 8 years old. The apps are all pre-screened so that they have no in-app purchases available. (No Mighty Eagle expenses found later on my credit card.)
This technology also lets you set screen time limits — for total screen time, or else for more granularly with time limits on books, on apps and on videos. In my fantasy parent MDM world this would be even more refined, enabling the kids to earn video and app time by reading books. It's not quite there yet.
In addition to the Amazon pre-bundle, I can add apps, videos and books that I know my boys would enjoy. For instance, there's a chess game that my oldest would like. There's a book about rocks and minerals that he would like, too. And, there are a whole bunch of books about sharks. I can push out this content to my sons' devices from my Amazon account on my computer. They magically appear on my sons' devices.
However, another thing I wish could be enabled in this software is a web browser that could be locked down to visit only permitted sites, such as AnimalJam.com and CoolMath.com. Right now FreeTime and FreeTime Unlimited don't include a web browser. I've considered adding and permitting a third party web browser that could be manually configured to workaround this limitation. But I haven't found one yet that works with Kindle Fire HD. That means my boys are still using PCs to access the web, which kind of subverts the whole idea of this single parental control configuration.
But I have gotten my first generation Kindle Fire back from my kids, a nice side benefit. And yet now my first generation Fire seems very retro compared with the really cool thin and powerful devices Santa got them.