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Big tech trying to make internet safer for kids after pandemic saw screen time skyrocket

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Posted at 7:24 AM, May 04, 2021

Kids' screen time skyrocketed during the pandemic.

While not all of that usage is bad, it has tech companies, and researchers are trying to figure out how to make the internet safer for children.

Microsoft Edge Kids Mode is fun, flashy, and even involves Disney characters.

“Kids mode is tailored to kids it’s colorful and bright and customizable for children,” said Divya Kumar, director of product marketing for Microsoft.

It took developers about a year to put the browser together, which offers two different age ranges for kids.

It's designed to take the burden off parents and to make the enormous internet a little safer for children, with built-in kid-friendly sites, tracking prevention, and a way to block adult content from coming in.

“In one of the researches we did, we found that the handout scenario impacts 50% of parents in the U.S.," Kumar said. "It’s that moment when you hand a shared device over to your child so they can hop on the web and browse while you’re in the middle of something."

She says they also found that 58% of parents in the U.S., especially those who have kids 12 and under, are concerned about exposure, but less than half use parental controls.

Enter Dr. Jenny Radesky, who says tech companies should explore a new approach.

"Instead of taking all these adult products and retrofitting them for kids, which is never going to be perfect, we should be designing kid's digital products from the ground up with what kids need," Radesky said.

Radesky is both a professor and a developmental pediatrician. She's also one of the leading experts on tech, families, and kids.

"We need more technology not to take more of kids time, but in the time they’re going to be on their learning device or a laptop that it is time they’re spending in a child-centered environment,” she said.

Kids, she said, are curious by nature, and like they'll grab or go after anything, they'll click on anything too.

"Good kid's products aren't going to try to extend the time our kids are on devices," Radesky said. "They recognize that kids learn best by taking new information in and then talking about it with a parent."

Kumar said it's what they hope families will do — take the opportunity to discuss screen time and safe ways to explore the incredible World Wide Web.