Protecting the Kids With New Child Protective Devices

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With more helicopter parents among us, the future of child protective devices looks bright.

Parents' concern for their children's safety has both shifted and intensified, and that is leading to the creation of monitoring and tracking tools that are increasingly sophisticated, according to a new report from the futurist research and consulting firm Social Technologies.

"The growing trend of 'helicopter parenting' is fueling this development," explains senior analyst Kevin Osborn. "It is characterized by micromanagement of kids from birth to college--and beyond--and carries the message that unwatchful parents are bad parents."

The rise of social networking sites that virtually link tens of millions of kids, teens, and college students to each other is viewed by parents as another source of bad influence--and potential abuse, Osborn adds, noting that exposure to computers is occurring at increasingly younger ages.

Fortunately, concerned parents can breathe a sigh of relief.

"While developments in information technology fuel new fears, they are also providing a stream of new products designed specifically to alleviate parental concerns," Osborn explains. "Parents can now monitor a child's activities with everything from toys to mobile phones."

In the Drivers Seat
The decreasing cost of sensor technology, and advances in sensing and virtual interaction technology, is helping this new generation of tech- and Internet-savvy parents.

Osborn forecasts, "These new products will significantly expand the monitoring and tracking capabilities of parents, enabling them to keep track of whom their kids meet online, monitor their kids' movements and location, and keep tabs on their behavior and lifestyle."

Here's How

  • Monitoring virtual interactions. Parental fear of social networking is so strong that a new genre of websites has sprung up around the idea of safe networking.

"With names like WeeWorld and Stardoll, these sites are specifically targeting eight- to 14-year-olds and millions of users are flocking to them," Osborn says, adding that behind the colorful graphics and cute characters, these sites employ high-powered content filters aimed at blocking any suggestive language or exchanges of contact information.
Some sites even have meta-accounts for parents, allowing them the final say over whom their child may add to a virtual friend list.

  • Monitoring physical location. Driven by advances in sensors and the proliferation of GPS, RFID, and mobile phones, parents can also keep track of their children's physical location. "New gadgets with GPS trackers are being built into wristwatches and running shoes, and in some cases they also include panic buttons that send alerts to law enforcement officials," Osborn explains. "Mobile phones have also become an important tracking tool. About 70% of teenagers have a mobile phone, and a product called Guardian Angel allows parents to program routes into it. For instance, if a parent wants to ensure a teen stays on the straight and narrow path to school, her cell phone monitors whether she stays on the pre-programmed path." What if the child strays? Osborn says parents know because they receive an alert--and can contact the child--should the monitor indicate the child has gone off-course.
  • Monitoring behavior. Increasingly, helicopter-parenting tendencies have also spurred demand for products that monitor most aspects of a child's life--from eating to driving.

Consider the "cafeteria police."

"A website called mealpay.com was originally conceived as an expedited way of paying for school lunches, eliminating the problems of lost or stolen lunch money," Osborn explains. "However, due to consistent parental inquiries about what their children were eating, the manufacturer introduced an option in 2005 that allows parents to monitor online--or even proscribe limits on--all of a child's lunch purchases."

Edline is another service enabling new levels of educational micromanagement, Osborn notes. "It provides parents with comprehensive grade readouts--down to the smallest quiz--along with information on class attendance, daily subject matter, and pending assignments."

Business Implications
As sophisticated kid monitors become mainstream, will more parents feel that continuous monitoring is part and parcel of being a good parent? "I'd venture to say yes," Osborn forecasts, "and thus the demand for child safety and monitoring services will increase."

Here are few of the devices that may be arriving soon:

  • Subcutaneous devices. Technological advances in this area could allow for a whole new range of tracking products, creating demand for sensing implants and environmental scanners.
  • Optimized parent guides. Continuous child monitoring may enable companies to offer data-driven products that analyze the detailed statistics collected by monitoring devices and provide personalized recommendations to help "improve" children.
  • Personal freedom products. Aimed at helping young adults dodge monitoring by overzealous parents, this could emerge as a new growth market.

Learn More
What are some other potential outcomes of these innovations? To find out more, set up an interview with Kevin Osborn. Contact Hope Gibbs, Social Technologies' Leader of Corporate Communications: hope.gibbs @ socialtechnologies.com.

About Kevin Osborn
An award-winning author and editor, Kevin Osborn is one of Social Technologies' senior writers/analysts. He has contributed briefs on a wide range of business and lifestyle topics to the firm's multiclient projects, as well as performing custom writing and analysis work for individual clients. A generalist by inclination, Osborn authored, co-authored, or ghostwrote more than 40 books as an independent writer for top US publishers before joining Social Technologies, including: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Bringing Up Baby (Macmillan, 1997; 2006), The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Mythology (Macmillan, 1998; 2004), and The Encyclopedia of American Sports Heroes (Scholastic, 1996). Areas of expertise: Boomers/Gen X/Gen Y, China and Chinese consumers, the future of parenting and kids.

About Social Technologies
Social Technologies is a global research and consulting firm specializing in the integration of foresight, strategy, and innovation. With offices in Washington DC, London, and Shanghai, Social Technologies serves the world's leading companies, government agencies, and nonprofits. A holistic, long-term perspective combined with actionable business solutions helps clients mitigate risk, make the most of opportunities, and enrich decision-making. For information visit http://www.socialtechnologies.com, their blog at http://changewaves.socialtechnologies.com, and their newsletter: http://www.socialtechnologies.com/changewaves.

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HOPE GIBBS

Hope Katz Gibbs
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