Social Media Challenges: What Adults Need To Know

Teens are suffering second-degree burns from purposefully rubbing salt and ice on their skin. Laundry detergent pods are being swallowed resulting in hospitalizations. Recently, a student at a New Jersey High School died after playing something called the Choking Challenge.

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The recent rise of social media challenges is putting teens at risk of serious physical harm. So why are these internet challenges so appealing? Why would teens purposely inflict harm on themselves for fun?

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How to Balance Trust and Safety in Digital Monitoring

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Malware, spyware, online predators, phishing, etc. – your child faces these threats each time they log in to their device. The internet can be a devious place, with questionable content tucked into its darker corners.  As parents, you are inclined to install every safety measure possible to protect your children from harm.

Sure, these precautions are imperative for younger, elementary school-aged children. However, as kids become teens – chances are they won’t want you tracking their movements, monitoring their online activity, and/or filtering their content. To them, it is a breach of their privacy and a lack of trust. Perhaps this sentiment is merely a front for content they are trying to hide, but let’s not start off too skeptical. Psychologist Michael Rubino has worked with teens and families for 20 years; he says teenagers often ask, “If they want me to be responsible, how can I be responsible if they do not give me a chance?”

This in turn often leaves parents with the question: How do I walk the line between trusting and monitoring my teen?

It is possible.

In most cases, parents buy their child’s device (smartphone, laptop, etc.) and parents pay for the data service. Thus, it is important to remind your kid that their screentime is a privilege and thus can be taken away. Although this seems rather authoritarian, it is a point often taken for granted.

On a lighter note, the following includes more collaborative practices for establishing trust, while maintaining your child’s safety:

1. Transparency

“Spying” is masked with an incredibly negative connotation that lies in deception and secrecy. Tracking all of your child’s online activity without their knowledge already diminishes the chance of parent-child relationship built on trust.

It is best to tell your child of the x,y, z security measures you have installed to avoid feelings of betrayal, and later retaliation. By being frank with your child, you are establishing an openness intended to be respected/reciprocated. It sends the message: “Hey, I think these security measures are necessary. I can see what you’re doing. I’m giving you the responsibility to make decisions, and I’m holding you accountable for them.”

2. Compromise

48% of parents have read through their teen’s messages, and 61% monitor their browser history. However, this does not encourage an atmosphere of trust. A recent NYT article Should You Spy on Your Kids? claims: “A parent who constantly micromanages a teenager’s life — Why did you stop here? Why did you go there? — risks stifling the independence needed to develop into an adult.”

Please, do allow your child more freedom as they move through elementary school and onto middle and high school – but this does not mean you have to relinquish all responsibilities as the protectorate. Oscar Wilde once said, “With age come wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” Although a bleak statement, this lends to the more moderate notion: although the transition from child to young adult marks a large jump in maturity, there is still a lot to be learned.

To foster a relationship built on mutual trust, discuss trade-offs. This can be as simple as being “friends” on Facebook or keeping Location Services on, but no reading through messages. When approached correctly, these tools should need not feel intrusive.

3. Talk Boundaries   

First and foremost, teach your children how to properly use technology as with great power, comes great responsibility. Impart digital literacy and digital citizenship practices and make clear what sites should and should not be accessed. Set ground rules and discuss expectations with your young adult as soon as possible: this includes individual screen time limits as well as restrictions on interacting with others on online platforms. In doing their part, parents should also be aware of the current technological climate.

On the other hand, if your teen is sharing a part of their world with you (being friends/sharing updates on social media) show the same respect by being courteous and following online etiquette: do not comment on every post, do not like every photo, etc. Check out this guide “How Parents Should Approach Their Teens on Social Media” for helpful tips to navigating this fairly new type of relationship.

4. Data Usage/Limits

Relative to the other practices, this is quite simple. Parents can set the data plan through their wireless provider to limit their teen’s browsing and app usage. This includes specifications like (1) app access only through Wi-Fi or (2) blocking texts, calls, and browsing during a designated time. These simple implementations limit access to online content (and also saves money), while still giving teens the freedom they crave.

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Help Your Kids Spend Screen Time Wisely

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A recent study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics re-evaluated appropriate screen time limits for young children. The assessment redefined “screen time” as the use of digital media exclusively for entertainment.

In the past, scientists and parents regarded screen time as the collective amount of time a child interacted with their device –and used this as the main factor to assess the potential benefits and/or consequences of screen exposure. However, this new metric focuses on the content and intent of device usage, addressing the positive results from educational-technology research. For example, an experiment in Australia concluded that children who play video games every day tend to perform better academically than those who do not. The theory goes that children who play video games develop critical thinking skills by solving challenges presented in the game. In contrast, students who use social media more frequently performed lower on standardized tests.

Given the debate over the relationship between screen time and child development –especially in the edtech world–this provides a point of clarity for parents as they work with their child to develop healthy device usage habits.

The new guidelines are as follows:

  • 18 months and younger: no screen time
  • 2-5 years old: one hour/day
  • 6-years-old and up:prioritize and complete other activities before screentime. Another study showed that ~4 hours was “just right” for peak performance.

Ultimately, it’s not necessarily how long children spend online, but what they are spending their time on. The following are fun resources for quality, engaging, and educational online content:

Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media includes resources for educational purposes or pure entertainment. They regularly compile a “Best of” List for Games, Apps, Websites, Movies, TV, etc. that are easily accessible through a navigation pane. These lists are broken down on a scale of 1-5 and organized by age group (“Preschoolers”, “Little Kids”, “Big Kids”, and “Tweens”). Another helpful feature for parents: they provide reviews for new movies and games, basing their rating on seven key elements (positive messages, positive role models, violence, sex, language, consumerism, drinking/drugs/smoking).

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PBS Kids – Reading Games

PBS Kids hosts a variety of game on their website and mobile app. The games are organized by subject/topic or by the TV show it’s based on.

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Kids.gov

“The U.S. government’s portal site that provides a gateway to hundreds of Federal and other websites for use by kids and teens.”

Kids.gov provides games and other educational resources for Kids (grades K-5)  and Pre-Teens (grades 6-8). They have a variety of interactive activities centered around learning the science and history of your environment – for example, they have a “Design Your Own Roller Coaster” challenge listed under the Science category. Other resources include Art and Music, Math, Jobs & Careers, Online Safety, etc.

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How to Be a Digitally Aware Parent

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Kids are trading in swing sets for headsets and see-saws for Slither. There are apps developed specifically for 1-year-olds, and on average, a child receives their first smartphone at the age of 10. It’s 2017 – parents must be cognizant of the virtual playground, just as they looked on while their children scaled the jungle gym.

This constant influx of technology – and at increasingly younger ages – poses a variety of risks for children that range from compromised cybersecurity to impaired cognitive development. However, the best way for parents to ensure online child safety is to be digitally literate and digitally aware themselves. And here’s how:

1. Know the Trends

To understand your child’s device habits, it’s important to know what types of content they are consuming.  For parents who feel that monitoring browser history is too overbearing, this is a less intrusive way to gain insight into what type of material their kids are exposed to. Business Insider surveyed a large group of teens to see what the biggest trends were among young adults this past year.

App Annie regularly reports top download apps and games by category: social networking, kids, entertainment, etc. Google Trends reports top searches and YouTube populates the most viewed videos on their home page.

2. Use Your Resources

The US government has compiled a list of resources centered around cyber safety and cyberbullying prevention. Additionally, there are a variety of tools available that are designed to help parents monitor and protect their children online at all times:

Web filters block inappropriate content, protect from malware, and can detect instances of bullying or self-harm. For full coverage, these apps allow parents to track and regulate their kid’s activity undetected. Google’s My Activity feature compiles watch and search history across all Google Apps, including YouTube. It also tracks devices, where they have been, and what apps you have used; these settings are adjustable. Although controversial, checking your child’s “My Activity” is a free way to follow their digital footprints.

3. Engage With Your Child

Younger Children

A recent study focused on how toddlers learn from touchscreens. Researchers observed the difference in a child’s retention and reproduction of a puzzle pattern when the puzzle-assembly tutorial was (1) demonstrated by a “ghost demonstration” on a tablet and (2) performed by an adult sitting next to them. The results: “The 2- and 3-year-olds who saw the ghost demonstration had a hard time replicating the task — but did well after they saw the human hand. Researchers concluded that having a human guide — often referred to as having social scaffolding — helped these young children learn.”

Young Adults

Reassign the hours usually devoted to scrolling through social media apps or online shopping in for a “device-free”, family activity time: start a project with your children, decide upon a book to read together, or introduce a regular time to catch-up and talk about your day. Being attuned to your child’s behavior on-and-off screen is an integral part of keeping them safe. Many young adults fall victim to cyberbullying and serious consequences may ensue. However, many teens do not reach out for help;. Spotting the signs early through shifts in your child’s behavior can prevent the devastating consequences, and ensure they are receiving the proper support they need.

Signs your child may be experiencing cyberbullying:

  • Becomes withdrawn
  • Suddenly stops using the computer
  • Loses interests in hobbies once enjoyed
  • Stops using computer or dims the screen when someone is nearby
  • More can be found here

4. Connect with Other Parents

Many parents have the same concerns when it comes to privacy and internet safety. CommonSense Media, a non-profit that works to promote safe technology usage, has created a trusted forum for parents to voice their concerns. Parents can both “Ask an Expert” and receive guidance from other parents. The forum is segmented by age group.

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5. Set Guidelines for both Parents and Kids

In 2016, parents spent a daily average of 9 hours and 22 minutes interacting with some sort of screen media. About 8 of these hours were devoted to recreational use. To effectively set screen time boundaries for children, parents must lead by example and consciously make an effort to forgo picking up their device.  Set “no-phone zones”, schedule outdoor activity time, and impose daily screen time limits. Also, make sure that children do not use their device directly before bedtime; studies have shown that this disrupts sleep patterns and can lead to poor academic performance.

It’s especially important to limit screen time during early stages of development. Check out these new guidelines for screen time exposure by age group, abridged from an American Academy of Pediatrics report.

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Safe, Kid-Friendly YouTube Alternatives

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Due to the success of “Safe, Kid-Friendly Alternatives to Google, YouTube, and Beyond”, we decided to dig deeper.  Below you’ll find a variety of safe, kid-friendly video streaming resources.

Safe Youtube

Take any link from YouTube and SafeYoutube.net will generate a version sans distracting/offensive comments.  It also removes the related videos sidebar which can be a threat in itself – a recent study found that on average, a child on Youtube is only three clicks away from inappropriate content.  Teachers can use this resource to share links with their class without fear of unwanted surprises.

safe YouTube, YouTube safety mode, kids safe search, YouTube safe search, YouTube for kids

Rebecca Black’s notorious music video became a YouTube sensation after its 2011 release.

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Notice the mean-spirited comments left by YouTube account holders.

safe YouTube, YouTube safety mode, kids safe search, YouTube safe search, YouTube for kids

With Safe YouTube, both the comments and suggested videos sidebar are removed.  Only the video itself remains.

Safe Video Search

Safe Video Search redirects to KidzTube which provides “Handpicked Educator Reviewed Videos” in a Youtube-style interface.  The homepage includes featured learning videos as well as “Random Videos” purely for entertainment.  This is a helpful resource for both teachers and students in finding educational content and tutorial videos.  It functions as a safe search resource, where students will only receive appropriate results.

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Kideos is another site devoted to providing age-appropriate video content.  For a variety of other safe search alternatives, see this article.

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YouTube Kids

YouTube Kids is a free app designed by Google for younger audiences.  The intent is for children to be able to explore and discover without the risk of unsavory content.  Admins can set up more specific controls, or turn off the search function in settings – regardless, the app will still automatically recommend videos.  They have a parent guide on their support page.

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Disney Video

Disney Video hosts a collection of videos pertaining to their latest movies, short films, and TV shows.  Their YouTube tab pulls up Disney videos from official entertainment channels only, and does not redirect to the YouTube site.

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safe YouTube, YouTube safety mode, kids safe search, YouTube safe search, YouTube for kids

YouTube Education

Lastly, there are actually YouTube channels devoted to quality content.  Youtube EDU provides the most popular educational videos across Youtube.  The channel is subdivided into grade levels: Primary & Secondary Education, University, and Lifelong Learning.  There are additional channels devoted to particular subject categories.

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Parental Control Quick Guide: Keeping Your Kids Safe Online

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The web holds a wealth of information – including content that may be inappropriate or dangerous for young audiences.  A request for personal details, cheap ticket offers to a sporting event, or suggestion to meet “in person” ? STOP!  These are all red flags of online culture to watch out for.  Kids are likely to run into online harassment, even from people they know, without proper cyber safety practices.  Thankfully, many websites have parental control features.In honor of Safer Internet Day (February 9, 2016), here are some quick internet safety tips to keep children from harm’s way:

Google SafeSearch

Google is perhaps the most widely used resource for finding information.  Within “Settings”, you can enable restrictions that act as a safe search option for kids.  SafeSearch is available for computers, phone browsers, tablets, and Android apps.  It blocks sexually explicit video and images.  You can also lock SafeSearch to prevent others from changing the setting.

Google states that “The SafeSearch filter isn’t 100% accurate, but it helps you avoid most violent and adult content”.  For safer image results, try enabling both SafeSearch and the Creative Commons feature.  If you’re looking for safe browsing sites, especially for younger children, check out these safe, kid-friendly alternative sites to Google, YouTube, and beyond.

Google SafeSearch, safe search

child internet safety, safesearch

YouTube Safety Mode

YouTube Safety Mode works much like Google SafeSearch, through community flagging and age-restrictions.  It is also compatible with multiple platforms, but must be setup on each specific browsing profile. For a small monthly fee, some web filters and parental controls may offer the ability to enforce safe YouTube across all devices in the household.

To ensure a safe Youtube environment, you can supplement safety mode by adjusting privacy settings and ‘flagging’ videos.

Social Media Safety

While Facebook and big name social media sites do not specifically include parental controls, adjust your child’s privacy settings to protect from predators, scams, and cyberbullying.

  1. Make sure that only Friends can see any and all information
  2. Do not allow search engines outside of Facebook to link to profile
  3. Only allow Friends of Friends to send friend requests
  4. **For optimal security, limit people from seeing your Friends list
  5. Be “friends” with your child online to monitor their activity

**People can easily narrow down age, hometown, school, interests & hobbies from analyzing trends in associated profiles.  You can limit who can see posts and personal information within your social media circle, but it is best to forgo listing any personal information whatsoever.

Privacy settings are also available on Twitter and Instagram,  though tweets and images are still viewable (if linked in an article or another post) even if the profile itself is private.

safe social media

For Everything Else.. There’s Web Filtering

Windows 7 includes Parental Controls that allow parents to set time limits on computer use, limit and filter games, and block specific programs.  However, if the computer is connected to a domain, these features are not available.  Even Microsoft help pages suggest supplementary parental controls.
Consider web filtering!  Traditionally, internet filtering programs have been most utilized by school systems – but the advent of new cloud technology allows for web filtering anywhere, and even in the home.  Web filtering offers complete online security – it allows for parental monitoring (see how kids are allocating their online time, what sites they visit, and who they interact with), restrictions on explicit content, and easy configuration on multiple devices.

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Safe, Kid-Friendly Alternatives to Google, YouTube, and Beyond

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Today’s youth is exposed to technology very early in life – according to 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics, ”30% of U.S. children first play with a mobile device when they are still in diapers”.  Relative to toddlers, children aged 8 are more capable and conscientious of their actions.  However, they are barely halfway through elementary school!  Yet in a recent study, parents started to allow unsupervised internet time when their child was 8 years old.

Big name sites such as Google and Facebook have created safe search options in order to protect young kids from inappropriate content on the web, e.g., Google SafeSearch and Youtube Safety Mode.  However, with high upload volumes every day, it’s almost impossible to filter out all the “bad stuff”.

Parents can’t constantly look over their child’s shoulder and watch for unsuitable results that may pop up.  Luckily, developers know that.  Here are some safe, kid-friendly alternatives for the top internet activities. These sites contain only pre-filtered content, so parents can rest easy while their child uses the web.

Search Engines

Search engines host a wealth of information, spanning from every topic imaginable.  A lot of this content is particularly unsavory for young children.  It’s easy to stumble upon adult content, especially with slang perpetuated by web-culture today – feel free to type in “jugs” (porcelain and ceramic, right?) into Google with SafeSearch enabled and see what comes up.

Instead, set websites like kidrex.org or googlejunior.com as your browser homepage.  You don’t need to “enable” anything on these sites, all the safety measures are ready to go.  Kidrex is aimed toward a younger elementary school audience while Google Junior is perfect for kids entering their tween years.  Google Junior even provides a word and quote of the day.  See what happens when the word “porn” is searched:  

 

Kidrex blocks everything even remotely related, while Google Junior provides relevant, non-explicit results surrounding porn in a different context –current events, news, even web filtering shows up!  

Video Streaming

Youtube Safety Mode blocks obviously explicit video content, but it’s by no means infallible.  They even say this themselves: “Restricted Mode hides videos that may contain inappropriate content flagged by users and other signals. No filter is 100% accurate, but it should help you avoid most inappropriate content”.  Many suggestive videos escape the filtering criteria, and the comments posted underneath each video can be extremely profane.  

Start your kids on Kideos, a site that contains a myriad of trendy, kid-friendly entertainment.  It includes a variety of popular TV shows from channels including, but not limited to Disney, Nickelodean, PBS Kids.  It does not allow comment posting.  They also offer an app compatible with most smartphone platforms.

It even allows parents to set limits on videos based on age group or choose how long their child can watch videos, after passing a “parent security question”.

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Social Media

45% of kids aged 8-11 use social media.  Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram offer a great way to connect with peers, stay in touch, find a community, and keep updated on current events.  However, these sites are also filled with online predators and scams that target young, uninformed users.  They also have the highest occurrence of cyberbullying, Facebook topping the chart as #1.

To avoid these risks and foster a safe, fun online community for younger children and pre-teens, various companies have created social network sites with “training wheels”.  These range from ad-less interfaces, features that connect a parent account to the child’s account, or manual review of uploaded photos by on-hand company staff.  Some sites are even centered around themes – Franktown Rocks is a site devoted to safe social networking surrounding sharing and making music.  BBC recently compiled a list with the top safe, social media sites for kids aged 7-13.

School Research

When tackling a research project, students tend to immediately turn to Google.  This is a great resource for gathering ideas, but the quality of results are varied.  Students may have to comb through a large amount of unaccredited sources and irrelevent search results before finding something they will be able to cite.

Many schools actually purchase subscriptions to online databases for students to use; these are heavily underutilized.  Common names are Cengage Learning or EBSCOhost .  They serve as virtual, portable libraries.  After students indicate the subject area they are interested in, these databases supply relevant content from scholarly article, ebooks, and encyclopedia entries.  All students need is their school access code – which is usually posted on their school’s homepage or around the school libraries.
Say your child had a research project about guns.  See the contrast between Google SafeSearch and a database with the single keyword “guns”:

>> Google safe search first provides near by places to access guns.

safesearch, child internet safety, safe image search

>> Then supplies more information about buying guns with a mention there at the bottom concerning guns in current events.

safesearch, child internet safety, safe image search

>> However, the database lists books about the history and culture of guns, the controversy over gun rights, and even the theory behind electron guns.  Much more relevant to a research project.

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Gaming

Last, but not least, gaming!  Kids spend most of their time on the internet playing games.   Yet, these sites are often riddled with scams, predators, and violent-themed content.  This list provides a wide variety of alternative sites which are as fun as they are educational.  Trusted sites include PBS Kids and Brain Pop!. There are safe sites devoted to a range of interests from arts to sports!   

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4 Ways for Parents to Keep Kids Safe on YouTube


Keep kids and students safe on YouTube with YouTube Safety Mode and other protective parental controls.

YouTube celebrated its 10th anniversary earlier this year. According to comScore, it is the top online video content website, with over 152 million unique monthly viewers.

Offering diverse content (everything from Video Games to Health & Beauty and Japanese cats), YouTube appeals to many different audiences – especially kids. In both schools and homes, it can serve as a valuable educational resource and source of entertainment; however, many genres of videos are not quite kid-safe.

Fortunately, there are a few “quick n’ easy” precautions parents can take to ensure YouTube safety. Here are four ways to keep kids safe on YouTube:

1) Turn on YouTube Safety Mode

YouTube Safety Mode is a kid-friendly option for filtering inappropriate or questionable content on YouTube. Parents can follow these simple steps to enable the filter. YouTube Safety Mode serves as a direct line of defense. It hides explicit content through community flagging, age-restrictions, and porn image detection, ultimately minimizing the risk that kids will stumble upon any unsavory videos or user comments.

Bear in mind that the option is both browser- and device-specific: for example, enabling it on Google Chrome will not automatically enable it on Mozilla Firefox. For a small monthly fee, some web filters and parental controls may offer the ability to enforce safe YouTube across all devices in the household.

2) Privacy Settings

Kids are at risk for more than just exposure to explicit content.  Anyone who actively posts his/her own videos on YouTube is susceptible to mean-spirited internet trolls who post crude, harmful comments.

To prevent this form of YouTube cyberbullying, parents can implement YouTube Privacy Settings.  This optional feature can block users and moderate comments (by removing specific comments or blocking anyone from commenting altogether), and can specify who is able to see a particular video. More specifically, YouTube offers the following video settings: Public, Private, and Unlisted.

In addition, parents can block advertisements and interest based ads, further filtering the content accessible to kids online.

3) For younger children, approve content in advance

Parents can research what content is age-appropriate for their child by screening or “favoriting” videos in advance of those long car rides. This way, they know exactly what their child is watching and can avoid accidental linkage to inappropriate content when they are unable to supervise them.

For parents who simply don’t have the time or are running out of ideas on what is considered “appropriate” for their child’s age group – Have no fear!  Check out sites like Common Sense Media which provide reliable, detailed suggestions and examples for age appropriate media content. 

Alternatively, parents of children ages 5 and under, can make use of YouTube Kids, a free app that makes available only a subset of pre-approved, kid-safe content on YouTube.

4) Get involved!  Report inappropriate videos by ‘flagging’

All adults can play a part in making YouTube a more kid-friendly environment!  If you find a video with inappropriate content, report it by clicking “more” and then “report” under the video window.  This process is referred to as ‘flagging’ a video for moderator review.  Fortunately, review of flagged videos occurs 24/7; YouTube makes this service a priority and is highly responsive to your report requests.

To learn more about implementing a safer YouTube and other parental controls, sign up for our parent newsletter below. Have other ways of making YouTube safe for kids? Please share your suggestions in the comments.