Thoughts on the Kid-Friendly Remote

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Editor’s Note: Today we welcome Elizabeth Eckhart for a guest contribution. Elizabeth Eckhart is a freelance writer and entertainment blogger from Chicago, Illinois. She is especially interested in today’s changing technology, and how she and her family can grow along with it -without becoming couch potatoes.

In recent years television, both streaming and live, has taken a giant leap toward the educational. Now, more than ever, shows like Doc McStuffins and the still gold Mickey Mouse Clubhouse teach good morals, or there’s Animal Planet and National Geographic’s Explorer, which create content out of real, useful information.

Unfortunately, along with the variety in appropriate children’s programming, there has also been a huge jump in inappropriate programming, both on channels once thought to be acceptable for kid’s and on channels that are simply meant for adult viewers with their levels of violence and grown-up behavior.

If you have kids, then you also know that all pieces of technology are theirs for exploration. Whether it’s your phone, your tablet, or your laptop, two seconds out of your hands and it’s gone! Which brings me to the newest kid product, DirecTV’s kid-friendly remote. The new remote, which is designed to supplement DirecTV’s main control is actually (I have to admit) a pretty cool idea.

Thoughts on the Kid-Friendly Remote

Instead of numbers, the remote will feature thumbnail images of children’s network logos that come with DirecTV packages, such as the Disney Channel, Sprout and Baby First. It’s custom-ordered, meaning the remote will only have the channels parents choose. I, for one, am not the biggest fan of Cartoon Network, which has TV-PG shows that make Ren and Stimpy look clean and frequently airs movies like Dumb and Dumber and The Matrix. As a result, I would be unlikely to include that channel as a choice.

I’m a fairly frequent TV watcher, which means I don’t consider myself part of the group against TV. Being young enough to have grown up with a good amount of cartoons and children’s programming myself, I don’t consider it harmful unless it impacts reading, active play time, or family bonding. But I’ve found most children’s programs are short, and when I desperately need twenty or thirty minutes, an appropriate show can be a lifesaver.

That being said, I haven’t forgotten my own rebellious channel wandering during pre-cable days when Mom stepped into the other room on a conference call or the babysitter was intently buried in her magazine. Remember The Jenny Jones Show? Obviously I had no idea what was technically happening, but I’m positive it did me no good and, at the very least, enforced negative stereotypes and taught me some words I should not have been using. I don’t blame my mother, who bravely worked from home; kids can be incredibly wiley when given the opportunity and I abused the moments she sounded most involved in her conversations.

I’m much more comfortable with the idea of handing kids this remote, which would satisfy their need to press the buttons – cue the obligatory “Can I do it? Can I change it please?” – and would even give them semblance of control regarding what they watch. Which, if you’ve ever been in a debate over exactly what cookie a child wants for dessert out of a box of identical Oreos then you know, is kind of a big deal.

Kids are incredibly adept at picking up on technology. It’s no longer surprising to me to see a young kid, two or three years of age, swiftly handling the basic functions of, say, the Netflix app on a tablet. They may not be able to read the word “Netflix,” but they do know that pressing the red square will take them to the main menu, which image is their favorite movie, and to hit the triangle to play it. Parents will swear they don’t use the tablet more than a few times per week, or on especially long car rides, and I believe them. Kids are more visually aware than we often give them credit for!

Rather than squandering their understanding of technology, it seems to me to be more in line with continued learning and independence building to give them their own remote.

In DirecTV’s patent application, the company wrote that reasoning for this new product was partially because limiting children’s access based on content ratings, such as G or PG can be time-consuming and difficult to configure. That seemed silly to me, since parental controls aren’t horrendously time consuming, and if you’ve ever assembled a tricky piece of kid’s IKEA furniture (which, by the way IKEA is well aware is far too difficult) you can handle parental control settings.

But the second part of the application did intrigue me, which said, with regard to regular remotes, “Small children may press various buttons on the remote control device that allow the settings to be changed.” Forget parental control (for one second only), as someone who has spent a good hour figuring out exactly how the little one muted the TV in such a way that unmute no longer fixes it, I’m all for the kid-friendly version!

Also, while reading through the patent, it seemed there was no limit to which channels could be placed on the remote, which means that while designed with children in mind, the remote could be incredibly beneficial for anyone who would prefer the pre-selection of their favorite channels. My own grandfather, for example, understands technology but has trouble reading the guide from a distance, as well as seeing the numbers on his remote.

Overall, I’m a fan of the remote, mainly because it falls in line with other kid-friendly versions of grown-up technology. I consider children’s laptops and similar items more advanced versions of the toys I grew up with, and since I want to encourage the possibility of the future Bill Gates under my wing, I feel closely monitored use of technology is a step worth taking.

Read more of our Tech Talk columns.

Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Eckhart

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1 Comment

  1. This is a nifty idea! I imagine it would also be useful for seniors with dementia. A picture cue for their favorite channels would be easier for them to deal with than a number or words.

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