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If iPads were meant for kids (davedelong.com)
75 points by nmcfarl on April 8, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 65 comments



I started off sympathetic, but as I got down to the end of the article I found myself horrified. It's a recipe for indulging the worst tendencies towards helicopter parenting. Is detailed invasive intrusion and surveillance into the personal lives of our children really what we want? Do children really deserve no privacy at all?

How about bringing up children to have a responsible attitude and building trust? I have exactly the same concerns the author has. I have two children ages 13 and 14, and they have each had an iPad since they were 6 and 7 thanks to the generosity of my brother. Our youngest in particular spends more time on youtube and chat apps than we would like, but I can easily imagine the damage I would do to our relationship by constantly spying on every single thing she does on it. Especially as she grows into her teenage years. It strikes me as lazy and avoiding building trust and responsible attitudes, the actual things parents should be doing to address such issues.


The article writer is has younger children, though. For older children the ability to set a daily time limit makes sense based on what research I've seen, and (if you, parent, would like) it could skip the helicoptering and invasiveness: kid gets x hours per day to do what they'd like, and then they need to find other things to do. My oldest is only four, so I haven't begun to think about raising teens yet, and he doesn't get unsupervised time with an iPad, but I'd love just to have a way to track how much time he actually spends using screens like that.


You can already control what apps children can download using family linked accounts and really the only problematic app left is the browser, but personally I found my kids were just not really interested in the web. For the most part you need to type URLs and search for stuff and it’s all far more confusing than using apps, so they tended not to use it.


I came here to post a very similar comment, thanks for posting this. While the public internet didn’t exist when I was a young kid, it did as a teenager. I can assure you my parents had no clue what I was doing and I turned out ok because my parents did the important thing, spent time raising me.


But good parenting is all about setting limits and never actually being there or allowing kids to exercise self control. What if they find out that Nick Berg was a fearless reporter who was beheaded and manage to form opinions about the world without traveling? What if they watch pornography? I am afraid my kids might actually have to learn about the good AND the bad. Good parents tell their kids that bad stuff is bad...they don't actually let them find out for themselves... I am the son of a robot and I turned out just fine. Bleep bop booop beep. I am limited to sarcastic comments because my dad programmed me to be an asshole. Sorry.


The solution is not an iPad feature. It’s you deciding to be a good parent.


So, as a good parent, how do you personally teach your kids self control?

As a parent myself, screen-based devices are a class all to themselves. While earlier generations were worried about kids overconsuming things like radio, comic books, television, arcade videogames, etc... devices like the iPad are way more addicting. Perhaps exponentially so.

Talk to any parent and you'll hear stories about how they put their kids to bed and discovered, later on, that the kid woke back up and stayed up until 4am watching videos and playing games.

One way to fix that is to remove the device. But we're teaching self-control and trust, right? So what do you do?


It's a process. I've found my daughter asleep with her iPad in her hands before, it's something that happens and there have to be consequences and rules. All devices go in our bedroom at bed time. If there is work to do, it takes priority as you can always go back to that game or video and continue later. No walking around watching screens.

But self control is just a skill kids need to learn by itself, if they have it as a general ability then they can apply it to screens too. Our kids have to do self-study time on top of homework, they do piano and flute, we take them horse riding and skating. They just joined the local Air Cadet squadron and just did a weekend camping. Spend time with them, do things together, encourage a variety of activities, talk about issues and build close, trusting relationships. I don't think intrusive surveillance has a place in that recipe.


My above comment is in support of that opinion.


This web page is called "Hacker News". I became a hacker because when I was a kid I did all those things with a computer that I was not meant to do. I edited the AUTOEXEC.BAT (that's probably a crude analogy to the settings these days). I tried to understand options about memory management to some of the commands that probably weren't meant for anyone except for the developers (with limited success I must say). A lot of things happened during my childhood that were not good for me. Using a computer in unintended ways wasn't one of them.

If you want no more hackers in 20 years you should give your kids devices so locked down they can't do anything.


I agree, I initially got hooked because my dad told me "don't use the computer without my supervision and especially not Norton Commander, since a wrong keypress can remove important directories". So what do I do the next day when he was at work?

But during our youth (especially if you are > 30) there were also fewer distractions. No addictive social network sites. And a lot of games were designed to be fun to play, rather than to be addictive so that people buy more in-app purchases.

IMO an iPad is a bad device to stimulate a hacker mindset, period (with or without parental controls).

For homework (except perhaps writing essays), pen and paper is still pretty hard to beat. As a work 'canvas' paper is far more natural and you have to do the thinking.


> since a wrong keypress can remove important directories

This is actually how one learns to do their backups ;)

And it's much better do it as a kid deleting their savegames, than as an adult dropping the production database.

> except perhaps writing essays

And math. As long as the machine's properly treated as a helper that runs the well-understood transformations without making human mistakes, not some magic tool that gives the right answers.

Okay, maybe that's my childhood "trauma" speaking, where I had miscopied "+" as a "-" in a few final transformations (not really affecting anything) and had some quite unpleasant time arguing about this.


This web page is called "Hacker News". I became a hacker because when I was a kid my parents refused to provide me with a computer. So I did all those things I was not meant to do. I collected sand and used a furnace to turn it into silicon wafers. I smelted my own wires and circuits.

If you want no more hackers in 20 years, you should give your kids devices that are already built so they don't have to learn the fundamentals and do it themselves.

(hint: the above is satire, but is as logically valid as what you posted)


> I collected sand and used a furnace to turn it into silicon wafers. I smelted my own wires and circuits.

I've actually done this already... in Minecraft.


This story is slightly off topic, but I think fits enough.

My parents decided to try to lock down my computer usage around 11yo, not so young as OP's kids.

My mother was very religious, my step father kind of passive and quiet but a bit radical leaning. I think our eight year cold war over what they thought was pornography was actually something that helped me get more interested in computers. I mean, not that I didn't have an interest in pornography but no more than any other preteen boy. In fact probably a lot less. However, their entire evidence was banners from crack sites left in the cache and an MP3 on a zip disk of 'Fatboy Slim is Fucking in Heaven', but when they ran it it was a video that didn't play because they didn't really know what an MP3 was.

Anyway, he had site black lists on the system and later the router, a special censoring ISP, and definitely monitored me like crazy. But I deployed key loggers, booted linux (from any weird media I could figure out), set up ssh tunnels and vpns to scavenged boxes my friends would let me put at their houses, I learned tricks of the windows file system to hide entire sections of the drive. He would nuke my keyloggers and not tell me and rotate his admin passwords. I even monitored him remotely via CDC BackOriface. I learned how to use a hex editor to mask it from virus scan. We have still to this day, never talked about it. I think he was/is proud.

I think it's really good to keep the very young ones from wandering into places that will hurt them, but a kid with a curious mind probably isn't going to be stopped with countermeasures. I think communication is key over all. When I look back at it, the thing that upset me the most is the never talking to me about their fears but snooping then gathering whatever confirmation of their fears that they could find and attempting to penalize me. This closed off a lot of communication opportunities we could have had to grow as I was learning about the world, but in the end it helped me learn something that's a big part of my life in a way I wouldn't have learned quite the same way otherwise.

Hack the Planet.


You could edit AUTOEXEC.BAT and write your own version.

Kids can't do anything like that, at all, on an iPad. They are so far removed from anything even approaching productive tools for modifying/creating new apps on the iPhone, its just not feasible.

Your argument would be fair and valid if in fact there were tools onboard to write apps for iOS .. just like there was a copy of EDIT.EXE and/or DEBUG.COM for you to play with on your old PC. But to make things equivalent, you'd have to have encrypted your old DOS disk and locked it down so it only ran one app, and there'd be no chance in hell you'd ever get anywhere even remotely close to GWBASIC.EXE ..

So, no not really equivalent. Yes, kids should be encouraged to hack their computers. No, iOS does not allow this in any way, whatsoever. The tools of production have been removed from us.. a technological class system is being enforced by imperial masters. No compiler for you!


> Yes, kids should be encouraged to hack their computers. No, iOS does not allow this in any way, whatsoever. The tools of production have been removed from us.. a technological class system is being enforced by imperial masters. No compiler for you!

I reached the same conclusion some time ago that smartphones are basically consumer devices designed to, well, consume content, not create anything. I still remember dreaming about a portable computer that I could carry with me when I was a kid but this is not it. Of course you can install termux on Android and there are some toy interpreters but the entire platform is just designed for end users, not creators.


> not create anything.

Maybe not in a programming sense, but for image and video creation iOS (and I assume android) has some amazing editing tools.


Let’s not forget music too. There’s amazing music production apps on iOS / Android. On the programming front, I think Swift Playgrounds is fantastic for younger audiences.


Did you totally miss 'Playground'?

Or are you ignoring it for the purpose of making an argument?


Link?


I believe he's referring to Swift Playgrounds https://www.apple.com/swift/playgrounds/


I guess you don’t realize there’s many equivalents to GWBASIC.EXE on iOS? If you swap out for a different language (say Python as just one example), there’s even more options. That’s not even counting the awesome Swift Playgrounds.


That's correct - kids are more and more shielded from the underlying technology. On the other hand, in some countries they are also given an opportunity to program microcontrollers directly (BBC micro:bit), something many of us could only dream of.


More locked down devices might actually inspire a new generation of hackers. iOS devices are right at the sweet spot where most users wont bother trying to circumvent the restrictions. But the various Amazon devices seem to lite a "fire" under even the slightest of tech literate asses.


> If you want no more hackers in 20 years you should give your kids devices so locked down they can't do anything.

Sure, but for the average person iPads are devices that are so locked down that they can't really do anything.

People herald the original iPhone as a revolution, but don't seem to realise what kind of revolution. Its main innovation appeared to be the touch-screen interface, but aside from the flexibility this gave for UI design, what this mainly meant was that all of its surface could be turned into a screen.

The actual edge it had over the competition is that it was hyper-optimised as a consumption device, a pocket television so people can sell you more crap (oh sorry, "apps") any time of the day, any place in the world. The device itself is a perfect billboard.

The iPhone and iPad are designed to appear as having impressive, magical, hard to grok technology under the hood that allows ease of use at the surface. Apple consciously seals the majority of people off from the actual power within, except through buying apps. By default, an iPhone either lets you consume, or create media for consumption yourself via photos and videos. Just think about how much less freedom you have to tinker with your phone on iOs compared to Android as an end-user (and let's not even talk about the demise of Nokia). You have to fully buy into the Apple ecosystem and become an app developer. Because my goodness we can't have people actually be empowered to fully use their computers, can we?

Alan Kay has described modern computers and their interfaces as bikes encrusted in gold bling and jewels compared to the "bikes" of twenty, thirty years ago, but we're still stuck with the training wheels[0]. I say this definitely applies to iOs.

And if we accept that iOs hardware is mainly designed to be used as a consumption device, that its success comes from being that portable TV (and don't misunderstand: I do have problems with that being the case), then the demands of the author of the article are perfectly sensible, especially if you keep discussions like [1][2] in mind. I doubt you would protest if instead of an iPad, the article described a portable TV with YouTube.

EDIT: corrections

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lsy9Lotcdbg

[1] https://medium.com/@jamesbridle/something-is-wrong-on-the-in...

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16783748


I credit much of my current aptitude with (and interest in) computers to getting to use one throughout my childhood with no restrictions. I understand it can be nerve-wracking for parents ceding that much control to children, but I think children are both smarter and more self-disciplined than we give them credit for and I think digital free range can build independence in the long run. Maybe my opinion will change when I have kids of my own someday. Who knows.


If you did that with an iPad today, your kid would basically only watch the most horrendous youtube videos or play brainless games. That stuff just didn't exist when we were kids, using our just-for-nerds computing devices. The games weren't as addictive or plentiful, video apps tuning to their "likes" didn't exist. It's not even remotely similar.


I don't know. I grew up in the XP era and I played a lot of brainless games (3D pinball was where it was at) and read a lot of mindless Wikipedia articles as a kid. But then I got curious about how it all worked behind the scenes.

Maybe I'm too optimistic, but my hope is some of that inquisitive spirit hasn't been totally quashed. It's too depressing think that kids are not still discovering the internet as a virtually boundless repository of human information and a fascinating set of technical problems.


The difference is that back then, the brainless games were the equivalent of a box of chocolates. Sure, you might eat a couple but you would probably get bored before you finish the box. Now, it's like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. You never want to leave.

So as a child, choosing the productive option yourself is basically impossible.


I disagree about the addictiveness of earlier games.

I and many others played endless hours of PC games in the 1980s. I remember going through all 150 levels of Lode Runner, for example, and it distracting me from doing other things.

Some kids played so much Pokemon, or Tetris, or other games that their parents took away their Game Boy.

One difference, as this piece mentions, is the direct coupling of the gameplay in many modern games to a wheedling for money from the parents for in-game advancement. That didn't occur 20 years ago. (The Game Boy required batteries or the purchase of a wall adapter, so there was demand for additional money to play, but the coupling wasn't anywhere near as direct as now.)


I could never get bored with Civilization 2, or Lords of the Realm, or Close Combat 2, or Age of Empires. And I put a lot of hours in, between 10 and 18. I'm not sure that Candy Crush is anymore fun than those games were.


Oh my god. And Starcraft, and Axis and Allies, (original) DOTA. I was even a WOW player back in the day before I got fed up buying expansions. Man, the hours of productive time I wasted...


This is more like if iPads were meant for parents. Maybe a little bit overbearing.


The parent doesn't sound too bad. They want to allow the child some freedom to use the device, but without eg Youtube recommending videos where gamers are yelling "I'M GOING TO RAPE YOU TO DEATH".

S/he doesn't seem to be asking for youtube to ban any youtubers or demonetise them. THey just want better filters.


Certainly overbearing. Also one failing at parenting and demanding that Apple should do it for him.


He wants these features precisely because he is trying to be a good parent!

Or do you expect him to monitor his children's iPad usage literally every minute they are using it?


I don't expect to monitor my children's iPad usage at all, other than literally seeing what they do from time to time and talking to them about it. I have no time at all for this sort of intrusive monitoring of everything children do every second. I think it's deeply unhealthy and pushes parent child relationships into confrontational situations, where what we really need to be doing is building up trust and responsible attitudes. If a parent can't do that, then no amount of surveillance and intrusion is going to fix the problem.


No, he is complaining that he can not be a lazy parent.

You actually have to explain what is what and what is acceptable and what is not and you have to explain why.

Some thing he is complaining about are simply annoyances. Some things show complete unwillingness to do the parenting.

If your child is sneaking into your room to steal something then the solution is not a bedtime lock (and if it is really necessary then you can simply but it behind a real lock).

Did Nintendo have a bedtime lock? Did PCs or Macs have a bedtime lock?


This is part of the reason I got my son an entry level windows tablet instead of an ipad. You have excellent control over what they can access, when and how long, and weekly summary reports on how they spent their time across apps.

The trouble turns out to be that it is windows with all of the problems of windows. Unlike iOS updates regularly break things or hang for obscure reasons. The creator’s update even discarded the entire start screen layout. Partly the update problems are caused by the 32 gb storage constraint, but I don’t see why the windows folder needs to take up 16 GB and then complain it needs another 8. Also, because backgrounded apps don’t get tombstoned the machine runs out of ram and starts swapping / freezing (emmc is even slower than spinning rust), unless my son is careful about closing every game when he’s done with it.

All of which is a long winded way of saying that iOS is not that bad for a kid’s device. It gets the basics right: don’t break unexpectedly for technical reasons.


These “I wish my technology would let me avoid having to discipline my child” articles always bother me. Son sneaking into your room to grab iPad without permission? Easy solution to that. No iPad for a week. He will learn eventually not to do it. No settings needed.

The thing is, you don’t want an environment where a child cannot make a mistake. Sometimes you want to let mistakes be made and use those moments to teach your child what behavior is correct. Many of the restrictions requested in this article are in that vein. Although some, like age level restrictions, make more sense, since it is quite difficult for a child to ascertain whether a video will be appropriate for them without viewing it.


We’ve struggled with this. We’re taking the bet that our kids will learn how to handle this if they have the ability to make wrong choices, and we convince them to make better choices later If they only know when to stop when they hit a fence, what are they actually learning about real life?

Not sure how it’ll work out. I’ll report back after High School.


I get where this is coming from - but to be honest the main thing I want to lock down on my ipad is just not let them fire up youtube. You can't restrict certain apps from being opened.

Restricted mode works mostly how I want. I have a bunch of suitable games I'm happy for the kids to play with without me hovering around. But every time I let them use an ipad I have to remove youtube if it's on there, as they are only allowed to use that when I'm watching with them.


> You can't restrict certain apps from being opened.

Settings |> General |> Restrictions |> Apps


Seems like a bad idea for kids of any age to be taught they don't need passcodes or that they are an annoyance.


I wonder how long face recognition technology would function with children? I was under the impression that each accepted scan updates the mask so shouldn't it be able to keep up with changes to a child's face as they age? let alone serve multiple children so each has their own setup?

education wise tablets need to recognize different users so as to allow device sharing and keep this budget friendly to schools


Speaking specifically about Face ID, Apples marketing has suggested that changes over time would influence the model but I do not believe it is there yet—-I have seen enough issues in my own usage and the only meaningful difference there is my glasses.

And you’re very much right about the multiuser requirement. Apple should have been moving in that direction years ago but unfortunately we only have a bunch of “family sharing” hacks at the moment.


> let alone serve multiple children so each has their own setup?

They have this now, but oddly don’t make it available to parents, just schools. Watch the keynote video from a few weeks ago for reference.


The fact that your kid is addicted to Angry Bird or spends too much time on Snapchat if there's no restrictions in place, it's just a deeper problem of how you've gone about educating your child. Restricting its use to those applications wont change anything. It's like using duct tape to fix a broken tire, only worse, because at the same time you're also destroying your relationship in ways you can't realize (by taking away his freedom and privacy).

Yeah, he/she must be able to not lose time on its own. Some actionable advice to start with: if you or your wife are using TV/Social Media - AT ALL - you can begin there (by giving the example).


Apple simply hasn’t figured out this huge market yet. I bet “iPad as nanny” is perhaps the top 3 use cases for the device. Amazon however has already discovered this market and produced customized Android based tablets just for kids: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01J94SCAM/

On side note, it’s terrible idea to give iPad ownership to kids below 13 years old. Current tablet HID model primarily makes them as consumption device and most kids are better off with things that allows them to produce instead of just consume.


Marketing says pretty much anything is for anyone.

Can't really blame marketing for a kid having something you think they shouldn't.

And, kids don't need iPads. Kids need attentive parents and guidance, then they can use anything.


So there are many hacker type comments below. And I somewhat agree with them. My kids use an Ubuntu box where while they are not sudoers they can do what a user can.

The tablets (android) are different. For one the age can be much younger. My 2 yr old can play with the tablet, but I don't think giving her access to settings is going to help make her into a hacker. Ability to read makes a big difference between iPad and computer.

I will also note that giving your kids access to scratch and python is far more likely to build the next generation of hackers than having access to iOS settings.


This is the outcome of lack of competition.

Also, Apple is not enthused about anything that might limit the ways in which a device is used. The whole point is that everything they do is focused on finding more and infinite ways to make a device used. Constraining use is deeply against the DNA of everything they are actually aiming at. There seems to be a real, deeply ingrained unwillingness to implement things that might reduce unfettered usage.

Truly this is politics. In politics, you say what people want to hear but do whatever you want. That's what Apple does - positions the iPad as kid and family friendly but just does what it wants.


I genuinely can't tell if this is satire or not.

The entire point of the Apple eco-system is that they impose limits.

I'm not saying this is bad! It has strong benefits for many people.


What? If they wanted to provide infinite ways to use their devices and not restrict their use, they would be easily rootable.


> If iPads were meant for kids, then I, as a parent, would be able to set a parent passcode on a device in order to unlock it, even when the kids have forgotten their passcodes for the 17th time, so I don’t have to spend another hour or two getting the device in to DFU mode, re-installing the OS, and then re-downloading all of the apps they had that have now lost all of their local-stored data.

Then a third party who steals or finds the device would be able to get all the kids user data (but perhaps not the adult's credit card data and passwords). That would potentially be an issue but I guess would be ok as an option.


I realise this is an Apple-centric (refer "posted in apple" in the footer) blog post, but there's 21 'ipad' and 0 'tablet' references, so it seems very much like an anti-Apple dig ... which is fairy nuff, but I suspect the same claims can be made about almost any generic consumer device these days.

I note that none of these concerns applied to my initial computing devices.


He’s right, and there is a simple solution: don’t give your kids an iPad.


This should be titled "If iPads were made for parents who want tight control over their kids' digital lives"


Replace “iPad” with “8-bit microcomputer” and what is suggested would have ruined my childhood.


If all of these things were implemented I might allow one of these things in the house. As it stands I'm almost to the point where the only tech I would be willing to let in the house is a raspberry pi.


I am happy the article author is not my parent.


Google Family Link gives you almost all of this.


You have to create a Google account for the child too.

Additionally:

https://families.google.com/familylink/privacy/notice/

"As explained in the Privacy Notice for Google Accounts Managed with Family Link below, Google will not serve personalized ads to your child, but your child will still see ads while using Google’s services."


The ipad is meant for everyone... for everyone to get hooked on using it.




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