How to create a kid-friendly smart home

By: Yolanda Parks

A family tech expert offers some tools and tips you can put into play today.

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In the 1970s and ’80s—when Gen Xers came of school age—the term “latchkey kid” became popular. It described children who spent a significant amount of time home alone while their working parents worried.

“We didn’t have texting back then,” says Sarah Kimmel, a digital parenting coach and family tech expert. “Parents had so much less insight into what was happening at home and whether or not the kids were safe in the house.”

But things have changed. Today, many Gen Z children come home to a house that’s outfitted with the latest smart devices, especially those designed to give parents and caregivers peace of mind when it comes to the safety of their children. Research shows that the U.S. is expected to have 63 million connected and smart homes by the end of 2022.

“The big benefit is that things are more automated,” Kimmel says. “Parents can get an alert when their child walks in the door, or they can see on video that they’re home.”

For parents who are just beginning to explore the smart home trend, deciding where to start and what gadgets to buy to keep their children safe can be overwhelming.

The first thing they should do? Homework. To make a kid-friendly smart home, think about your family’s lifestyle, what you need and what tech products might help service those needs. Then talk together about how you can use those devices day to day. To get the conversation started, Kimmel offers the following tips.

  • Figure out what your goals and your concerns are as a family, and whether smart technology can help you.

  • Write down what you are expecting to get out of each smart home device. For example, if you want to know when your child gets home, research what devices will help with that.

  • Then, research everything you need to know about the connected and smart home technology you’ve decided will help your family. Below, you’ll find some great information about devices and their safeguards below.

Essential smart devices to monitor your child’s safety

Although the needs of each family are different, there are some essential safety-oriented devices that help parents and caregivers protect their Gen Z children who are old enough to stay home without supervision. Here are some connected and smart devices to consider:

Smart locks

Smart locks can connect to your Wi-Fi network and allow your child to unlock and lock the door with a code. And if they forget to lock the door once they’re home, parents can do it remotely with their smartphone.

Camera doorbells

These smart doorbells have an integrated camera, motion detector and speaker that allow parents or kids to see who’s at the door without opening it. “You can also figure out when your kids are coming and going. It’s a good protection for that small area that is a gateway to your house,” says Kimmel.

Smart speakers

Voice-activated smart speakers account for 25% of all smart devices sold in the U.S. in 2019, according to the Consumer Technology Association. Parents can use smart speakers to make audio calls to their children from anywhere, or they can be used as an intercom system to send messages from within the house. Kimmel points out that smart speakers with screens add extra parental controls so that children can’t go online without permission.

Smart smoke detectors

Compared with traditional smoke detectors, a smart one can offer parents an additional level of comfort. If there’s a problem, it’ll send an alert to their phone no matter where they are. 

Keeping your smart devices and your family safe

Remember, as is the case with all smart technology, purchasing the right devices is only the first step in creating a kid-friendly smart home. It’s imperative that parents know how to use each device and understand the benefits and risks that come with using smart technology.

Knowing that their children and home are protected by some of the most cutting-edge smart devices can give parents and caregivers a great sense of security. But while these new tools help gain a sense of security in some ways, it’s important to stay mindful about the new security risks they may create.

Smart devices in the home, also known as “internet of things” or “IoT” devices, are connected and interact with each other over the internet, and they’re collecting and transferring personal data in order to work. One vulnerable device can be a prime target for an external attack.

To avoid the possibility of having an account hacked and your smart home system compromised, Kimmel offers these tips to make a kid-friendly smart home:

  • Create a strong password for each account.

  • Set up a two-factor authentication for an additional layer of security when logging in to your account.

  • Purchase a good Wi-Fi router with firewall protection that can detect and alert you of suspicious activity on your IoT devices.

It’s important to explain to your children, as she does with her own, Kimmel says, the major role their cell phone plays in controlling their home’s smart devices through apps.

She says, “I let them know that you’re the child, I’m the parent, and I’m going to put tools on your phone to help protect you. I want you to use your phone to get into the house and to communicate with friends, and I want to help keep you safe.”

Internal threats

Not all threats are external. They can also come from inside the home when tech-savvy Gen Z children misuse devices or attempt to bypass a smart home system that is designed to keep them secure.

“If there are cameras inside the house, I’ve heard of kids going ‘low tech’ and covering the camera if they don’t want their parents to know things; or unplugging devices, like the video doorbell; or unplugging the Wi-Fi completely so that nothing is notifying you of them leaving the house,” says Kimmel.

To avoid these types of incidents, parents may need to have ongoing conversations with their children about the importance of smart devices and why they are being used in the home. Also critical is setting up parental controls and establishing ground rules and conditions around the appropriate use of devices.

Giving children their privacy in their smart home

In kid-friendly smart homes containing everything from camera doorbells to smart lights and home security sensors, how do parents and caregivers protect their child while respecting the child’s privacy?

Outdoor and indoor surveillance cameras are integral smart home safety devices. While these cameras can make good baby monitors, they generally don’t belong in private spaces used by older children and adults.

Kimmel suggests parents consider placing cameras in the common areas of their home. “It can be in the family areas, like the kitchen or family room,” she says. “I like to point the cameras at the doorways if I have them in the house, because it guards against break-ins.”

The good news is, smart homes are here to stay. With the advance of technology, there are now more ways than ever to feel safe—and smarter—with a kid-friendly smart home.

Take the first step towards a safer, kid-friendly connected home with Smart Family.

About the author:

Yolanda Parks is Executive Director, Content Standards and Client Strategy at Magid. She is responsible for developing recommendations on advertising and content standards; online safety; and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion issues.


The author has been compensated by Verizon for this article.

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