Lessons learned from building products for kids

With numerous conflicting studies on technology’s benefits and dangers on children, many parents nowadays are torn between two things: wanting to give their kids access to enhanced, compelling digital experiences, and feeling guilty about the amount of time their children spend in front of a screen every day. Thankfully, things don’t have to be this way.

Technology doesn’t always have to cause a rift between parents and children. In fact, not only can it help us to educate and entertain, but it can actually bridge the gap between our digital and physical worlds. Through a combination of wholesome content and helpful parenting tools, technology can really bring families closer together. So, how can we create a meaningful experience for kids that doesn’t end up causing family fights? This is precisely where the opportunity lies.

First thing’s first: your target audience. When building products for kids it’s easy to think that your primary users are children, but that’s not actually true — your target audience is really the parents. They are the ones who purchase, download and share your product with their kids, and we need to include them more. Having worked with children, parents and child psychologists to develop products for kids, I’ve found that the best way to include the parents can be broken down into three key points, and it’s all about finding that balance:

  • Between the time kids spend playing on their own and with their parents.
  • Between analog and digital interaction.
  • Between creating a children’s product and a parenting tool.

1. Balancing the time kids spend by themselves, and the time they spend with their parents.

At first, creating products for kids might not sound very inclusive of parents at all. But done well, you can in fact create a really collaborative experience. Imagine a product that educates and pushes kids to learn, while at the same time encourages them to think about when and where they might need their parents’ help in a game. This could be achieved, for example, through a two-player game while on a specific mission. One company that does this particularly well is Toca Boca, who often include parents in their game creation process. Creating a game where player collaboration is often the best way to overcome challenges is key to getting the most out of technology at home — and not letting it have a negative impact on your family.

2. Balancing analog and digital.

There are lots of companies that do this really well already. Kano and Bleep Bleeps are great examples, using digital technology only when it’s needed and not for digital’s sake. Making the connection between what you do on screen, the effect it has in the real world and vice versa, is a great way to educate kids on the importance of playing both on and off screen. Keeping this in mind is a great tool for creators of kids’ products — it’s fascinating to think about what activities you can create to get the kids off screen, and also how you can delight them when they come back.

3. Balancing a children’s product and a parenting tool.

It’s essential to think about the product from both the kids’ and the parents’ perspectives. For kids it’s got to be great fun, but for the parents it needs to act as a helping hand, not just an obstacle between them and their child. Hopster’s timer feature on their Apple TV app is a good example of an integrated fun experience that doubles up as a tool for parents. When it comes to turning off the TV, the app counts down before waving goodbye to the children and completely removes the stressful experience of having to take kids away from the device — the product does it instead. In our research, we discovered that a big part of what parents need is an extra pair of hands. If you can create something that engages children but also makes life easier for parents, you are on the verge of creating something magical.

So, all in all, technology doesn’t have to be the enemy. When used right, it can be a helpful, engaging tool that makes play more enjoyable for everyone. Instead of causing fights and becoming a point of stress in the home, technology can actually bring families closer together.

Seb Sabouné is Head of Product at Elsewhen