Mummy’s Little Monkey / Oyoty collaborative post
Being a modern parent brings a whole new set of challenges our parents never had to contend with.
Our children are the first generation growing up with streaming to smartphones and tablets, and constant access to the internet. While this can be a Godsend for entertaining them on long journeys, it can also be a curse when trying to monitor what your children are viewing.
When I was a kid I used to carried six cents in a wrapped-up hanky in case I needed to call my Mum from a phone box. It’s a sharp contrast to today: just two years ago an OFCOM survey showed that 11% of children aged 3-4 years old had their own tablet computer, up from 3% the year before.
Similarly, 34% of UK children aged 5-15 had their own personal access to the internet, up from 19% the year before. It’s safe to say the percentage is even higher now – especially with the popularity of kids’ tablets.
Of course there are parental controls you can apply to the technology which prevent children from accessing certain pages or content, but while censoring the internet might be an immediate solution it’s not teaching your children how to make sensible decisions when using their mobile devices, or sharing information.
You might be able to control what they’re viewing when they’re right under your nose, but what happens when they access the internet away from your careful watch? Children are impulsive, and often naive to the ‘bigger picture’ of their actions.
With the alarming rise of sexting in young adults, and the speed with which private information can literally go global, it was clear we needed greater protection for our youths, who are often skilled at using technology, but naive to the potential dangers.
It was a concern tech entrepreneur Deepak Tewari was hearing more and more often, so he decided to create the solution.
His idea was simple – an app that could be quickly and simply connect onto Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (and eventually rolled out to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger etc). Instead of simply blocking activity – which can have the opposite effect of making it more appealing – it would encourage children to think twice if they post identifying information or potentially inappropriate content. So they were not just keeping safe, but also learning to make better online decisions.
And OYOTY was born.
Oyoty (a play on the words: ‘Over To You’) employs cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology to spot risky behaviour or posts. Within almost one minute of posting it will open a conversation with your child, alerting them to any potential issues and asking them to consider removing these posts.
The aim is not to prevent them from posting, rather it’s to teach them to be more responsible and to understand the implications of what they’re doing, and what could go wrong.
The Oyoty team have worked closely child psychologist Catherine Knibbs to create a dialogue that resonates with the child. ‘It’s a gentle suggestion,’ Deepak explains. ‘One that will make children think twice about their digital footprint , their privacy and their safety.’
For example, after detecting something of concern a text conversation such as this may pop up on the child’s phone: ‘By the way, I noticed you posted a phone number on a public domain… ‘.
Depending on the circumstances, the artificial intelligence software will decipher the risk and make suggestions accordingly. It may guide the child to age-appropriated external videos and resources that can explain the dangers more fully, such as those put out by Internet Matters and the NSPCC.
Or it may suggest: ‘We should work together to remove it’, and give the child step-by-step instructions on how to do this.
It’s not just making children think twice about what could go wrong, it’s putting the power back in their hands so they know exactly how to resolve it this time, and in the future.
They’ve also teamed with Internet Matters to give corresponding advice to parents.
At present Oyoty picks up phone numbers, email addresses and school details. It also picks up potentially offensive phrases, and any images that contain an element of nudity. Future versions will also pick up potentially bullying behaviour, asking the child: ‘Is this upsetting you?’.
If the answer is yes, the programming will first reassure them that they are not alone, and then provide them with option to block the content, ban the user, or talk to a professional. They will even direct them straight to Childline if they need to talk to someone.
‘Oyoty will literally hold their hand through it all and make valuable resources available to them when they need it,’ Deepak explains.
Oyoty is primarily a self-help and education tool for children, but as parents we can set up the controls to oversee as much or as little of the app’s activity as we feel comfortable.
Parents can receive alerts at the same time as the child to track the decisions they make in real time. Alternatively, if we want our children to gain confidence in their own decision-making skills, we can set it so they have a time limit to act appropriately. If they don’t make the decision we think is best, we can then step in.
Oyoty is helping parents and children to find a protective balance in this increasingly digital world.
• top image, ‘siblings on floor using tablet‘, courtesy of Shutterstock