As smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices become more prevalent in children’s lives, New Haven-based Copilot Family is helping adults guide youngsters through their use of these devices.
Copilot Family is an app that allows parents and educators to monitor their children’s mobile-device usage and restrict what the child can access, and when.
“What it’s doing is tethering together all the data that parties can see and helps children make wise decisions with technology,” David Polgar, Copilot Family’s communications director of New Haven-based Copilot Family, said. “It allows a smart phone to be turned into a dumb phone.”
Technology is saturating society, and by 2020 some 90 percent of people six years old and up are expected to own smartphones, Polgar said. A lot of parents want to give their kids a smartphone or a tablet, but worry about the capabilities when they’re out of sight. For example, a parent might be uncomfortable with their child using certain apps or the camera at certain times.
With Copilot Family a parent can go to the dashboard on either their mobile device or through the Copilot website, www.copilotfamily.com, and not only customize what apps their children can or can’t use, but they also can see how their child has used the device, Polgar said.
Unlike other similar apps, Copilot Family has cross-platform functionality, meaning that it can be used with Android, iPhone, and other similar devices, Polgar said.
Copilot Family provides information such as what apps are being used, how much time is being spent online, where the device currently is located via GPS coordinates, and even how much of the battery has been used. Updates are in real time.
Certain functions can be turned on or off based on time and location, and the mobile device can even be turned off at bedtime so the child doesn’t spend all night on their phone, Polgar said, adding that in some cases parents have gone to extreme measures such as turning off their home’s Internet access at night.
Restrictions can also be made based on age, Polgar said, so older children can have access to some apps that a parent wouldn’t want their younger children to access.
Not only will parents be able to control their children’s usage of smartphones and or other devices, but educators also will be able to use a version called Copilot Networks. Teachers don’t want to be antiquated and say students can’t use any technology in the classroom, but they want to utilize it in a responsible way. With Copilot Family, students would be able to have tablets with the app already downloaded, so the school district can either set a uniform policy about what is and isn’t allowed — such as social apps like Yik Yak and Snapchat — or set restrictions on a case-by-case basis.
That would cut down not only on distractions, but more troublesome issues like cyberbullying and harassment, Polgar said.
Copilot Family’s restrictions can be set based on time as well as GPS-based location, so functionality that is blocked at school could be usable at home, Polgar said.
Educators are currently using the Family version, but a separate version will be available for them soon, Polgar said.
Parental settings will always take precedence over a school’s, Polgar said. For example, if a parent says their child can’t have Snapchat on their phone but the school says it’s okay, the parents’ settings will win out.
The restrictions would be removed if the Copilot Family app was deleted from a child’s device, Polgar said, but their parents would then get an automatic email saying the app was deleted.
Copilot Family also would help encourage communication between children and adults, Polgar said. The children know their smartphone and tablet use is being monitored, and it encourages conversations about what is and isn’t appropriate.
According to Polgar, the current generation of children is closer with their parents than previous generations and they want to have conversations with their parents. Many parents, meanwhile, don’t understand the technology their children use but don’t want to overreact and create a “surveillance state” to spy on their kids, or under-react and do nothing. Copilot Family creates a middle ground and helps parents adjust to the “new normal” of a technology-heavy world.
“Technology is powerful,” Polgar said. “That’s great, but at the same time if it’s used incorrectly kids could get hurt. We need to instill in children as they grow . . . how to use it mindfully.”
Copilot Family is planning to add a messaging system to their app so parents and children can use it to communicate with each other if they are in separate locations, Polgar said.
The company also wants to be a resource for parents who want to be familiar with the technology their children are using, Polgar said. They understand parents can’t know everything about the technology their children use, so they are putting information resources on their website to help parents become “educated technology parents.”
Copilot Family is free to download. In the near future they plan to have a premium version that will utilize more analytics and have additional features like text-messaging monitoring, Polgar said.