What parents can learn from the Netflix bungle
Call it a boo-boo on their part, but Marchelle Abrahams can’t fathom how the US entertainment company came up with and then retracted its latest rewards test.
We are constantly reminded of the dangers of letting our children watch too much TV. When Netflix announced a test for rewarding children with patches for viewing certain kids shows on its streaming service, most parents did a double-take.
Suffice to say, its little experiment didn’t last long. After a massive backlash on social media, Netflix quietly withdrew the rewards programme and issued a retraction of sorts.
“We’ve concluded the test for patches and have decided not to move forward with the feature for kids. We test lots of things at Netflix in order to learn what works well - and what doesn’t work well - for our members,” a spokesperson told Variety magazine.
The statement says nothing about why Netflix pulled the plug, and its spokesperson stopped short of revealing whether the patches were well received.
The US entertainment company is known for its innovative forward thinking, and one way of doing this is by testing new features before fully integrating them into products.
According to Variety, it had been testing the patches by awarding a subset of its viewers patches for completing episodes of certain shows for a few weeks.
“The patches didn’t unlock any additional content, but functioned as a kind of reward of their own,” wrote Variety’s Janko Roettgers.
Sound confusing? You’re not alone. This was the response of many parents and children’s safety groups, with many accusing Netflix of gamifying binge TV watching.
As parents, we are becoming more aware of what our children are exposed to when it comes to online viewing. When a huge corporate like Netflix wants to reward your child for more screen time than what they are allowed, it is a red flag.
Creative parenting expert Nikki Bush is an advocate for limiting screen time for kids. She says the overuse of technology could stunt their creativity and social and personal development skills.
“Yes, technology is part of the fabric of our lives. But we need to curb the use of tech devices in a child’s routine and find that middle ground when it comes to on-screen time. This is crucial for a child’s developmental needs.”
She believes too much time spent watching movies on a laptop, or playing video games on a tablet stunts a child’s social skills and ability to interact with friends, family members and their teachers.
And then there’s also the case of tech addiction and digital dependency - too much screen time stimulates the secretion of chemicals from the pleasure centre of the brain.
According to Common Sense Media, the average teen spends nearly seven hours in front of a screen each day. That’s a scary thought, considering that experts are debating how much screen time can cause problems for children.
On the flip side, Apple seems to be taking parents’ fears on board - it has integrated a new Families section on its website.
The mini site is a wealth of information broken up into discernible pieces that highlight a range of child-friendly features like app recommendations, in-app purchase controls and app restrictions.
A feature that most parents will appreciate is the Find My Friends tool. It lets you keep track of your child’s locations, get alerts when they leave or arrive somewhere, and see distances and travel times to where they are.
Even if you are a self-confessed technophobe, Apple breaks down each section with links to easy-to-use tutorials.
Macrumours.com has reported that the tech giant plans to release more robust parental control features in the near future, and rumour has it that it is keen to introduce the features in its next operating system, iOS 12. A nifty addition is said to be the debut of a Digital Health tool that will let parents know how much time their children spend using iOS devices.
Another company making a move towards less smartphone use is Samsung. The irony of it all is that one of the world’s largest smartphone producers has partnered with businesswoman Arianna Huffington on a venture to cut back phone use that will message people on your behalf that you have unplugged for a moment. The Thrive app helps you take back control by giving you the tools to set boundaries with technology.
“Children’s advocates for years have called for parents and tech companies to think more critically about how children are using smartphones and tablets,” wrote The Washington Post’s Hayley Tsukayama in a recent article on Apple.
Finally, the tech industry is taking small steps. Great job, Apple and Samsung. Netflix, start taking notes.