Thursday, January 25, 2024

Smart Safety - AI and Online Safety for Kids

 One in five girls and one in 13 boys under the age of 18 have experienced abuse and/or sexual exploitation globally – and many of those incidents take place via online interactions. But, in most areas, resources to catch perpetrators on the web are extremely limited.

What if we said AI could help provide those much-needed resources? According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the task force saved more than 4,000 hours of review and investigation in 2023 by using AI technology.

Passionate about creating a fruitful and safe space for kids to build healthy social connections, Danna Okuyama – NYC mom and founder of Urban Sandbox – believes in the future of tech and the positive opportunities it can provide for kids when safe and regulated.

I had a chance to learn more in this interview.

How can AI affect internet safety for kids?

AI is a much discussed topic these days, but like any other trend in tech, it has its pros and cons. When it comes to internet safety, I believe that if used correctly, AI can help increase security online. Some big tech companies are planning to tackle online safety for children and teens with new AI-powered controls. For instance, TikTok is looking into how to control screen time for younger audiences on the app with the use of AI. In addition, AI technology can help law enforcement catch online child predators at a much higher speed due to the fact that reviewing documents and cases are typically handled solely by humans, and now they have the support of AI to increase resources. 


Why is it important for parents and caregivers to actively supervise their children's use of tech?

Although technology companies are doing their best to build in features that help control young children and teens' screen time, inappropriate content is still available on the internet. Therefore, young children and teens are bound to come across some, which makes parents and caregivers’ supervision key. Without close supervision and parental controls, social media can expose kids, especially those in school, to cyberbullying, connecting with the wrong people, and violence and hate-based content. 


Students’ brains are not fully developed, making them a vulnerable group, which further emphasizes the importance of parental supervision and regulated content. According to PEW Research Center, nearly half of the U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 (a whopping 46% of the teen population), report experiencing at least one of six cyberbullying behaviors. Parents need to have control of not only what content their children are watching, but also what activities students are conducting online to prevent cyberbullying and ensure safety. Negative influences from inappropriate content on social media is a serious issue and something parents can help mitigate with access to kids’ online activity.


What are your views on kids and social media?

In modern times, technology and social media are inevitable. For adults, we know having a social life is important, but for kids, socialization is vital as they continue to grow and develop. Kids start to make friends and create their own circles when they are as young as 6 years old, and if social situations among kids are not handled properly, it could lead to them feeling less confident, lonely and in some extreme cases, depressed. However, we know social media is not going away and we need solutions to better protect kids. I believe that with a healthy level of regulation and monitoring, social media can be valuable for students’ growth. It can help foster positive attention, build healthy peer competition, boost confidence, combat loneliness, and showcase different cultures and backgrounds.


Can you share a little bit about Urban Sandbox and how it can provide a safe outlet for kids?

Urban Sandbox is a platform that is specifically dedicated to students. Realizing how important it is for young children and teens to have a secure place of their own, we created a modern-day pen pal app where kids can connect, share, and grow with other like-minded peers from around the world, while learning from educational content available. All content on Urban Sandbox is regulated 24/7 and we ensure it is healthy, informative and useful for all students. On Urban Sandbox, students don’t have to compete for likes or compare who has the best hair or fashion, instead they can celebrate their recent achievements or unique interests and learn with each other.  The ultimate goal of Urban Sandbox is to create a place for all students to safely gather and connect without judgment or stereotype. 


For example, my son is very quick in numbers but he is not the best artist or writer. Now that he knows he can showcase his work to his friends on the platform, he puts more effort into his writings or drawings because he wants to post them on Urban Sandbox and be proud of them. I was very pleased to see that and it proves that regulated social media like Urban Sandbox can really benefit kids positively. 


Cyber safety and parental supervision was another key consideration when we created Urban Sandbox, and we are proud to provide an app where supervision is seamless and easy. Parents can simply log into our parents portal to supervise their children’s activities even when they are not around. Of course, I am not suggesting that parents should monitor kids’ activity all the time, there should be a level of trust in them, but the availability of this feature definitely gives parents peace of mind.

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