How do I manage my kid's Kindle?
March 31, 2012 11:37 AM   Subscribe

Just bought a Kindle for my 11 year old daughter (haven't given it to her yet). As far as I can tell, there are no parental controls. How should I set it up so I can manage the content she's reading and limit her ability go on a digital spending spree?

She's a voracious and advanced reader, and we just can't seem to get her to the library enough. Plus with a Kindle, there is a much larger selection of books.

I bought the cheapest one, with only WiFi, because I don't want her playing games and watching movies on it like the Fire can do, nor did I want to spend that much money.

I would love for her to be able to search & sample books, then come to me for approval and purchase.

Should I set it up under my account? There are (shocker) books I've read that I don't want her to have access to.

Books should be something she should be able to get absorbed in up in her room or on a trip, with no supervision (other than selection). So I'm hoping this can be done.

FYI we've had some problems with her in the past browsing to inappropriate content on a PC and her smartphone, which I tried her on for a while but had to ultimately take away. I don't want that to have to happen with the Kindle.
posted by punocchio to Technology (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Can I ask, what kind of talk did you have with her regarding the inappropriate content she was looking at? What did she say about why she was looking at it?

(I ask in part because my reading was almost entirely unsupervised, except for one time when my mom found me reading a book - maybe it was Flowers in the Attic? - and took it away from me because the writing was horrible. Otherwise, the house policy was "read what you like, stop if it bores you, come talk to me about anything you don't understand, I will never, ever be mad about something you've read that you want to ask about".)
posted by rtha at 11:45 AM on March 31, 2012 [24 favorites]

Can you set it up so that you have to enter your login before she can buy a book on the kindle? If you are that concerned about what she is reading, perhaps leave the Kindle without an account set up on it so that she can't get any book that she wants.

At the same time, I was never limited in terms of what books I could read, I don't think much harm came to me. Books are different than the Internet, IMO. If your daughter is willing/capable to make it through a book of "shocking" content, then I doubt that simply denying her access to that book is going to keep her shielded from that topic. She's going to find a way to investigate it. Maybe set up a weekly time when you can talk about what she ahs been reading.
posted by Nightman at 11:48 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

And I completely forgot to say: yeah, I don't think there are any parental controls (I have a Kindle Touch). The easiest way to manage it might be to set her up with her own account, and make it clear you'll be reviewing her downloads regularly if that's a thing you'll be doing. Also, check your local library system, which likely has ebooks available for borrowing; the process is kind of a pain, but it's doable. Definitely talk with her about spending sprees, because man is that easy to do. Maybe show her how to set up a wishlist, and as a reward for the occasional good deed or grade or whatever you'll give her a book off it.
posted by rtha at 11:50 AM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want to have absolute say over what's on her Kindle, you can disassociate it from your account and thus disable the ability to browse and purchase from the Kindle itself. Instead, you would purchase ebooks on your computer and manually drag them onto the Kindle via USB. It's easy to do and pretty foolproof.

That said, it would be very easy for you to keep track of Kindle purchases made with your account. It might be worthwhile to initially give it to her restriction-free, with the understanding that you're trusting her not to make purchases without asking. If she violates that trust, the consequence would be deauthorizing the Kindle and switching to the system I described above.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:52 AM on March 31, 2012 [13 favorites]

Why not let her have her own account and give her a spending limit in the form of an Amazon gift card? Then she'll be able to browse and sample, but she'll also learn to manage her spending limit so you don't have to worry about each purchase.

Another good thing is to use the local library -- a lot of them lend Kindle e-books now. There's a waiting list, but one you get it they usually lend it for 2-3 weeks. This is a great way to keep cost down but also allow her access to a large variety of books.

I agree that it's better to allow her to read whatever she wants. If she's reading for the pleasure of it, she's not likely to get into the kinds of books you wouldn't want her to read. There are some free e-books available that are completely inappropriate that I ran into when searching for something else, so the content available could be a bit of a concern. But as a voracious young reader I didn't have any interest in those kinds of things because I was interested in reading good stories.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:54 AM on March 31, 2012 [15 favorites]

Echoing what people have said above - you should set her up with an account where you'd instantly receive an email order confirmation once she's purchased a book. Amazon does allow refunds, so if she goes crazy and spend thousands of dollars back you can get your money back. And if she buys things you don't approve of, you'll find out instantly and can talk to her about it, instead of just blocking the books from the start.
posted by iamscott at 11:56 AM on March 31, 2012

Set her up with her own account. At the very least she should not receive any book recommendations based on your own reading history, only hers. Fund her account by sending her periodic gift certificates; do not link your own credit card to her account.

Disable the ability to browse the Kindle store from the device itself. This will force her to look for books using the PC, though she won't be able to preview books from the PC without using the Kindle PC app, if you constrain her browsing to the web browser, there are a lot of content filtering tools available for that.

Neither Amazon nor the Kindle itself support what you are trying to do, yet.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 11:57 AM on March 31, 2012

You know there's a web browser on the Kindle right? I'm not sure how bought books that have DRM work on the Kindle (if you could just drag-n-drop DRM books from place to place it would sorta defeat the purpose of DRM). Otherwise, I recently won a Kindle in a raffle and have just started playing with it, using no Amazon account at all and just downloading free ebooks from places like Project Guttenberg and converting other PDFs and HTML stuff with Calibre.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:02 PM on March 31, 2012

If you buy ebooks from Amazon (which have DRM) and download them to your computer, you can drag them to your Kindle, although if the Kindle is not registered to that account, they may not show up. You can also use a set of plugins available for Calibre to strip the DRM and convert them to whatever and read them on whatever device you like.
posted by rtha at 12:06 PM on March 31, 2012

Have it forget the wifi network and then change the network's password. For now, that's all you can do.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:12 PM on March 31, 2012

My Kindle Fire has a "Parental controls" choice in the options menu. The online documentation says:
Enable Parental Controls by tapping "on" and entering a password. This password is required to make any changes to settings within the parental Controls menu. Enabling Password Protected Wi-Fi turns off Wi-Fi on your device and will require your password to re-activate. Parents may use this feature to prevent children from purchasing content without their permissionn or from browsing inappropriate online content.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:15 PM on March 31, 2012

There is a very simple way to deal with this.

1) Your daughter has her own Amazon account, not connected to any payment method or One Click method. Her account has a Wish List.

2) Any reading she wants, she adds to her Wish List, which is public. You can buy her books from your account off her Wish List as a gift and they are delivered direct to her Kindle.

3) You or other people can also send her Amazon Gift Certificates for more free-range spending.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:22 PM on March 31, 2012 [22 favorites]

Kindle purchases use Amazon's "1-Click" purchasing. When you associate a Kindle with a particular Amazon account, you're given the option to associate a "1-Click" payment method from that account to that Kindle. If you don't do this, no purchases can be made through the Kindle itself.

For those suggesting using Amazon gift cards, this can work up to a point, if you set up her kindle with its own specific Amazon account, but once the gift card balance is gone, it'll revert to attempting to charge the card number stored for 1-Click payments (suggest using a pre-paid debit card for the 1-Click, then later zeroing out the balance on the debit card and canceling it without telling Amazon that it's canceled; this way only the gift card value you add to the account will be available).

If you have a 1-Click payment method that's already been associated to a particular Kindle, the only way to de-associate it is to delete that 1-Click information from your entire account (it can be added back later, it won't automatically re-associate itself to the kindle without action from you).

Ultimately though, the built in web browser is going to be an issue with how you want to control your daughter's use of this. If you don't feel like you can trust her to have unsupervised access to PCs and smartphones, then the same should go for the kindle. It can be very difficult to review the browser history on the cheaper model kindles, and even if you change your own WiFi network's password, neighbors with unsecured networks and hotspots offering free WiFi are out of your hands. As Chocolate Pickle pointed out above, the newer model you passed over because of price and features you don't want, also has the one feature you were really needing.
posted by radwolf76 at 12:29 PM on March 31, 2012

Response by poster: Great point about needing clarification of the questionable content. It's not so much the content that she's gotten in trouble over, it was signing herself up for dating websites and claiming she's 18. I found out by monitoring her email inbox. She has lots of curiosity, and gave me the old "I don't know" when I asked her why she did it. Fortunately she knew enough to not disclose any personal information. Then she knew it was wrong and did it a second time. *sigh* I was afraid this might completely derail the thread, and she's in therapy due to her mom and I going through a divorce.

I completely forgot about the web browser on the kindle. She's pretty savvy. That coupled with the fact that she could likely hop on neighbor's wifi is now making me reconsider strongly.

I guess that, as usual, I have bigger picture issues than technology is able to help me solve. Thanks all.
posted by punocchio at 12:49 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh wow, that's different from what I was envisioning (reading Dan Savage or something, I don't know exactly what I thought, but it wasn't signing up for dating services!).

If it's any comfort, the browser on the Touch I have is awful. It's clumsy and slow and heinous. But I might think that only because I can access the internets on much better things for accessing the internet on.

Browser access aside, your best solution might be something suggested by Narrative Priorities or DarlingBri.
posted by rtha at 1:30 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure this will help, but I phoned up those love line numbers pre-internet at not much older than your daughter (so did some of my friends) -- pretended to be 18, gave no real information, etc, I was just curious about relationships and sex and didn't really understand what I was curious about. It might mean more, but it might just be normal puberty.
posted by jeather at 1:34 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Is your daughter banned from the internet do to her online dating activity?

If it makes you more confident, you could take the Kindle out for a test drive. I believe I have the same version as your daughter. It supports very basic web browsing, and no new tabs or windows. It's enormously hampering.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:54 PM on March 31, 2012

Oh wow, your daughter sounds incredibly intelligent and curious.

I still think you should give the kindle a go. If she were my kid (disclaimer: I don’t have kids, so please forgive me if I’m talking out of my ass) but I would have a conversation with her where I made it clear that I thought she was really intelligent and deserved to be able to satisfy her book appetite, but that you were trusting her to be forthright and honest with you. Could you do a one week test run?
posted by OsoMeaty at 3:38 PM on March 31, 2012

I occasionally use my kindle to look up the names of book series.

Web browsing on the kindle is extremely slow and painful, and it doesn't do video or javascript or anything useful. I'd never underestimate a bored kid, but it would be an awful lot of effort to go to. Try it out yourself.
posted by zug at 4:23 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Extremely slow and painful browsing can still be a temptation to someone who has no browsing.

It's an odd power dynamic when a kid's "pretty savvy" in the technical sense but the parent has to try to set boundries to limit the impact of poor decisions that the kid should be smart enough not to make in the first place. Usually, the stricter the rules get, the more creative the kid gets in bypassing them.

Of course, you could always use this as an oportunity to let her demonstrate that she can again be trusted. Give her the kindle, but tell her to keep the WiFi off unless you can be there and monitor. Don't give her the charging cable, make her come to you when she wants to charge it. Battery life with the WiFi antenna on is noticably shorter than when it's off, so if she's trying to skirt the rule, you're more likely to find out.

Now this is easily bypassed if she gets a cable of her own (it's just a USB), but she'd have to hide that cable from you when it's not in use, and when it is in use... well they don't charge instantly, so it's harder to sneak that.
posted by radwolf76 at 5:20 PM on March 31, 2012

Best answer: You could switch to a Nook Simple Touch. The browser is completely disabled. (I used to be able to type in the address of Google and get a picture of the Google front page; with the latest software I can't even do that.) You can also password-protect purchases. I would set her device up with a separate account and, as suggested above, sideload material on for her.
posted by BibiRose at 7:46 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think BibiRose has the solution. Returning the kindle to Amazon for a refund with the explanation that it doesn't meet your needs as a parent, and then flipping the refund over onto the Nook Simple Touch is probably for the best. It certainly sounds like it meets your specific needs a lot better.
posted by radwolf76 at 10:00 PM on March 31, 2012

Maybe you'd be better off getting her a library card and making trips there every week or two. That way you'd be free of expense and web-surfing issues, but she could look at and read virtually as many books as she can carry -- and you could always look at the stack at home and discuss any books you're concerned about...
posted by acm at 12:14 PM on April 1, 2012

One of my friends has a Kindle set up that might help with some of your concerns.

Her Kindle is set to use a different Amazon account, that doesn't have a credit/debit card associated with it. Instead every month she buys a voucher from her main account and uses it with her Kindle's account.

She's done this to make sure she doesn't overspend. But having a separate account run in this way would mean you could keep a check on your daughter's book downloads by logging into the Kindle's account from time to time.

FWIW I don't think she'll do much browsing on the Kindle's web browser. As people have mentioned, it's really slow. But again I think it's a good way to show your daughter you're going to trust her again and see if she comes through :)
posted by SuckPoppet at 3:06 AM on April 2, 2012

I just wanted to chime in that the Kindle browser is fairly worthless. One of the problems is that formatting doesn't come through right. Plus since it's black and white, it can be pretty hard to decipher web pages. It's of course possible that your daughter would deal with this, but for a youth you is used to fast page loading and easy navigation, it is likely to be too frustrating for her to bother with. And I say that as someone who was good at getting around my parents restrictions when I was a kid. (No TV permission? Watch TV for the brief period both my parents were at work, set the TV back to the channel and volume it was on. No staying up late to read? Crawl under the side of the bed away from my door with a book light.)
posted by DoubleLune at 9:17 AM on April 2, 2012

Response by poster: On BibiRose's suggestion I went ahead and swapped for the Nook Simple Touch. B&N will let me buy nook gift cards (when she brings me cash) that i can email to her, so she'll stay in budget. Still need a credit card on the account though, so this will be a trust exercise of sorts.

FWIW I discovered the browser is still there while on vacation with her, and trying to connect to the hotel internet which accepts credentials through a web form. I got a peek at the browser in that case, and it really is awful.
posted by punocchio at 7:08 PM on April 4, 2012

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