Alexa has made quite an impact on our homes and from the off, children have found it really easy – and fun – to engage with Amazon's digital assistant.
With the Echo Dot being so affordable, it's an easy option for making an Echo available for your kids – perhaps in a bedroom or in a play room depending on their age.
But there are a few things you should consider and a few tweaks you should make – and here we're specifically looking at devices outside the US.
Amazon US vs Amazon UK/rest of world
The big difference between the US and the UK is that Amazon offers a version-specific kids' version of the Echo Dot. This not only comes with a bumper cover and a 2-year warranty, but offers FreeTime, the name for Amazon's child-friendly services in the US.
In the US, even if you don't buy that version of the Echo Dot, you can enable FreeTime (parental controls) and manage your Echo Dot via the parent dashboard online – which makes control a lot easier.
In the UK, FreeTime and the Echo Dot Kids Edition doesn't exist – but there are some aspects that you can configure manually, which we'll take you through now.
Keep it on your account
First of all, we fully expect Amazon to extend "FreeTime" to the UK – although it's likely to have a different branding, perhaps "Alexa for Kids" or something like that.
What's important is that you have the devices on your Amazon account. That means they are all controlled via one Alexa app and they all work together – and one of the advantages of having multiple Echo devices is that you can use announcements, for example, to call kids for meals wherever they are in the house.
Rename your Echo device
Once you've setup the Echo device, it's easy to rename it. Just head to the Alexa app and into the settings page for that individual device. (Tap devices > Echo & Alexa and then the devices you want to change.)
Here you'll find the top option is for renaming that individual device. This is worth doing for a number of reasons. Firstly, it gives the child ownership of the device, so rather than it being "Chris's third Echo Dot" it'll have their name.
This actually benefits you, because you can easily see which device it is on the list – and if you have a full house of Echo devices, that's important so you can track what it's doing quickly. Alternatively, you could call it "play room" or something, depending on your setup.
Turn on Explicit Filter
The "explicit filter" aims to stop songs being played that have explicit lyrics in them. You can't apply it to individual devices, but if you have kids in your house, it makes sense to apply the filter across all devices, to avoid the occasional Ariana Grande F-bomb during your 5-year-old's party.
In the Alexa app, open the menu and head into Settings > Music. Here you'll find the music controls and at the bottom is the Explicit Filter. Tap through and toggle it on.
The thing to note is that this only applies to services that support it – Spotify, Amazon Music and Apple Music – although we've not tested whether it catches all songs on those services. There's the option to deactivate the explicit filter by voice (in case you suddenly need sweary music?) – but it's best to leave this off – otherwise it can just be disabled.
As it is, the explicit filter will stay on and be controlled by the Alexa app on your phone.
One thing to note is that services like TuneIn do not support explicit lyric filtering (because it's radio) – so if you're listening to a live broadcast or after the watershed there's every possibility that some enthusiastic artist or presenter will slip in some colourful language.
Turn off voice purchasing
This is one of the things you should do as soon as you get an Echo, because anyone who can talk to your Echo can buy things from your Amazon account. If you have kids, you definitely do not want them buying a whole range of stuff without you knowing about it.
Again, this is a general Alexa account setting, so open the Alexa app and open the menu. Then go to Settings > Alexa account > Voice purchasing.
It's a toggle option and you could opt to have PIN protection, but it's safer to just turn it off – after all, the best way to browse and buy from Amazon is using the app.
Turn on Kids Skills
There are a range of Alexa Skills that have been identified as specifically for kids – for example the NORAD Santa Tracker. To allow these things on your device(s), you'll have to enable Kids Skills. Again, it's in Settings > Alexa account > Kids Skills.
They're broken out for a number of reasons. Firstly, it means that adults can choose to block access to them completely – if you don't want Alexa to be a play thing. Secondly, it helps to reiterate the fact that Alexa stores voice interactions in the cloud – and if your kids are using Alexa, that includes them too – which might give privacy concerned parents pause for thought.
However – you don't have to enable Kids Skills from the off if you don't want to – if a child tries to use a Skill that's been identified as for kids, you'll get a notification asking you to enable it in the Alexa app.
Reviewing your voice history on Alexa
Ok, this one is a little more scary. As Alexa captures voice interactions, they're open to you for review. That means that you can, if you wish, monitor what Alexa might have been asked. If you're concerned that your kids' party descended into something inappropriate – involving Alexa – then you'll have voice recordings that you can review.
You can do this from the Alexa app, but it's easier on the bigger screen in your browser at amazon.co.uk/mycd or amazon.com/mycd and then click on the Alexa Privacy tab. Here you can sort by custom date ranges.
Decide what Communications you want
Communications include Announcements, calling, messaging and Drop In. Announcements are actually useful in a family home because you can say "Alexa broadcast 'it's time for dinner'" and the message is announced across all devices.
But you might not want your kids to be able to use the Drop In function where then can automatically start a two-way conversation with contacts. In the Alexa app, you can disable Drop In for each device – and you can disable it for yourself too, so you can never accept Drop In, meaning others cannot Drop In on you.
The settings can be found menu > Contacts > Permissions. Here you can turn off Drop In for yourself. To disable the service on a particular device, head to that device in the Alexa app and in the device settings enter Communications. Here you can control Announcements and Drop In.
Further, you might want to consider the position with contacts in general. The Alexa app on your phone asks to access your contacts so that it can then call or message from your Echo device. If you don't use Alexa calling, then revoke this permission and Amazon won't then have access to your contacts – meaning your kids can't accidentally prank call people on your contacts list.
Use Do Not Disturb
Amazon doesn’t have proper scheduled hours for Alexa devices, but it does offer Do Not Disturb, where you can make sure that nothing is going to make a sound on that device at a particular time.
Head into the device settings for the individual Echo and you can select the time slot you want it to be engaged.
For many, the gift of an Echo device will lead to hours of entertainment. It's access to lots of music, answers to questions as well as some smart home control – but as a parent you still need to be in control. In the absence of a complete lock down of kids mode, as a parent you are still responsible for what your children do when they are using Alexa.
While using the tips for kids with Alexa above you can control some aspects of their usage, kids will explore and as with any internet-connected device, there needs to be some level parental boundary set to ensure that they are behaving themselves.
Sometimes, you might just have to pull the plug, or set your router to block that device at particular times if things get out of hand.
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