The geek’s guide to child-proofing: how to keep your tech safe from baby

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If you’ve had a baby, chances are you’ve given some thought to the question of childproofing. No sooner does the stick turn pink, it seems, then people start telling you about all the things you’ve got to do to ensure that your baby doesn’t hurl itself down the stairs, electrocute itself, or drink poison instead of breast milk.

Keeping your baby alive and uninjured is an important part of parenting. But so is keeping yourself sane and happy. And if you’re a geek, the keys to your happiness may be embedded in the thousands of dollars of technology that you accumulated in your pre-baby years. The technology that is just chock full of delicate wires and flashing buttons that are all-too-vulnerable to tiny, sticky hands.

With the wisdom earned from six years’ of childraising, two destructive children and four or five figures’ worth of maimed technology, I’d like to weigh in on the neglected side of childproofing. Because once you’ve figured out how to keep your baby safe from your stuff, it’s time to figure out how to keep your stuff safe from baby.

Replace your DVD player with a computer: Just before our second baby, aka Lil Pnut, was born, our DVD player died. When Rob suggested we replace it with a Mac Mini, I thought he was crazy: why spend $800 on a computer when we could get a DVD player for $200? Happily, he prevailed, and it turns out to have been our smartest purchase ever: instead of playing a constant game of keep-away so that sticky fingers stay off of DVDs, we download our videos or rip them immediately to our hard drive. Now that we’ve entered the gaming years, the same principle applies: buying DVD-based games is a risky proposition, but buying downloadable games ensures there’s no physical medium to lose or destroy.

iPhone case: You may think you’ll never hand that gorgeous, shiny iPhone to your gooey toddler, but trust me: someday you will be in a lineup, or at restaurant, or at a friend’s house, and become truly desperate for something — anything!! — that will distract your kid for a few precious moments. When that day comes, you don’t want to hand your kid a bare naked iPhone: you want to hand them a phone that is in a sturdy, impact-resistant case, with some kind of protector on the screen, too.

CD/DVD slots: You may not realize it, but your computer’s DVD drive is an awesome receptacle for index cards, paper clips, coins and a wide variety of two-dimensional objects. If you don’t need to access the drive on a regular basis, slap a piece of duct tape on it. I haven’t seen any kind of drive cover that you can install (and lock) but would love to know of one

Speakers: We used to have very nice stereo speakers that Lil Pnut dismembered over a year’s worth of steady working away at the edges, the cover, and finally, the interior. Put your speakers on a high shelf, or put the good speakers away for a few years and get a pair of moderately-priced bookshelf speakers instead.

Kid & sitter account: Once your kid gets old enough to use your computer — you know, at around 8 months — you want to ensure that all that banging away on the keyboard doesn’t nuke something crucial on your drive. Set up a separate user account, with no admin privileges, that you can use when you are sharing the computer with baby; it’s also handy if you’re going to leave your computer for a babysitter to use, too.

Raise your power bars: Even if your computer is out of reach or locked away, a kid will gravitate towards that bright red switch that does that cool flashing on-and-off thing when you flick it. If you want to avoid a sudden (and perhaps fatal) power outage or surge, keep the power bar hidden behind furniture or up out of reach.

Get mag-lock cables: Apple’s mag-lock cable connection is a genius way of ensuring that your kid won’t destroy your laptop cable (or laptop) by tripping or pulling on the cord. If you’re likely to have your baby in the same room as your laptop, a magnetic lock cable is your new best friend.

Give baby your deprecated technology: People who are concerned about keeping baby safe from technology will tell you that you should never let your kid play with something that isn’t designed as a toy. But if you have a tech-loving baby, he or she will be far more interested in actual tech than in play tech. A good compromise is to give baby your cast-off tech toys so that she or he can play with something that looks and beeps like the real thing — just make sure to avoid handing over anything with little pieces that can break off and get swallowed, and keep a careful eye on baby when playing with grownup toys.

Use Google safesearch: You may not object to seeing pornographic images — in fact, that may be one of your favourite uses for the web. But get in the habit of leaving Google’s safesearch on — it’s under “search settings”, and can filter out any explicit images that come up in a search. That way a kid that accidentally punches a few unfortunate letters into the search bar won’t get an explicit and traumatic eyeful.

Password protection: Set up passwords on all your computers and phones — before your kids set them up and lock you out. On different occasions, Lil Pnut has managed to lock us out of both a computer and iPhone, simply by banging away on the keyboard until he somehow triggered the account settings, at which point he apparently entered some random keystrokes that voila! created a new password we couldn’t get around.

Avoid magnetic toys: There are a lot of great kids toys that use magnets either as a way of creating little pictures and paper dolls, or as a construction element. Small, strong magnets are incredibly dangerous to kids if swallowed; but even large, non-swallowable magnets can be bad news if applied to the side of your computer.

Put your phone out of reach: Did you know that randomly hitting the buttons on your phone will trigger a connection to 911? I didn’t — until Lil Pnut got ahold of a phone and, after a few minutes, found himself talking to the 911 operator. Apparently this is a very common problem, so the good people at 911 would appreciate you keeping your phone out of toddler reach so that they can keep the lines free for people with actual emergencies.

Baby-wise purchasing: When we recently looked at LCD TVs, the salesperson was kind enough to point out that one brand of TV (LD) was unique in offering a screen coating that resists the push-and-smudge impact of little fingers. If you’re making new technology purchases, look for the vulnerable points on the product you’re buying, and ask a salesperson to recommend the least-vulnerable option. That goes for household appliances too: look for dishwashers and ovens that don’t just have soft locks (i.e. a locking feature that prevents kids from activating the appliance) but actual physical locks that keep kids from opening the appliance.

Borrow an inquisitive toddler: Once you’ve got the obvious vulnerabilities covered, it’s time to look for the the weaknesses you’ve failed to anticipate. There are inevitably going to be cables and gadgets in your house that you never dreamed of a toddler touching — unless you’ve already got one running around underfoot, by which time it is too late. So while your little angel is still at the blissful, pre-crawling stage, borrow someone else’s toddler: you want the inquisitive, button-pressing kid whose parent is always complaining about the latest household object to be broken or flushed down the toilet. Bring that kid over to your house (after you’ve asked the parent for permission!), give them free rein, and watch them like a hawk as they explore all the nooks, crannies and possessions you have left on view. You’ll quickly find any unanticipated vulnerabilities which you can now patch before your own kid starts moving around.

As you will infer from this post, Lil Pnut is the inquisitive, button-pressing, tech-destroying kid that you need for your own babyproofing audit. We will accept bookings at a rate of $1000/hr for a parent-and-child team; we figure that after a dozen bookings he will have paid off his debt to our household technology. Needless to say, we assume no liability for loss or damage incurred during the auditing process.

13 Comments on this site

  1. Ryan Dempsey

    Great post! We have three kids (with lots of cousins) and we’ve been hit with all of these problems – greasy iphone, foreign objects in dvd slots, broken and scratched dvd’s etc.

    We’ve decided to hold off buying the nice new home entertainment stuff until they are a little older. I keep all my coolest gadgets in my office, where it’s off limits to the munchkins.

  2. Ryan Dempsey

    Great post! We have three kids (with lots of cousins) and we’ve been hit with all of these problems – greasy iphone, foreign objects in dvd slots, broken and scratched dvd’s etc.

    We’ve decided to hold off buying the nice new home entertainment stuff until they are a little older. I keep all my coolest gadgets in my office, where it’s off limits to the munchkins.

  3. Richard Smith

    Fun post. I am always in awe of your talents, and it seems like these, as we expected, extend to your children.

    I was particularly impressed with their ability to push mathematical abstractions (“two dimenional objects”) into slots in your computer. What a concept!

    Flat Stanley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Stanley), meet Flat Lil Pnut!

    …r

  4. Richard Smith

    Fun post. I am always in awe of your talents, and it seems like these, as we expected, extend to your children.

    I was particularly impressed with their ability to push mathematical abstractions (“two dimenional objects”) into slots in your computer. What a concept!

    Flat Stanley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Stanley), meet Flat Lil Pnut!

    …r

  5. Alex

    Ryan, you have hit upon a brilliant strategy that has somehow eluded us: stop spending money on technologies that will merely be destroyed. Huh. I’ll give that some thought while I’m standing in line at Best Buy, scooping up the holiday specials.

    Richard, you’re too kind. We will definitely check out Flat Stanley; I will meanwhile nurse fantasies about having a child I can store in an envelope.

  6. Alex

    Ryan, you have hit upon a brilliant strategy that has somehow eluded us: stop spending money on technologies that will merely be destroyed. Huh. I’ll give that some thought while I’m standing in line at Best Buy, scooping up the holiday specials.

    Richard, you’re too kind. We will definitely check out Flat Stanley; I will meanwhile nurse fantasies about having a child I can store in an envelope.

  7. Andrew

    Great post. With child number one on the way this is advice I will undoubtedly reread over the next few years.

  8. Andrew

    Great post. With child number one on the way this is advice I will undoubtedly reread over the next few years.

  9. Carico

    I love your article and being pregnant with our first baby I never really thought about protecting our geek equipment. I am forwarding this to my husband who will gladly be tech proofing our items. Thanks!

  10. Carico

    I love your article and being pregnant with our first baby I never really thought about protecting our geek equipment. I am forwarding this to my husband who will gladly be tech proofing our items. Thanks!

  11. Capri

    I came across this article when searching for a way to save our cable box from our daughter. Needless to say, I wish I had found it ages ago. Our geekiness knows no limits and now that Isla is crawling (and trying to stand when the temptation is good enough), nothing is safe! Thanks for this – we'll be putting it to use immediately.

  12. Capri

    I came across this article when searching for a way to save our cable box from our daughter. Needless to say, I wish I had found it ages ago. Our geekiness knows no limits and now that Isla is crawling (and trying to stand when the temptation is good enough), nothing is safe! Thanks for this – we'll be putting it to use immediately.

  13. PaperclipRobot

    For iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches, if you have toddlers, you probably already know you need a BubCap home button cover, but just didn’t know they exist! It’s a simple way to keep your toddler-age kids from pressing the home button over and over.

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