Dear Silicon Valley: We Need Better Parental Controls

Published in the Washington Post

By Julie Paul
Founder and CEO of Heard It From A Friend

Really, truly, I can’t take it anymore. I went to another parent’s tech night at my daughters’ school and listened to a most impassioned speaker, Polly Ely of the Lab Method, expound on the impact that devices are having on families. As a marriage and family therapist, she had many poignant and heartbreaking examples to share: kids stumbling upon pornography, teens feeling more anxious and stressed, and the incessant pull of these devices on the parent-child bond. I know about these stories; I have lived them.

Raising kids in this Digital Age is a tricky game, and we often feel like we have a devil and an angel on our shoulders. As parents, and the Chief Human Resources Officers of our households, our job is to look out for our children’s overall health and well being. While the effects of screen time on developing brains are still largely unknown, we’ve all seen the correlation between cranky behavior and excessive device use.

Recent statistics are enough to make our hearts palpitate a bit faster and cause our anxiety levels to spike.

And yet, we are also tasked with preparing our kids for life in the 21st Century, which means developing strong technology and communication skills for future STEM careers.

It can be totally confusing, especially when our kids want to use technology for creative endeavors such as film-making with iMovies to document the life of their new puppy, YouTube Kids for instructional origami videos, or bookmaking apps for story writing.

In October 2016, The American Academy of Pediatrics altered its screen time guidelines in acknowledgement of how children can benefit from the interactivity of new media as compared to passive screen time. While in theory this is great and we would all love to help our kids develop healthy digital habits, we totally lack the tools to navigate through these distinctions. Parenting in the Digital Age now equals parenting technology. It should be so much easier.

I first started studying Apple’s parental controls 18-months ago–I wanted to be prepared for the Pandora’s box I knew I would be opening when I gave my 11-year-old my hand- me-down iPhone. I’ve spent 100+ hours talking with experienced parents and conducting focus groups to understand the complexities and what the barriers are to their use. After identifying 18 different use cases and estimating that it would take 393 steps to set up parental controls for the 5 devices I manage, I can tell you from my experience that they feel onerous and confusing, and that’s why I sent Tim Cook this letter offering to share my insights with him and his engineering team. I’m concerned that Apple may not understand the magnitude and severity of the problem if they’re publicly describing their parental controls as intuitive.

Given that 78% of teens now have iPhones, every time a child is born, so is an Apple customer. Women now make 85% of all purchasing decisions, and we are building pipeline of customers for the future. Single-handedly, I have purchased over 20 Apple products within the last 13 years, and can only imagine how this must extrapolate across my demographic for all of technology purchases.

While Apple has announced that feature enhancements are planned, perhaps in response to their shareholder’s recent call for improved parental controls, it’s time for more collaboration and partnership in general, and with women specifically. After Facebook started targeting 6-year-olds with its Messenger App for Kids and the debacle over Google’s YouTube Kids, our trust has been rattled, and there is a Grand Canyon- sized room for improvement. One has to wonder, if perhaps, the root cause underlying these blind spots can be attributed to the fact that women are so grossly underrepresented in Silicon Valley.

Really, I can’t help but think of Pink’s lyrics in her song, What About Us? It’s time for women to take their rightful seat at the technology table and have a voice in our future. It’s about our kids!

Heard It From A Friend is committed to helping women keep up with technology and knowing how to best apply it in their everyday lives. We help women to boost their tech savvy, which is key to increasing productivity and efficiency on the home front. Women carry the majority of the load when it comes to running the “Family Business,” and we need more leverage, which includes better technology and solutions. Our mission is to help bridge the gap with Silicon Valley, so we can get the technology we need and have an active voice in our future.

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