Silicon Valley — better parental controls needed, especially on smartphones

Published in the San Francisco Chronicle

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

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. Our job as parents is to watch over our children’s health and well-being and, 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.

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 science and technology careers. While we all want to help our kids develop healthy digital habits, we totally lack the tools to navigate through these distinctions.

Given that 78 percent of teens now have iPhones, every time a child is born, so is an Apple customer. We are building the company’s pipeline for the future, and we need more support. Parenting in the digital age now equals parenting technology, and that should be so much easier than it is.

I became deeply concerned about the ramifications of personal devices for families and children five years ago when a dear friend told me her son had stumbled upon the world of pornography. When her husband asked her why she didn’t have restrictions turned on, she was shocked to learn that they even existed.

I first began studying Apple’s parental controls 18 months ago in preparation for the Pandora’s box I knew I would be opening when I gave my 11-year-old my hand-me-down iPhone.

After 100-plus hours researching and talking with experienced parents, I have identified 18 different use cases and found that it would take me 393 steps to complete setup restrictions for the five devices I manage. In a sincere offer to share my insights with his engineering team, I wrote Apple CEO Tim Cook a letter. I’m concerned Apple may not understand the magnitude and severity of the problem. Here’s what I’ve found:

1) There is no triggering event that informs parents of Apple’s parental controls.

2) If parents are aware, then they are also confused — it is not intuitive. Though there is skeletal functionality, it still lacks the meat of explanation.

3) The setup process when you manage multiple devices for multiple children is onerous.

4) For the 18 different use scenarios we have identified, native Apple parental controls are too complicated and time-consuming.

5) There’s no record of what you set up, you can accidentally erase settings, and there are no prompts for troubleshooting or reminders to review your settings.

Recently, with the activism from Apple’s shareholders and the coalitionthat’s formed between Common Sense Media and the Center for Humane Technology, momentum is building for major change. It’s long overdue, as our trust has been rattled after Facebook started targeting 6-year-olds with its Messenger Kids and the flap over Google’s YouTube Kids.

When it comes to more collaboration and partnership with Silicon Valley, there is Grand Canyon-sized room for improvement. In the meantime, I’ve put together a Parental Controls Resource Guide you can read at:

©2023 Heard It From A Friend

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