It is not by accident that smartphones, tablets and computers have become ubiquitous today. While they serve as valuable productivity tools, the companies that make them, along with those that make apps, have relentlessly focused on making them engaging. But there comes a point when these tools have become so engaging to be considered "addictive," especially among younger users.
The behavioral effects of such hyper-engagement with screens and technology is not a new phenomenon (the television was a forerunner), but the level of personalization and one-to-one usage is indeed unprecedented in history. The very companies that made these products face a backlash around what made them successful, and are being asked to create tools to keep the engagement level in check. Apple and Google have indeed taken steps to address this issue, each launching parental control and screen time tools in quick succession.
In September, Apple officially launched iOS 12 with enhanced parental control and screen time features.
While it sounds good in theory, Apple's offering only serves to tide over the criticism as it doesn't address the real problem in a holistic manner.
1. Parental Control for the iPhone and iPad, Only!
The typical American family has 5 devices - 2 smartphones, 2 computers, and 1 tablet, according to the Pew Research Center.
That means iOS parental controls can protect only a third or half the number of devices in a family, assuming those are Apple devices. Any parent taking away a screen from a highly engaged child or teenager knows the first reaction is to find another screen that serves the purpose. Apple's iOS 12 Screen Time is a standalone feature that works only on iOS devices and surprisingly not even the Mac. Not to mention the fact that 1 in 5 families is hyper-connected with 10 or more devices. How does setting up parental controls on just a couple of devices make sense in such families?
2. Doesn't Work on Shared Devices
iOS 12 parental controls and screen time assume there is only one user per device. Unlike the iPhone, which is typically a single user device, iPads are often shared by family members. Nearly 40% of children 0- to 8- years-old use a shared tablet at home.
Setting up screen time and Internet limits on such a device for one child means constantly over-riding the settings or modifying them through the day when it is shared. Geoffrey Fowler, Technology Columnist for the Washington Post, after reviewing the new iOS 12 parental controls, concludes that it makes parenting more difficult, not less. He writes,
"I was surprised how difficult Apple’s parental software was to use. Even discounting for beta-software bugs Apple will hopefully squash, Screen Time is one of Apple’s weakest software launches in years. Apple treats parents like IT administrators for their kids, saddled with a zillion choices to make and knobs to adjust."
3. Rudimentary Internet Filtering
The Internet Filtering and controls on iOS are very basic, protect only the Safari browser and not Chrome or other apps with built-in browsers, and offer only two choices:
Restrict adult websites, relying on categorization known only to Apple
Restrict specific websites identified by the parent
This may work well for children 0-2 years old, arguably. Even if you're a parent with plenty of time on your hands, adding websites manually to allow them one-by-one is nothing short of a nightmare. There are 2 billion websites on the Internet and 200 million active ones!
As the developer of the most comprehensive Internet Filter in existence today, Mobicip knows a thing or two about this problem. Content on the Internet is evolving and proliferating at an alarming rate. Expecting a parent to keep track of and add to the list ridiculous. Apple, by declaring this on its new Families page, in a nod to third-party parental control software like Mobicip, tacitly acknowledges this deficiency:
"You can also install special web browsers that are designed to display kid-friendly content and nothing else."