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Apple Families: Is it enough?

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I recently sat down for lunch to catch up with an old friend. She is currently a preschool teacher, and a mother of two girls, 8 and 6 respectively. While discussing the open letter that was released to Apple earlier this year (regarding the use of electronic devices by young children and the potential for addiction, as well as other issues), my friend felt compelled to share one of her early experiences with children and electronics. The year was 2011, and she had an almost two-year-old daughter at the time. She was expecting her younger child, and spent a lot of time on bed rest. Acknowledging the difficulty of keeping up with a two-year-old while being 8 months pregnant and on bed rest, her husband did something very sweet, her purchased her one of the first iPads. It quickly became her saving grace. One day she dozed while her sweet child watched Dora the Explorer videos on YouTube next to her, and she awoke to her daughter screaming and crying hysterically. YouTubes recommended videos had taken her innocent child from regular Dora videos, to user created videos that showed Dora with an assault rifle going after her animal friends. Thankfully, parental controls have come a long way since then.

But are they enough? The open letter that was referenced was written earlier this year, by Jana Partner’s LLC and The California State Teacher’s Retirement System, large shareholders for Apple computers. They are asking Apple to take steps to improve the parental controls in place that limit screen time for younger users to appropriate levels. They are requesting an expert committee, annual reports, research, as well as new tools for parents, and education for parents explaining why these new tools are necessary. If you read the whole report, they also cite research studies that explain the impact on the mental health of teens and younger children that are frequent device users. Overall, these reports are negative, and provide sound rational for taking steps to protect teens and young children.

Apple responded today, March 15th, by publishing a Families page on their website. Unfortunately, this page doesn’t really respond to the problem. In fact, there are no new tools on the website for parents to use. Instead, it simply lists tools already available in settings. Apple believes these tools to be sufficient for controlling a child’s access to certain types of content, though they have promised to deliver stronger parental controls in the near future. (Here’s looking at the 2018 summit!) Unfortunately, Apple also doesn’t allow developers full access to the operating system, so an app can’t even be created (at this time) that provides the necessary parental controls. This is in contrast to Samsung devices, which (though they don’t have as many safety settings as Apple devices) make it easier for developers to create apps, leaving a large number of apps on the market for parents who wish to have a little more oversight over their child’s device.

Here’s what it boils down to, there is no one company, phone, or piece of software that is going to keep our children safe. It’s the job of the parents, guardians, and other trusted adults in a child’s life to ensure that they are making responsible decisions regarding internet and device usage. While in an ideal world we wouldn’t have to worry, we don’t live in an ideal world. So, no, current parental controls are not enough, relationships and communication are necessary to keep our kids safe. With that said, Apple is known for it’s social responsibility and it’s innovative technology, so I look forward to seeing what tools they provide adults for keeping the next generation safe and happy.

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