Hot on the heels of an open letter from investors urging Apple to do more to protect children from smartphone addiction, the tech giant has recently dedicated a page on their website to families. The “Families” page, which can be accessed at apple.com/families, contains tools parents can use to set restrictions on devices accessible to their kids, manage in-app purchases, keep track of their child’s location, and help keep kids and teens safe on the Internet.
“Families” is essentially a curated web page that parents can treat as a one-stop hub for easy access to helpful links on sharing accounts, healthy habits, and Apple features created to protect children. This section may be useful for first-time Apple product users or for avid fans who want a refresher of what the company has to offer for families. For example, the page includes information on the App Store’s Kids section, where selected, age-appropriate apps can be accessed, bought, and downloaded.
Privacy and security factor highly into the content offered on the page. Parents are reminded of the “Ask to Buy” feature, where they can approve or decline app purchases and/or downloads from their kids. Features designed to protect data, such as Touch ID and Face ID, and options to control privacy settings on kids’ devices are displayed. Directions on safe surfing include changing settings to block adult content or installing kid-specific browsers.
The Families page attempts to address the concerns of investors echoed in the open letter, which was published in January of this year. It states that “there is a clear need for Apple to offer parents more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner. By doing so, we believe Apple would once again be playing a pioneering role, this time by setting an example about the obligations of technology companies to their youngest customers.”
But while the Families page draws attention to Apple’s kid- and family-friendly tools, there’s not much there to address the specific concerns on mobile phone addiction and the negative consequences of too much screen time. Shareholders requested that Apple convene an expert panel and frame their future tech developments around research outlining best practices for young people’s usage of mobile phones. They also asked for enhancements to software that could modify settings based on the user’s age, “limiting screen time, restricting use to certain hours, reducing the available number of social media sites, and setting up parental monitoring.”
Granted, the letter was only published two months ago, and changes in software development often take quite a bit of time—especially if those changes are implemented using research. So how can a company that makes smartphones develop tech to help kids use their smartphones less? One answer might be by helping to build awareness of the need for balance: educating consumers about how kids can best use the phone while it’s in their hands and, frankly, in encouraging kids to put the dang thing down every once in a while (though that responsibility rests more with the parents than Apple).
In this age of constant digital connection, parents need all the help they can get to manage the phone and Internet usage of their kids. Apple’s Families page is a good first step in achieving better insight into best practices for smartphone usage for kids. But it shouldn’t be the last. Studies show that kids under the age of 9 are spending more than two hours in front of screens (which includes the television) each day. 50 percent of American teens feel they are addicted to their smartphones—in fact, there’s a growing trend of smartphone addiction among all American cell phone users.
Perhaps the biggest help kids and teens can get is from the adults around them who model the behaviors and mindfulness they should be imbibing. It is essential that, along with taking advantage of parental settings and features offered by companies like Apple, parents set rules that are not just meant for children, but for them as well. Below are some examples:
- Set time limits for using tablets or smartphones. Don’t just sit your kids in front of a device for hours at a time. The same goes for you—put the phone down if you’ve been holding it for more than, say, 30 minutes.
- Create no phone zones. For example, the dinner table can be one place where phones or other devices are never allowed.
- Avoid bringing mobile devices to bed.
- Use actual alarm clocks, not your phones, to wake you up in the morning.
- Disable Internet surfing on the phone altogether. Or buy a flip phone for your child instead of a smartphone so you can stay in touch when necessary.
To the kids using smartphones: Recognize that this is a powerful device with the capability to shape your worldview and experiences in ways you can hardly imagine. It can be a tool for positive change or it can warp your mind. Make a conscious choice to step away from the phone from time to time. And maybe don’t roll your eyes at your parents when they make you put it away.