Two prominent investors reached out to Apple on Saturday and asked the technology giant to develop better tools and controls for curbing the ill effects of screen time on children. Recent research on the iGeneration shows a worrisome trend in the incidence of mental health diagnosis. Couple this with child and adolescent psychologists noting parallels between the use of various smart devices and an actual addiction concern has increased regarding our attachment to both a continuous flow of information and the devices that provide us with it.
Apple defended is safety track record noting that they started putting parental control features on their devices as long ago as 2008. Sure enough, a simple search of my own phone displayed dozens of apps to remotely monitor and control your child’s social media, their total phone time, their gaming activity and other features of how they interact with their digital devices.
While managing a child’s behavior is the function of parents, there a two major stumbling blocks when it comes to smartphones and other devices. First, app development is a never ending cycle of new toys available to users. It is almost as if the potential dangers of one app become apparent and another one is already the newest rage. All of the social media platforms have had issues with child predators using their platforms to groom or exploit children and teens. The digital world can be a scary one for parents looking to keep children safe.
Additionally, the dangers to children are not just functional in terms of content and social media. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests the intense light from displays can affect the functioning of neurotransmitters in the brain that govern attention and hormones that govern our sleep/wake cycles.
Ultimately, Apple and the other tech companies have an obligation to study and understand the effects of their products on the physiology of the brain and other body systems. If for no other reason, they should engage in this research to eliminate risks to users in their products. Elimination of risk should be a goal for any successful business and given some of the concerns being raised, it would seem that this would be something the companies should want to do.
However, at least on the Apple front, it is also up to parents to use the tools provided to manage their child’s interaction with smartphones IF they decide to let a child have one. If you believe screen time is a potential problem, limit it using a parental control app. If you allow your child to use social media, set parameters, insist on having the login information to their accounts and check them regularly. Also control the download of new apps with a parental control tool so you know what your child is using.
This is not “spying”. It is keeping your child safe in the digital world in the same manner you would in the physical world. Smartphones are not going away. I am not sure how much longer so called “dumb phones” will even be available. It is up to companies to reduce the risk of potential harm in the design of their products and parents to manage the downside problems that may come with the use of the product and the digital world it creates.