On Monday, Apple announced the rollout of an app that will help parents monitor how much time their kids are spending using certain apps on their iPhones and iPads. It’s called Screen Time, and it’s definitely attuned to the growing concern among parents that spending too much time on mobile devices could have a negative effect both on their kids and themselves.
Designed to help parents oversee their children’s tablet use (or abuse), Screen Time will allow parents to log minutes and set hard limits on certain apps and websites. It also includes a setting designed to move kids off their devices around bedtime. Apple plans to release the new feature as part of their next mobile operating system iOS 12 later this year.
“All of these things [apps, mobile devices, etc] are great conveniences of life,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told NPR. “They change your daily life in a great way. But if you’re being bombarded by notifications all day long, that’s probably a use of the system that might not be so good anymore.”
Though Apple first introduced the concept of parental controls to the iPhone in 2008, they seem more committed today to the issue of helping families control how they use their mobile devices. The company also launched the “Families” section of their webpage earlier this year with the express hope that parents will use it to better understand what their options are in terms of parental control.
It’s well documented that too much screen time can have an adverse effect on everything from intimate partner relationships to self-esteem. Many of these effects have become even more pronounced the younger that the users are. Beyond the fact that screens can become almost as addictive as smoking cigarettes, some research suggests that the excess use of social media that comes with increased screen time can put kids at “significant emotional risk,” largely because it encourages them to overly fixate on maintaining a public image earlier in life.
Apple is far from the first company to try and develop an app that helps parents monitor their children’s screen time and device usage. The app Eturi is pretty well rated in the iTunes Store. In addition to allowing parents to set up screen time allowance, it comes with GPS location services so they can also track their child’s device (and, presumably, their child). Verizon also offers an app called Verizon Smart Family, which much like Screen Time is meant to help parents ensure that their kids are using their devices safely.