I can almost see the evening news segment now: “Do you know what your child is doing with their smartphone?” Open on children using tablets in public, playing game after game of “Candy Crush,” and — most frightening of all — refusing to tell their parents what they’re doing with their smartphones. End with the narrator warning against the rise of “sexting apps” as the camera settles on the Snapchat icon. Fade to black.
Reality might not be as dramatic as all that, but parents are worried about how their children are using their smartphones, according to a new study commissioned and published by Zact, a telecoms startup. A whopping 73 percent of parents surveyed said that they are concerned about “the lack of parental control of a child’s activities on mobile devices,” the amount of time their child might spend texting or gaming on their smartphone, and other issues. (Zact, naturally, purports to solve some of those problems.)
Some parents worry about how their child’s safety might be affected by an always-connected, difficult-to-control device that’s always within arm’s reach. Others have wondered at how these devices might affect their child’s development, with both the Atlantic and the New York Times questioning how touchscreens might be twisting toddlers’ brains. “Are tablets screwing with kids’ heads?” is the new “Is Google making us stupid?” with a bit of added guilt for parents being the ones to hand over their smartphone or tablet, and let their kid interact with such technologies just so they’ll stop being a nuisance.
So, naturally, people are turning to other technologies to solve the possible problems associated with using a touchscreen. Zact promises to help parents control how often their kids are texting, set curfews, or block certain apps from being used. MetaCert recently released an iPad browser meant to block access to pornographic or otherwise questionable content across the Web. A growing number of companies are developing tools that disable smartphones while their owner is driving. In fact, the masses in general, and parents specifically, are turning to technology to solve their technological woes.
MetaCert CEO Paul Walsh told me in June that such solutions only go so far. “Instead of just blocking access to the website, what we should do is educate [children] about the good and the bad of the Internet without blocking the entire Web, and then just blocking access to hardcore material on Facebook,” he said. ”No technology should ever take the place of parental guidance.”
Solving technological problems with technology only goes so far. There isn’t an app that stops a parent from giving a toddler a tablet. No service promises to help parents hold off from purchasing a smartphone for a 12-year old. And there doesn’t seem to be a correlation between tablet and smartphone usage and developmental issues anyway, as both the Atlantic and the New York Times note.
In short, the effect of using these technologies are more dependent on what the devices are used for, not that they’re being used in the first place.