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Looking for a Guide to Parental Controls?

Screen time is becoming more and more of a family issue and many tech companies are attempting to help parents by providing tools such as Apple’s Screen Time, Disney’s Circle and Amazon’s Freetime. How do you make sense of all the different options out there and figure out which one will fit your needs? National Public Radio recently released a great starting point called A Guide To Parental Controls For Kids' Tech Use that asks you questions that help you zero in on the help you may be needing.

New Apps Help Kids Unplug From Phones

New mobile applications from Apple and Google allow consumers and parents to limit how long their children use apps, including Netflix and social media. The Apple’s Screen Time app, for example, can restrict access to some apps and websites. From Google, an app called Family Link allows parents to see how often kids use certain apps, approve or block app downloads, set screen time limits, and even lock devices remotely.

Dumb Phone Versus Smart Phone

There is a resurgence of interest in "dumb" phones as many are believing that smartphones are causing both kids and adults to miss out on aspects of family life. From pared-down flip phones that offer a limited array of apps and services to truly basic (but stylish) new devices that allow only calling, texting and a few other basic functions, consumers have options if they want to take a break from smartphones. One such phone is the Light Phone, a stripped down cell phone that offers calling, texting, an alarm clock and driving directions. Look for other phones on the horizon. Also asking your kids what they think about a pared down phone can start a conversation about phubbing and being addicted to a smartphone.

Smartphones and This Generation

An article by Jean M. Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” summarizes many parents’ worries about allowing their children to have and use smart devices, and whether or not it is true that smartphones are making kids depressed. The truth is that we really don’t know, and there is not much research on the possible causes for why this generation seems to be more depressed – and more likely to self report their depression – than past generations.


In the end, it is all about mentoring. Parents – and other important people in kids’ lives– need to model thoughtful relationships with digital devices and recognize their actions set the path kids may follow. That means no distracted conversations with your child while you are texting or checking Instagram. That means no reading of derogatory tweets out loud to significant others even if you think the author is right on target. And no smartphones at the dinner table or long chats while you are supposed to be watching a kid’s sporting event or rehearsal. It is also very important to set clear boundaries for using devices and most importantly, stick to them even if it isn’t convenient for you as a parent. It also means teaching kids to use technology to make a positive difference in the world, rather than for navel-gazing, self-promotion or obsessing about other people.

Universal Depression Screening Recommended for Adolescents

There is a lot of blame put on technology for the increase in teen bullying and isolation.

Is FOMO the Real Cause of Teens’ Smartphone Addictions?

In a recent interview on CNBC, Ana Homayoun, the author of Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World explains that social media companies “create this system where you always want to be online. And it can create this fear of missing out (FOMO) if we're not online.” But Homayoun argues there are some ways parents can curb addictive behavior including introducing access to mobile communication incrementally by starting kids off with a flip phone instead of just giving them a hand me down smartphone and establishing times and days when the phone is off-limits (especially at night). She also recommends not letting kids use the phone as an alarm clock because that only leads to it being in their room at night unsupervised and using apps like Circle or OurPact to monitor their usage.

Is Tech Addiction a Real Thing?

Are we truly addicted to technology? No matter what side of the debate you (and your kids) come out on, you have to admit that something is going on because no matter where you are, and what you are doing, you see people staring at their phones or other digital devices. Many people are seriously studying the tech addiction issue and say that we aren’t quite ready to admit that the addiction is real. They believe, instead, we need to be focusing on finding solutions rather than defining the addiction.

One of their ideas is to think of our attraction to technology as a habit rather than an addiction. Habits certainly are easier to change then addictions.  An example is labeling a teen, who is in the process of forming their own identity, as an addict can create a long term outlook, issues and excuses that are hard to overcome. Perhaps the question instead should be about “how can people, especially young people, forge healthier relationships with technology while continuing to use it every day?” Obviously you don’t need a formal diagnosis to work on putting your device down more often, or to encourage your kids to do so as well.

Apple Vows New Parental Controls Amid Child Phone Addiction Fears

Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, which together own a $2 billion stake in Apple, asked the company in an open letter, recently, to address the issue of phone addiction among children. Among other things the letter asks Apple to create an option for phones to be set to an interface according to their age group which would include options for limiting screen time, restricting use to certain hours, reducing the available number of social media sites, and setting up parental monitoring.


In response, Apple has stated that it has plans to create new software features that will make the parental controls – many of which already exist on the iPhone – more easy to use with more choices. The current Settings app on every iPhone has a parental control section that allows adults to restrict website access, control in-app purchases, and install or delete apps, among other things. Of course, in the end, common sense about what is and isn’t too much use of digital devices for your own children is the best course of action, still it will be interesting to see how Apple handles this question about it’s role as a company in the issue of phone addiction.

Brain Changes Found in Teens with Fixated with Smartphones

Teens overly attached to their smartphones show higher levels of a neurotransmitter that slows down brain signals, South Korean researchers reported at the recent meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. The research linked the impact on the brain signals to increased levels of addiction, anxiety and depression, one radiology professor said.

So Where Did Your Time Go?

Numerous surveys have shown that kids think it is adults who are more addicted to their phones and other digital technology and they may be right. American adults will invest an average of 12 hours and 1 minute every day consuming major media this year. According to eMarketer reports, almost half of that daily consumption will be with digital media, nearly four hours with television and nearly an hour and a half with radio, while mobile multitasking is the primary driver of increased media consumption.

New Study Released on the Effect of Digital Media on Teen-Parent Relationships

Many teens and their parents agree that digital devices are a source of concern, anxiety and conflict, according to a new study from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The study, “The New Normal: Parents, Teens and Digital Devices,” is based on a on a comprehensive survey of 1,200 teens and parents. Conducted in April, it is the first such study of teens and families in Japan, where 90 percent of parents and teens own a smartphone, and the first to compare those insights to existing U.S. data from Common Sense Media on digital media use among families in North America. The study found that most parents of children ages 13-18 felt their teens were addicted to mobile devices, and many parents felt addicted themselves. In both countries, one in three teens thought their parents were addicted to their mobile devices.

In addition, American teens and parents feel that digital devices a greater source of conflict among teens and parents than do those in Japan; in fact, one in three U.S. families reported having an argument every day. More teens in the U.S. also felt that mobile device use has hurt their relationship with their parents, while in Japan, more parents felt their family relationships have been hurt by mobile device use.

Brain Chemistry and Smartphone Addiction

According to a study of college students, chemicals in the brain associated with anxiety may be contributing to the increasing amount of time individuals spend on social media. Researchers looked at how often college students check their smartphones, and found that feelings of anxiety emerge from chemicals that are released the longer they go without checking in on social media. Notifications popping up on the screen when messages arrive, and even the small numbers next to an app on the screen, also drive anxiety.

Ways to Stop Your Technology Addiction

We are living in a time when adults spend an average of three hours a day on their phones, the average work email gets read in six seconds, and forty-six percent of people would prefer to have a broken bone than a broken phone. We are living in a world with technology addiction. A new book by Adam Alter entitled Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked shares ways to survive in the age of behavioral addiction.

One of the things Atler suggests is to think about proximity. If you don’t need your phone by your side, put it somewhere you cannot easily reach it. He also advises to turn off some non-essential notifications. Another tip is to bury those apps that are the most addictive for you to the last screen page. All of these actions can help you control your phone, not the other way around. Interested in more? Take a look at this article on the Time web site.

Is Your Phone Slowing Down Your Brain?

Just by having your smartphone next to you without even using it could slow down your brain, a recent study suggests. Researchers at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin conducted a study on nearly 800 people, looking at how they performed tasks when their devices were within hands reach. The scientists found that the mere presence of your smartphone, even if it is off, can reduce brainpower. The study could give some insight on why we cannot concentrate at work or school while our smartphones are laying in front of us at our desks, and may urge parents to make sure their children and teens put their phones out of sight when they are working on homework or other projects.

Age and Wealth Factor into Technology Addiction

Teenagers and those from higher-income households may be more likely to become addicted to technology, according to an online survey given in 17 countries. About 44% of the 15 to 19 year olds who participated and 39% of people living in high income households said they struggle to take breaks from technology, but other age groups and income levels were not far behind. While only a professional can diagnosis an internet addiction, this online screening tool can help you find out if you have an unhealthy relationship with the internet.

Is the Internet Like a Drug?

A study by researchers at Swansea University and Milan University find that symptoms of Internet withdrawal -- increased anxiety, blood pressure and heart rate -- are close to what drug addicts experience. Participants in the study, ages 18 to 33, were self-confessed Internet addicts who reported spending an average of five hours a day online.

Helping Kids Develop Healthy Tech Habits

Technology has enormous benefits but can be addictive, authors Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz write in a blog post. In this piece, they share the science behind technology use and offer tips for helping children develop a healthy relationship with technology. They also share the latest research on physical health and screen time including the physical effects of too much screen time for children and adults including dry eyes, retinal damage, neck and shoulder soreness, and slouching. There is also now research that connects too much screen time for children to diabetes in adults.  In addition, the authors look at the addiction of the instant feedback offered by digital devices and what it does to the brain.

Irresistible: Addictive Technology Explored

Curious about why everyone around you (perhaps including you) is seemingly addicted to technology? A new book entitled Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked may be able to give you some insights, including how tech companies are devoted to keeping the addiction alive, and how we need to address the issue before it literally consumes us. Many are calling this book a must read for parents in the Digital Age.

Is Technology Like a Drug?

Recent research shows fewer teenagers are using illicit drugs and alcohol, and Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, suspects that this trend directly correlates to the rise of digital devices. Volkow's upcoming research study will consider the possible role interactive media such as smartphones and computers play in the trend. Dr. Volkow describes interactive media as “an alternative reinforcer” to drugs, adding that “teens can get literally high when playing these games.”

Sleepy Kids? Were They Checking Social Media in the Middle of the Night?

Students who come to school sleepy may be tired because they wake up during the night to check social media, according to a recent study by British researchers which looked at data for more than 900 young people between ages 12 and 15. Data shows 1 in 5 students reported waking up to check social media. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that teens get between 8 and 10 hours of sleep per night. Making sure that a regular sleep pattern is kept is extremely important so that teens can maintain their internal clock and function optimally.