As cell phone forensic analysts, we spend a ton of time on other people’s cell phones and we also spend a lot of time on our personal cell phones. Writing this blog, we are learning a lot about different parental controls and how smartphones can protect your kids but we wanted to take it a step further. We decided to put parental control locks and app limits on our smartphones and here’s what we learned.
Setting The Controls and Limits
We started this experiment off using an Apple iPhone Xs Max. We went into the Settings, Screen Time, and went into App Limits. Immediately, it asked us to Enter Screen Time Passcode which will be a repeat step to do in this experiment. After putting in the passcode, it allowed us to pick a category to limit.
The categories included:
Social Networking, Games, Entertainment, Creativity, Productivity, Education, Reading and Reference, Health & Fitness, and Other
To start, we put a 3o minute time limit for Social Networking. A notification would appear five minutes before the time is reached and we also blocked the app at the end of the time limit. By putting on a time limit on social media, we would only be able to use those apps for 3o minutes a day.
We also changed our Content & Privacy Restrictions and only allowed PG and G movies, Clean Music, Podcasts, News, Books, and the only apps that were allowed to be downloaded are 4+, 9+, and 12+. There was also an option to block all adult websites and only allow approved websites of your choice.
Putting Controls Into Action
Once the controls are in place, it started immediately. Netflix only showed approved shows, crime show podcasts that were downloaded were almost non-existent, autobiography books were also not there, and Safari was almost extremely limited. The iPhone being used looked and worked completely different than it had before the parental controls were set in place.
Not even halfway through the day, we got an alert that we only had 5 minutes remaining for Social Networking. This came as a shock because the 30 minutes felt like nothing. Mindless scrolling while taking breaks at work added up very quickly. We assumed that 30 minutes was a fair enough time but as adults, we hit the limit fast.
Once the limit was hit, we did have the option to ask for 15 more minutes from our parent phone. This ensured that if the child wanted to use their social media longer than 30 minutes, the parents would be notified and could approve or disapprove. To hold truth to our experiment, we did not ask for further time unless it was work related.
Every day, we learned to ration out our social media times to when we really wanted to use it. It took a few days to remember to put down the phone to save the scrolling for later in the day when it could have our full attention. But every day, we hit the 30 minute mark and felt the full effect of the parental controlled screen time lock.
Apps would also lock themselves down and a small timer would appear next to the app’s name signaling you reached the limit.
Not only did it call to attention that we spent too much time on social media, we also relied on it for everything. Mostly for entertainment purposes but still relied heavily upon. We saw that we were reaching for our phones whenever we had downtime, were bored, or needed an answer to something. It didn’t take long to realize we were addicted to our smartphones.
What We Learned
After 7 days, we collected the data and saw that we cut our screen time by more than half. Every day we were down on our app usuage, our pickups, and at least an hour and half below average overall. We also learned that the parental controls did exactly what we set them up to do: blocking adult and unwanted content and cutting down on cell phone use.
It was extremely difficult the first few days to not reach for the cell phone but once we starting rationing out the 30 minutes, it did get easier. We also concluded that putting the parental controls on before your child even used their first smartphone is key. If you give your child free reign of their phones, they will abuse it just as we abuse it.
Cell phone addiction is a real thing and has negative side effects. We rely on our cell phones for everything and social media seems to be the biggest factor for millennials and Gen X kids. The only way to combat cell phone addiction is to control it before it becomes an addiction. Talk to your kids about cell phone use and show them exactly what their time limit is for each day. Agree on the time limit as well and maybe add more time on weekends or when they deserve it. If you give your child free range on technology, they are more likely to abuse it.
Another idea is to put the parental controls on your own smartphone and see how you rank against your kids. It might be more challenging than you think.