Parents just don't understand
June 29, 2018 1:39 PM   Subscribe

I want to finally give my deprived and highly distractable teen a smartphone. How do I lock it down for most of the day?

For iPhone or Android (although I am pretty sure this not possible on iPhone):

My goal is she has total access to the phone - apps, internet, etc, for a limited number of hours a day (for example, 2 hours a day on school days). But outside of those limited hours, she can only access phone calling and texts. (Camera access is also fine.) Is this possible? What app or setting would I need to achieve this?
posted by latkes to Technology (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This feature actually is available on the iPhone, provided it's running the beta version of iOS 12. The Screen Time feature allows parents to monitor their childrens' usage of the phone and block access to selected apps outside of a certain time frame. You can read more about it at this link.

iOS 11 (the current edition) has Parental Controls, which will accomplish pretty much the same thing. Details can be found here at this link.
posted by Roger Pittman at 1:49 PM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

My 21 year old son has severe ADHD and actually asked for his sister's old iPhone specifically because the parental controls are so much better on iOS than Android. He wanted to lock his phone down for specific times each day and couldn't get the functionality he wanted from his Android phone.
posted by cooker girl at 2:09 PM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hmm, I spent a lot of time looking over my parental controls options a few months ago and it seemed unworkable: didn't block all apps, rearranged the whole screen when it was parental controls turned back off (not that big a deal but annoying). I'll take another look and I guess look into installing iOS 12 if it works with the iphone 5 we have sitting around - not keen to buy the latest phone.
posted by latkes at 2:11 PM on June 29, 2018

IOS 12 is compatible with all iPhone models from the 5S on up.
posted by Roger Pittman at 2:14 PM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hmmm, speaking as the father of a teen myself, I think you'd be better off trying to foster some intrinsic motivation and getting them to self-regulate.

Depending on their age, locking down a teen's smartphone will likely cause conflict and resentment -- teens are moving towards autonomy. But they also appreciate well-defined and rules that are consistent.

I'm not going to lie: I'm not always comfortable with how Extremely Online my son is. But, on the other hand, being online is how kids communicate these days. In the mid- to late-eighties when I was a teen, I spent hours and hours and hours on the telephone. When I wasn't on the phone I was watching television. When I wasn't watching television I was playing NES.

In the early days, though, we set limits -- no screens in the bedroom, for example. But after a while it was hard to enforce because all of my son's friends were talking online in the evening, and he was missing out.

We try to encourage him to self-regulate (hey, maybe take a break), but, TBH, we're both terrible role models as parents, as we're also glued to our phones and computers (I work online for a living in the home).

At times I would get really frustrated that our son would not come down to dinner on time and I'd just cut off the WiFi (our home WiFi allows us to limit access by device), but it's a really draconian, authoritarian approach that in no way reinforces a trusting relationship, so I just quit doing that (I also learned that leaving a game of Rocket League early causes some real problems for my son).

Friends of ours, though, have much more success with their kids in terms of limiting screen time. Elder daughter is 15 and no personal device. Screen time is limited to a couple of hours a day. The rules are enforced. They do not rely on technology (e.g., parental controls) to enforce the rules.

My son does regard the daughter's situation as extreme (they're classmates), since it means she can be left out of socializing online.

Another exceedingly irritating thing is that their school has WiFi with surprisingly little filtering (Reddit and YouTube are allowed), and there is no attempt by the school district to teach about self-regulation. As parents trying to teach balance the school district policy about WiFi access really undercut our efforts.

Anyway, there's a range of approaches. However my advice is to not rely on a technological solution. Instead, try to encourage self-regulation and model "good" behaviour yourself.
posted by JamesBay at 2:45 PM on June 29, 2018 [9 favorites]

Android + text and phone only plan + WiFi + time controls at the router level. This works for me/us because my kiddo's not spending gobs of time in other Wi-Fi spots. YMMV (as may mine) with a kid who's spending significant times at other houses, workplaces, cafes, etc.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:04 PM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, she had access to a phone with wifi access only but there are a ton of web based games she found that she can play from some kind of cache or something - don't need constant internet access once she's on the page. So we actually walked back that solution and I'm trying to find something that gives her both more freedom when it's a good time to be online and less opportunity to "cheat".

Re: intrinsic motivation: I hear where you're coming from, but I have a different approach. FWIW, my daughter is in agreement with the plan - we came up with it together. I am a pretty anti-screen person, but she is also self aware about having little impulse control and high distractibility and doesn't want to spend all day online either. So this is something we feel will work in our family.
posted by latkes at 3:20 PM on June 29, 2018 [7 favorites]

I use an app called ‘screen time’ which allows me to block apps, give a time limit on other apps, and make certain apps unlimited. It also notifies me when a new app is installed and is flexible about changing time limits.
posted by bq at 3:27 PM on June 29, 2018

The 4sters use OurPact. It works well because we can allow or block specific apps on the kid's phone from our phones. It is nice.
posted by 4ster at 5:46 PM on June 29, 2018

iOS 12 supports phones going back to the 5s (but not the 5 or 5c). If your phone's already running iOS 11, then it'll run 12 and, according to the press releases (FWIW), run faster overall.

I'm running the iOS 12 beta on an iPad mini, and the Screen Time feature offers pretty granular control without a lot of configuration headaches. You can schedule daily downtime, where only certain apps (camera, phone, etc.) can be used and also set which apps are available at all time. You can limit the amount of time spent on any and all apps (so Facebook gets 1 hour but Angry Birds gets 2), set content & privacy restrictions, and lock it all down with a passcode to make changes.

It also provides pretty detailed reports on usage including amount of time spent in each app and how many times the device was picked up per day.

The official release won't be until the fall, but the public beta is open now, and it's pretty easy to install. I've run several public betas from Apple and had very few problems with them, but it *is* beta software, so set expectations as appropriate.

You can find instructions on installing the public beta here.
posted by malthusan at 9:04 PM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I use Thrive for Android (a special version for Samsung also exists in the Samsung store).

You could theoretically set it up on your kid's phone and then hide the app (or lock it under a password) so that they can't open it.

The cool thing about it is if you let them use the phone before locking it down, it will track exactly how many minutes were spent in each app over the course of the day so you would have an idea of how much restriction was needed.
posted by dobbs at 3:19 PM on September 18, 2018

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