The hypocrisy of parental controls

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Sitting in a restaurant I notice a three year old kid being handed an iPad, as if the device were a pacifier meant to soothe infant meltdowns. I think to myself “What are we teaching our children?”  My superiority complex kicks in; I would never allow my kids to use an iPad at a restaurant. In fact, I have strict parental controls set up to limit their access and monitor their consumed content. I make sure most of their playtime is spent unplugged, gaining social skills. I know that screen time is bad and I urge them to play sports or read instead of being glued to their phones or computers. I’m a good parent.

I’m also a hypocrite.

I look at my phone, iPad, apple watch and computer countless times a day. I’m a VP at a Software development company, so its part of my job. What’s not part of my job, however, is checking social media and playing DragonVale every morning when I wake up. I complain about kids and teens interacting on their devices instead of in person, but I do the exact same thing. How can I be so diligent with my parental controls, when I can’t even control my own screen time?

Apple recently unveiled new parental controls for iOS devices at their Worldwide Developers Conference, ones that give parents major authority over their children’s phone usage. Apple – along with Google, Microsoft and Nintendo – has been on a decade long journey to monitor and limit our children’s technology habits. On the surface, it looks like an altruistic journey. I’m positive that executives at each of these companies have witnessed the dark side of phone usage. However, especially in the case of Apple, the desire for change is directly related to demand from shareholders, along with a societal pressure. This is a deserving cause, given that a number of troubling studies connects delayed cognitive development in kids with extended exposure to electronic media.

I have read many reports and it seems glaringly true that too much screen time has negative consequences for children. The presence of parental controls is definitely a saving grace for a child’s development. However, I think it’s also important to be a little more introspective when dealing with digital well being. Apparently Apple does too. Not only did the company unveil parental controls, they introduced personal boundaries. Apple’s new iOS update includes activity reports, app limits and new do not disturb notification controls designed to help all customers reduce interruptions and manage screen time. What I like about this is that it’s not necessarily just controlling children’s device usage, but our own as well.

According to dscout, The typical cell phone user touches his or her phone 2,617 times every day. Research also finds that the average user spends 2 hours 51 minutes on their phones and engaged in 76 phone sessions per day. That’s a whole lot of time spent on your phone. Is it worth it?

Earlier I mentioned DragonVale. It’s a breeding simulation game that allows you to collect different types of dragons. I have been playing for 555 days since they started counting and rewarding daily return visits. In all honesty, I have been playing every day for 6 years straight. If I am not number one on the planet, then I am definitely in the top ten. I have all of the available dragons, islands and collectibles. I play it so often that I caused the app to crash a year ago. I needed to wait for an update from Backflip Studios, the makers of DragonVale, before I was able to play again. What started out as an innocent pastime has morphed into a full fledged responsibility. I’m a slave to the game – feeding, breeding and tending to dragons day after day. I even find myself looking for internet when on holiday, where no internet should be available. I cannot let my dragons down.

dragonvale poster with the title "evolve and nurture your dragons!"

The dragonvale game in action
Dragonvale, the addictive breeding simulation game

My allegiance to the game brings me guilt, given the stern approach I take towards my kids and their games. It’s most definitely not worth the amount of time I spend on it, and neither are a lot of the other apps on my phone. The truth is, much of our device time is used on mindless activities that we’ve gained a feeling of dependency towards. Countless studies have concluded that our relationship with phones is anxiety inducing, controlling and a big waste of time. So, not only is too much screen time detrimental to children’s cognitive development, its horrible for an adult’s mental well being as well.

The first step of any recovery process is awareness and acknowledgement that a problem exists. We’re being empowered with all these tools, but at the end of the day it’s up to us to correct our feelings of addiction. The next time I’m browsing social media, checking out a pointless new app or playing DragonVale, I’ll remember all the times I’ve set up parental controls and told my kids to go outside or read a book. I think it’s finally time I take my own advice.

David Hobbs is the VP Operations and Co-Founder of Two Tall Totems. For more of David’s tech insights, check out his blog on Crypto Collectibles: The Non- Fungible Token Craze.