NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: kids and cell phones.

Remote learning during the pandemic has given children more access to internet-connected devices than ever before. Laptops, tablets, phones these are no longer luxury items. They’re vital to education, some say. 

And that makes it more difficult for parents to limit screen time and keep a tight rein on what their children do and see online.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Earlier this year, Apple exacerbated the problem when it updated the operating system for its popular iPhones and iPads. The new update gives users the ability to hide photos and apps. 

That was possible before but required third-party software. Now that it’s part of Apple’s native system, it’s much easier to do. And that has parents worried.

Joining us now to explain why is Jason Thacker. He’s head of research in technology ethics at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Good morning, Jason!

JASON THACKER, GUEST: Good morning. Thank you for having me. 

BROWN: Well, let’s start right there by explaining why this new set of features has parents so concerned.

THACKER: Yeah, with this new update to the iOS system, there are some concerning things that parents need to be aware of that you can actually hide apps or you can hide photos where it’s much more difficult to see what’s going on on these devices. And if parents don’t know about these types of features or know how things have moved around on these devices, it can be really concerning that maybe their teenager or even a younger child has downloaded an app that they’re not supposed to or shouldn’t be on and maybe spending extra time or taking photos that are inappropriate and sending those to friends. And so it’s one of those things that parents need to be aware of and be monitoring. This update makes it a little more difficult but not impossible to have healthy screen time habits in terms of technology use. 

BROWN: So, is it possible to disable this feature? If not, are there ways to easily see what’s hidden?

THACKER: As of right now it doesn’t look like there’s the ability to actually disable the feature, though, especially when it comes to applications, even though an application can be hidden from the home screen, you can actually continue swiping left to pull up what’s called the App Library. And this is a new feature there that shows every single app that’s on the phone in alphabetical order. You can also search the library. And very similar with the photos. Even though photos can be hidden, you can actually go into the settings and make sure that the hidden album is still turned on so you can actually go to the bottom of the photo app library and see this hidden album to make sure there aren’t inappropriate photos being taken or photos that could be explicit or something that that could put our children in danger. But also could compromise their online behavior and engagement with friends. 

BROWN: I think most parents realize there is some risk involved with allowing their children to have phones and tablet devices. What are the latest options to help parents monitor and control what their children do on these devices?

THACKER: Yeah, one of the things that I think parents can do is utilize even the parental controls that are often built right into these devices. It’s built into the system to be able to lock out certain apps or certain types of apps. I think having one of those family Apple ID accounts is also really helpful because that way you can see what is being downloaded through the App store through the Music store. And then there are also a plethora of third party services like Bark that help you to monitor your interactions on the phone and with content without having to comb through your child’s phone. But, I think, really, it’s going to have to start with open and honest dialogue and communication not only with our children but as parents about our usage of screen time and our uses of these devices to create kind of a healthy model environment within our families to be open, to be honest, and to be accountable to one another. 

BROWN: To be good models, yeah, that’s important. Of course, nothing provides 100 percent protection. How would you advise parents trying to navigate these technology challenges with their kids?

THACKER: Yeah, and there’s a host of helpful resources out. A number of tips and tricks. And some of them that I’ve found helpful at least in my family—and this may not be helpful for every family—is trying to keep screens out of bedrooms. That’s an area that my wife and I have said, look, our boys are not going to have a computer, they’re not going to have a TV, they’re not going to have tablets or devices in their bedrooms, which is a place of, often, privacy and also vulnerability. And so being able to keep those out of bedrooms. Having certain expectations of a family: curfews, expected behaviors, various expectations of the family—maybe having meals where you don’t have a device with you all the time, or a family drive where you don’t pull out an iPhone or iPad. And this isn’t just for our kids. We often think that we just need to shield them or keep them away from these things, but what we really need to do as parents is be thinking in kind of discipleship categories, thinking about how are we discipling not only them but even ourselves and having healthy habits with these technologies because we can’t really cut them off completely, but we can have age-appropriate limits and also expectations. And then it really all goes back to having those healthy conversations because you can block somebody and take a device away or block certain types of content, but if you don’t explain why and the purpose behind it, you really miss out on that aspect of moral formation, which is really important to us as Christians is teaching these discipling kind of behaviors of why we do these things and why this for our good and why this is helping them to grow up and to be healthy men and women.  

BROWN: What an important word you use: discipling. Yes, so good. Well, Jason Thacker is head of research in technology ethics at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Jason, as always, thank you. 

THACKER: Yeah, thank you. 


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