Parentblocked is a smartphone app that locks the phone when it’s traveling at speeds higher than 10 mph. This, believe its makers, will stop teens (or anyone) from texting while driving.
Once the app is installed, parents can remote control their kids’ phones from their own phones. Restrictions include shutting it off while driving, scheduling (shutting the phone of at preset times) and a restriction called “grounded,” which lets the parent kill the phone from afar, whenever they like. In most cases, calls are still allowed to the emergency services and to pre-selected numbers.
Here’s a list, copied from the Parentblocked site, of suggested times you might want to stop your kid using her phone:
- Family outings.
- During dinner with family and friends at home or a restaurant.
- Special occasions.
- Watching a movie with family weather in or out at a theater.
- Any time you want your children to unplug and bring family back with the touch of a button.
The service works by talking to the child’s phone constantly over the Internet. This leads to enough battery drain that the Parentblocked FAQ has a section dedicated to such handy battery-stretching tips as “Turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth” and “Turn on Airplane Mode while charging.” The Safe Driving option, switched on by default, requires constant access to GPS in order to compute when the device is traveling over 10 mph. Keeping GPS on is just about the quickest way to drain a smartphone battery.
The app is password protected on the “child phone,” and the parent will receive a message if the kid tries to uninstall it. However, the app requires a constant Internet connection to work, so cutting the connection will cut the Parentblock tether, too. If the kid still uses SMS to communicate, that’ll be unaffected by the lack of an Internet connection.
And of course, a motivated teenager will never find a way around these restrictions, by buying a second phone for example.
Unfettered smartphone use by young kids might not be a good idea, but offloading responsibility for this onto a third-party service is potentially worse. Imagine what your child thinks of your relationship when you spend $2 per month to force “your children to unplug and bring family back with the touch of a button.”
One 2014 study shows that this kind of control is worse than none at all. In the U.K., parental controls are available at the ISP level. The study, from the Oxford Internet Institute, concluded that “Supportive and enabling parenting has a more positive impact than restricting or monitoring Internet use.”
The answer, as ever, is better parenting. Technological shortcuts are at best a way to ignore the problem, but at worst they have the opposite effect than the one hoped for.