I’ve warned before about the new parental controls in iOS 13 and some of its challenges. As iOS continues to evolve so do the parental controls. While internet content filtering and accountability is still missing Apple has continued to improve parental controls and made tremendous strides around communications and contacts. To be clear, I use an iPhone and so do my wife and kids. We also seem to have an abundance of iPads, Airpods, and Apple Watches.
The parental controls now available in iOS 13 are primarily to help mange screen time and screen addiction issues. These controls can be leveraged to apply some restrictions and track usage as parental controls. iOS 13.3 introduced more granular communication controls. Prior to iOS 13.3 you could enable or disable most communication tools but that was it. Messaging and texting were all or nothing implementations. iOS 13.3 allows you to control FaceTime, Messaging, Phone, and Contacts.
One of the weaknesses prior to iOS 13.3 was that you could disable FaceTime, for example, and your child would not be able to call out but if someone called your child, they would be able to answer. This loophole was quickly discovered by FaceTiming children. iOS 13.3 closed that workaround. Now you can not only control time, but you can also control contacts.
This level of control permits you to allow your children to communicate with some, like family members, all the time while limiting when they can contact their friends. You can even remotely add and remove contacts from your child’s device. The caveat is it requires your child’s contacts to all be in iCloud. I’ve found this to work well, although we did have to logout and log back into iCloud on one of the children’s devices to get everything working properly.
Communication management is a great step forward for the parental controls on iOS devices. Apple’s desire to help with screen time management and empowering parents to provide controls so they can teach their kids responsible device usage is admirable and the fact that it is built into the software and iCloud without requiring a lot of thirty party add-ons makes it easy.
The one feature missing is internet content filtering and accountability. While you can control content ratings for content consumed via Apple products and services, like iTunes, you cannot do the same for the internet in general. Currently your only web browser option on the device is to turn it off or on. While you can use network-based internet filters, such as those from your Internet Service Provider, or using a product like The Circle, it would be more convenient to have that built into iOS.
Parental controls, no matter how good they are, still require parental involvement. Use the tools available but remember: tools without teaching are hollow and won’t equip young people to become Godly online citizens.
Jonathan Smith is an author, conference speaker, and the Director of Technology at Faith Ministries in Lafayette, IN. You can reach Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @JonathanESmith.