Apple Releases Significant Parental Control Improvements in iOS 16
This week, Apple is releasing iOS 16. This is consistent with their pattern of rolling out significant iPhone and iPad changes each fall.
For parents, this change includes the first significant improvements to the usability of their Screen Time parental controls since its 2018 release. By “usability,” we mean making set-up easier for parents who give their children an iPhone for the first time. It also includes a really handy checklist for parents who haven’t changed Screen Time settings for a while.
Historically, setting up Screen Time has been difficult for many parents and caregivers. It’s a complaint we hear about often from our followers. And we agree. Sometimes requiring over 30 steps to get it right.
Our belief has always been, “Why isn’t setting up parental controls the easiest thing to do on an iPhone?” If Apple takes seriously the protection of millions of young people using iPhones and iPads, then make it dead-simple.
The Apple Campaign of 2021
Last fall, in partnership with The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, child safety advocate Melissa McKay, and over 25 other advocacy groups, we wrote a letter to Apple’s executive team called: “10 Critical iOS Child Safety Fixes.” Our ideas came from parent feedback and included age-based defaults, iMessage controls, broaders use of AI nudity detection, and more.
It got the attention of Apple’s Global Trust and Safety Team and opened the door to meetings in the fall and winter (2021-2022). The letter also caught the attention of Senator Mike Lee from Utah, who again, forwarded the letter to Apple’s executives.
Here’s a wonderful KSL Utah news segment highlighting iOS 16, including an interview with Senator Lee about these Screen Time improvements.
As we state in the letter, since almost 90% of American teens will own an iPhone, Apple has a unique opportunity and responsibility to improve child safety on their devices.
Although there are a whole list of changes coming with iOS 16 and iPad OS 16, we want to highlight those that parents and caregivers might care about the most.
Family Sharing Moves to the Top
One of the more underrated parental control improvements in iOS 16 (and on iPads) is placement. I love that they’ve moved the Family Sharing grouping front-and-center in Settings. This could act as a helpful, visual reminder that parents should be involved in their kid’s digital devices.
iOS 16 Adds Age-Based Safety Defaults
Another great enhancement to Screen Time on both iPhones and iPads is the age-based slider, which auto-selects key parental control features when new kids are added.
This is huge! The first item in our Apple Letter called out the importance of using age-based defaults. This topic was the thrust of our meetings with Apple in 2021.
And here is a first version!
Many of these important settings – like clean music, books, websites, and app ratings – used to be buried in Screen Time, sometimes requiring 30 steps to get it right. Watch this 1-minute video for a quick rundown:
iCloud Family Checklist
In the video above, also note the Family Checklist, reminding me of Screen Time settings that might need a refresh or might be best based on my child’s age. This is a good way for parents to be nudged about even better ways to protect their kiddos on iPhones and iPads. Great!
iMessage Also Gets New Features in iOS 16 and iPad OS 16
In our letter to Apple, we plead with them to give parents more control over iMessages (e.g., prevent iMessage deletion), but we didn’t get that. We’re hopeful Apple does something soon, since so many parents use texting as a training ground on a smartphone.
Instead, we received the ability to EDIT, UNSEND, and MARK UNREAD in iMessage. Note for parents – on the surface, the “unsend” feature runs the risk of turning iMessage into a mini-Snapchat. Kids might be tempted to depend on this feature to get away with something, but so much can be screenshot and if the other person isn’t running iOS 16, it won’t work. Kids will need to be educated about this.
Great Work Apple – Now Keep Going!
Our Letter included additional, often requested items from parents, including:
- Provide additional control over iMessages by giving parents the option to prevent iMessage deletion while their young children are learning to use technology responsibly.
- Create an accurate, accountable, age-based app rating system with better, individualized descriptions.
- Provide more flexible options for parents to block selected apps during multiple times throughout the day.
- Enforce Apple’s published developer rules and remove apps, including Twitter and Reddit, that are breaking critical rules regarding violent and pornographic content.
- Block sexualized album covers, podcast descriptions, and explicit song clips when Apple Music (rated 4+) is set to “clean.”
- Provide a toggle that enforces YouTube Restricted Mode across the entire device (the most popular app for today’s tweens and teens).
- Expand on-device artificial intelligence by giving parents the option to receive notifications if their children under age 16 (rather than 13) send/receive explicit images.
- Periodically review the top social media apps to ensure that they are adhering to best business practices for privacy, content moderation, and parental controls.
2 Specific Next Steps for Amazing Parents and Caregivers!
Chris McKenna, Founder: A man with never-ending energy when it comes to fighting for the safety and protection of children. Chris practices his internet safety tips on his four amazing children and is regularly featured on news, radio, and podcasts for his research. His 2019 US Senate Judiciary Committee testimony was the catalyst for draft legislation and ongoing discussion that could radically change online child protection laws and earned PYE the NCOSE Dignity Defense Alert Award in 2020. The PYE team has performed over 1,700 presentations at schools, churches, and nonprofits and was featured in the Childhood 2.0 movie. Other loves include running, spreadsheets, nature, and candy.