A Guide To Parental Controls For Kids' Tech Use All the major tech companies offer parental controls — Apple is the latest. For parents, making the best of them can be tricky.
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A Guide To Parental Controls For Kids' Tech Use

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A Guide To Parental Controls For Kids' Tech Use

A Guide To Parental Controls For Kids' Tech Use

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The battle over screen time for families - that's what we're exploring this week in All Tech Considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF ULRICH SCHNAUSS' "NOTHING HAPPENS IN JUNE")

KELLY: Apple recently became the latest company to announce they are arming parents with stronger weapons. But if you surf over to YouTube, you'll find kids trading tricks and tips for getting around these parental controls. Anya Kamenetz of the Ed team reports on a contest of wills in cyberspace.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Apple CEO Tim Cook talked to NPR earlier this month about how to get kids using its products less with the company's new screen time controls.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

TIM COOK: We've been doing things for parental control since the creation of the App Store, but this gives parents another huge tool to use.

KAMENETZ: Apple's not alone. Google has Family Link. Disney has a product called Circle. And Amazon has the slightly Orwellian-sounding FreeTime. All these products promise to help busy parents enforce time limits and steer kids to pre-approved apps, games and videos. There's just one problem - the kids are fighting back.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Today I'm going to show you how to hack parental controls.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I'm going to show you how to take your parental controls off of a Kindle Fire 10 - I have a 10.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BEN ZIMMERMAN: I found this glitch out on Family Link. If you...

PHILIP ZIMMERMAN: You bypass the parent code.

BEN: Yep.

KAMENETZ: Those are all videos posted on YouTube about how to get around parental controls. And there are questions and further help in the comments and on other sites like Reddit. It's like tech support for beating your parents. Ben Zimmerman is 9 years old and lives in a suburb of Chicago. You can hear him on that last video sharing a bypass for Google's Family Link.

BEN: All the YouTube videos that I watched about trying to get in Family Link never worked.

KAMENETZ: When he couldn't find one, he figured out his own. Did you punish him?

ZIMMERMAN: Absolutely not, absolutely not. I was actually very impressed.

KAMENETZ: That's Ben's dad, Philip. Ben actually came to him with the workaround that he found for Family Link, and they posted a video together. Why?

BEN: Well, I kind of want them to fix it so I can try to find another glitch for them to fix.

KAMENETZ: Google says that the glitch has now been fixed, and it works with device manufacturers to address these hacks whenever they're found. Some experts say it can be a good learning experience for young people to start getting under the hood of technology in this way.

But depending on the kid, breaking the rules and sneaking around to binge on screens can also be a sign of a real problem. And not every family has the time or the tech knowledge to oversee their kids' use so closely.

So how much are these tools really designed to help families versus provide good PR for the companies? I asked Apple, Amazon, Google and Disney Circle, but none would say how many parents actually use the controls.

KURT BEIDLER: Parents are involved, and 9 out of 10 parents actually want to be even more involved than they are today. So what that means to individual parents, I think, varies.

KAMENETZ: Kurt Beidler is the Director of Kids and Family for Amazon devices.

BEIDLER: I think software is useful as a tool to enforce the contract that you've already entered into with your child.

KAMENETZ: He says no matter how good the software is, they'll never be able to replace parents. Anya Kamenetz, NPR News.

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