So-called parental control apps on smartphones might suck at actually protecting kids from iffy stuff on the internet, new preliminary research from the University of Central Florida suggests. And unsurprisingly, they also seem to drive a wedge between teens and parents.
Researchers first surveyed over 200 pairs of parents and teens (ages 13 to 17) online. About half of the parents said they at least sometimes used these apps, which can block certain websites, limit screen time, and track children’s online activity. They found that parents who relied on these apps were more likely to be stricter and authoritarian, meaning they’re often demanding and rarely willing to listen to their kids or meet them halfway. But, seemingly counterintuitively, the teens whose parents reported having these apps were also more likely to report being exposed to unwanted explicit content, online harassment, and problems with other kids.
“The takeaway here is that parents should not treat parental control apps as a magic bullet to keep their teens safe online,” senior author Pamela Wisniewski, an assistant professor of engineering and computer science at UCF, told Gizmodo via email.