Most parents know content from online juggernauts like Meta can harm their kids, but a new brief from the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) suggests “Big Tech” manufacturers’ smartphone and tablet designs leave children vulnerable to inappropriate advertisements, pictures and videos.

Kids access the internet through smartphones and tablets, which means companies like Google and Apple — who build the devices’ operating systems and app stores — influence what content kids see.

According to the brief, Google and Apple make it easy for kids to access — or stumble across —inappropriate parts of the internet, and hard for parents to block harmful content out.

Part of the problem involves the companies’ respective app stores, which allows kids to download gateways to far-flung parts of the internet. Parents rely on content guidelines to determine which apps are safe for their kids to use, but IFS writes,

App ratings are neither accurate nor presented in a manner that guarantees informed consent. Many apps in the app stores are very dangerous for kids, rated incorrectly, or are not furnished with accurate descriptions or proper parental warnings.

The brief further notes,

Many apps that are rated as age-appropriate for kids can be found displaying ads for other apps or products that are sexually explicit or promote mature material.

Google and Apple also endanger children by poorly constructing and advertising built-in parental controls, which IFS claims “lack the innovation, elegance, and consumer-friendly interfaces found in other Apple and Google products.”

Assuming parents can find and decipher a smartphone or tablet’s parental controls, the programs are notoriously buggy and easy for kids to circumvent. An Apple update infamously reset parental controls in updated devices less than six months ago.

Manufacturers could easily use existing technology to make devices safer for kids, like adding age verification to electronic IDs, automatically enabling content filters based on age, and creating “school” and “bedtime” modes, among other solutions proposed by IFS.

Apple and Google are unlikely to make these improvements voluntarily, however, because they — like all businesses — are incentivized to make money.

Both companies get up to 30% commission from every app people buy, and every purchase people make inside free apps, IFS reports. Agreeing to limit app store and internet content for minors would likely rob Google and Apple of some of their most loyal customers.

State and federal governments and regulatory agencies can make policies forcing Google, Apple and other manufacturers to build safer smartphones and tablets. You can read IFS’ proposed solutions starting on p. 9 of the brief.

Luckily, determined parents don’t have to wait for legal change to make their kids safer — all you need is a willing spirit!

App store ratings are unreliable, so make sure you independently review everything your child downloads! Faith-based resources like Focus on the Family’s Plugged In can help parents discern what apps, games, TV shows, movies and books are age appropriate.

While parental controls on smartphones and tablet are often hard to find, they’re worth using! The internet is filled with tutorials, resources and tricks to help parents learn what controls are available and how to use them well.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you must choose an Apple or Google-run phone! If policing your child’s super-smartphone seems too daunting, you can choose a device with limited internet access and other child-safe features.

Most importantly, remember that you do not have to get your kids phones or tablets at all! In fact, IFS “strongly advises parents to resist providing their kids a smartphone or tablet,” continuing,

Given how unsafe these devices are, they should be avoided and delayed until as close to adulthood as possible.

Prayerfully choose what’s safest for your child, even if it’s “counter-cultural” or, heaven forbid, “lame.” Your kids might grow up to thank you.

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