RELEASE: With Summer Break Nearing, Gottheimer Calls on Apple to Fix Parental Control and Screen Time Software Flaws Putting Children at Risk

Parents Need Effective Tools to Prevent Children from Watching Explicit Content. Excessive Screen Time Leads to Mental and Physical Health Issues, and Worse Grades in School. Gottheimer: “It’s time to give parents back the power.”

May 15, 2023
Press

Above: Gottheimer at the Ridgewood YMCA announcing new steps to give parents the tools to protect their kids from excessive screen time and the dangers of being unchecked online.

RIDGEWOOD, NJ — Today, May 15, 2023, at the Ridgewood YMCA, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), alongside educators and mental health professionals, called on Apple CEO Tim Cook to immediately fix long-standing problems with Apple’s parental controls and Screen Time software to help parents protect their children from spending too much time online and watching explicit content. 

Gottheimer will be sending Apple a letter this week demanding answers on when these software glitches and loopholes will be fixed. Settings that limit screen time and restrict access to certain web content — which would prevent kids from watching pornography, R-rated movies, inappropriate TV shows, and other explicit content — are not functioning as promised. 

Thousands of Apple product users have written to Apple sharing frustrations with Screen Time’s parental controls, noting failures including downtime, app limits, and content restrictions that all deactivated after being set or updated. Apple confirmed to Gottheimer that the company is aware of these issues, but provided no clear timeline for a fix.

Data from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry shows that, on average, children ages 8 to 12 in the United States spend 4 to 6 hours a day watching or using screens, and teens spend up to 9 hours — far in excess of what experts consider safe. A study found that excessive screen time leads to sleep, weight, and mood problems, lower grades in school, poor self and body image, and reduced physical activity. 

“Apple is dragging their feet on developing effective parental controls for their addictive products. Turning a profit cannot be more important than protecting our children,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “Trust me, sometimes we’d love to take the smartphones, laptops, and tablets away from our kids for good, but it’s just not realistic. Kids today use these devices to do their homework, connect with their friends, and call their parents when they need help. It’s up to all of us to make sure the voices of millions of parents are heard because some tech companies can and must do better. It’s time to give parents back the power.”

“Thank you, Congressman Gottheimer, for your leadership and investment in the physical and mental well-being of our youth, and for raising awareness about the impact of excessive screen time and the need for highly effective parental controls on the devices in our children’s hands,” New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association Executive Director Karen Bingert.

“As a parent, I understand the importance of being able to have control over the things our children have exposure to. I’m very grateful to Congressman Gottheimer for doing this,” said President & CEO Ridgewood YMCA Ramon Hache.

“Common Sense has been raising a flag for nearly a decade about the negative impact that excessive screen time has on children,” said James P. Steyer, CEO and Founder of Common Sense Media, the nation’s leading kids and technology nonprofit. “Apple has made a good start with this with their parental controls, and we encourage them to make their screen time parental controls even stronger so that parents can more carefully monitor kids’ device usage.”

“New Jersey Child Assault Prevention incorporates Cyber-Empowerment into our workshops for children. As such, we are aware that excessive screen time in young children poses many dangers and concerns. Some of these include, but are not limited to, inability to form healthy relationships, risk of unhealthy online relationships with unknowns, sadness, loneliness, depression, have histories of sexual abuse and are likely to engage in risky behavior. As such, children should be monitored closely and encouraged to interact ‘face to face’ instead of relying on social media, chat rooms, online gaming for friendships and relationships,” New Jersey Child Assault Prevention said in a statement.

Gottheimer was joined by President & CEO Ridgewood YMCA Ramon Hache, New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association Executive Director Karen Bingert, and Bergen County Prevention Coalition Executive Vice President Stephanie Drag, and Bergen County Prevention Coalition Hub Coordinator Cassandra Colaizzi.

Watch today’s announcement here.

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning. I hope all of the moms across Jersey had a great Mother’s Day. 

We’re here today in Ridgewood at the YMCA to bring urgent attention to an Apple software flaw that’s disabling their parental controls and putting kids at risk online – including the amount of time they can sit on the devices and exposing them to pornographic, explicit, adult content.

With summer break right around the corner, when kids are out of school, we need to make sure that when our children are on their devices, parents have all the tools they need to protect them, including limiting the number of hours they can spend on their devices and the content they can view.

That’s especially important during these summer months when our kids should be playing outside with their friends and involved with programs like those here at the YMCA — not sitting at home on their phones, iPads, and TVs, watching inappropriate content or communicating with strangers. 

As you all know, companies like Apple have parental controls to help keep kids away from these dangers.

However, a few months ago, I started hearing from parents that Apple’s Screen Time parental controls weren’t working properly. 

They kept randomly resetting after parents set them. Then we checked, and we had the same issue, time and again — including this morning! I can’t tell you how many times my wife and I were sure that we’ve turned on screen time parental controls just to find out hours later that it never kicked on, or our kids were able to get around it. And I was hearing this same problem every week from Jersey parents.

So, a few months back, I decided that it was time to do a little more digging. We found countless complaints online raised by concerned parents in Apple’s support community. 

Thousands of Apple product users had written to Apple sharing frustrations with Screen Time’s parental controls, noting failures including downtime, app limits, and content restrictions that all deactivated after being set or updated. 

What kind of content limits are we talking about? I mean the settings that restrict access to certain web content, which would prevent kids from watching pornography, R-rated movies, inappropriate TV shows, and other explicit content. It’s the same controls that prevent children from playing video games with strangers. 

So, yes, it’s been open season on our kids. 

What was crazy was that Apple was virtually unresponsive to all of these parents and their concerns. 

So, we reached out directly to Apple, and they confirmed to me and my team that they were aware of these issues. They also told us that there is no clear timeline for when they will fix the problem. That’s bananas. 

We have kids surfing the internet and sitting on apps with no parental controls, and Apple’s answer is that they don’t know exactly when they will solve the problem. They told us they were getting to it, but had no idea when. In essence, they’ve known about problems with the software for years, and there appears to be no urgency. 

I’m stunned that, even though so many parents are still experiencing these issues, Apple has chosen not to address them urgently — especially when the health and safety of millions of children are at risk. 

Look at it another way: Apple is dragging their feet on developing effective parental controls for their addictive products. Turning a profit cannot be more important than protecting our children.

Today, I’m announcing new steps to give parents the tools to protect their kids from excessive screen time and the dangers that come with being unchecked online.

I’m calling on Apple CEO Tim Cook to immediately fix long-standing problems with Apple’s parental controls and Screen Time software to help parents protect their children from spending too much time online and watching explicit content. 

I will be sending Apple a letter this week demanding answers on when these software glitches and loopholes will be fixed. 

In a recent interview, Tim Cook urged parents to control the amount of time their children spend on smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. 

He expressed concerns, saying — quote: “children…are now digital kids and I think that it is vital to set some hard rails around it… We don’t want people using our phones too much. We’re not incentivized for that. We don’t want that. We provide tools so people don’t do that.” End quote.

I couldn’t agree more. On average, children ages eight to twelve in the United States spend four to six hours a day watching or using screens, and teens spend up to nine hours — far in excess of what experts consider safe. 

A study by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that excessive screen time leads to sleep, weight, and mood problems, lower grades in school, poor self and body image, and reduced physical activity. 

After seeing Cook’s interview, I was surprised that Cook disregarded the many user complaints in Apple’s support community regarding the alarming flaws with Apple Screen Time. 

Trust me, sometimes we’d love to take the smartphones, laptops, and tablets away from our kids for good, but it’s just not realistic. Kids today use these devices to do their homework, connect with their friends, and call their parents when they need help.

But Apple is failing families by not immediately taking action to ensure Screen Time settings function as promised. 

I’m also working with my friend, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, who is my fellow Co-Chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, to introduce bipartisan legislation to put an end to social media preying on our kids. 

We’re still drafting legislation, but our bipartisan bill will tackle crime stemming from social media and boost transparency and accountability of social media companies. Many crimes on social media go untracked, including targeting drug sales to children, and our bill will provide crucial insights to combat these issues.

It’s up to all of us to make sure the voices of millions of parents are heard because some tech companies can and must do better. 

I’m a dad, and every parent I know has difficulty getting their kids off their phone or tablet.

It’s time to give parents back the power.

We live in the greatest country in the world and if we all continue to come together to protect our children, our best days will always be ahead of us.

God bless you and your families, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.

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