App Gives Parents Remote Control of Kids’ Electronic Devices

Finding device-free time is can be a challenge.

— -- Families say they want time together, free from technology, but actually carving out that device-free time is a challenge. To avoid the technology tug-of-war (getting devices out of kids’ hands) a new app called DinnerTime gives parents a remote kill switch for their children’s phones.

Install the app on the child’s device, install the control app on the parent’s phone. DinnerTime offers three options: schedule a “dinner time” break--duration 30 minutes to 1.5 hours, “Take a break” which indefinitely freezes the child’s device until the parent device unfreezes it, or you can “Schedule bedtime” from say 9 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. to make the device in inaccessible to the child.

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When the DinnerTime app is freezing the child’s device, it is in complete lockdown: no phone, no texting, no alarms. A full screen image saying “take a break” or “Dinner time” appears on the child’s phone with no access to settings or app icons. If the child reboots the phone, the DinnerTime blocking screen resumes immediately.

There are caveats: the child’s device must be Android; iPhones and iPod touches will not run the DinnerTime App. The app creator says it’s because of Apple’s strict rules about remote access to devices through apps: that they consider it a security precaution to prevent malware or malicious software from taking over the device. We asked Apple for clarification on this issue but they did not respond. So long as the child has an Android device, the parent’s phone can be an Apple or Android phone.

There are a few less-elegant solutions for kids who have iPhones and iPod touches. One is called ParentKit. It allows the parent to limit the child’s access to third-party apps. When in blocking mode the child can’t use games, Instagram, Twitter or SnapChat, but they do have access to all the basic IOS tools like the phone, text messaging and the web browser.

But given the interest in this app I expect Apple to either loosen the restrictions on apps for their devices or institute similar features baked right into their mobile operating system.