How do you manage screen time for your children?
The New Year period provides some down-time for reflection on lifestyle, careers, the household budget and other things that get little attention during the hurly-burly of the working year. Like many parents, my wife and I have become concerned about the seemingly ever-expanding amount of time that our kids spend in front of screens. Our end-of-year break has given us the opportunity to have a good think about how we change that situation and we’ve found a great little tool for managing screen time.
Much of my childrens’ spare time is spent in front of one of our two television screens, on our family iPad, on one of the multiple devices my wife and I carry, or on my old beat-up mobile phone that has been handed down to my daughter expressly for the purpose of catching Pokemon. Their daisy-chain use of these devices aligns with overlapping charging cycles – if the iPad runs out of juice, they simply move on to the Android tablet, then it’s Minecraft on the desktop computer, followed by some YouTube viewing on the internet-enabled smart TV, by which time the iPad is fully recharged for a second stint. And so the cycle goes.
As a technologist, I think it’s important that our kids are exposed to new technologies from a young age and are conversant with emerging software and hardware that will undoubtedly play a central role in our society and economy in coming years. As time goes on, I hope that their consumption of these applications and gadgets will translate into a desire to help create the technologies of tomorrow. My daughter loves playing strategy games right now; in time, I hope she’s capable of coding them herself.
But right now, there’s a need to put a halt to this spiralling use of screen time. Technology is important, but kids also need to get outside and let off steam; they need to learn to interact face-to-face with other human beings, rather than through electronic means; and they need to creatively find ways to keep themselves occupied without having a tablet at hand.
And perhaps most importantly for us as a family, we need to break the junkie-like addiction that has claimed our kids’ attention, and the withdrawal-induced fallout that occurs when we finally wrest the devices away. This is the insidious stuff that creates household disharmony, with Mum and Dad at odds with one another over the correct way to parent, and the frequent bursts of attitude from perpetually cranky children.
The Screen Time App allows you to take control of your childrens’ screen time
Enter the Screen Time app, available on both iOS and Android. This little beauty allows parents to control their childrens’ screen time from their own device. The app allows you to do a bunch of great stuff:
- Limit your childrens’ use to a certain number of hours per day. During the school holidays, we’re allowing our kids three hours per day, but this reduces to two hours on weekends only during the school year.
- Disable your childrens’ devices during school and bedtime hours. This is perfect if you don’t want your kids getting up at the crack of dawn to jump on their tablets.
- Block the use of specified apps – for example, if you don’t want them installing new apps, you can block the App Store or the Google Play Store, or you can limit use to educational apps only during school hours.
- Get complete logs of your childrens’ use and receive alerts and notifications for specific events – for example, if they install an app, you are alerted via an email notification
- ‘Pause’ your childrens’ use at any time with the Pause button. Need them to come to the dinner table? Just hit ‘Pause’ and send them a note. No more pleading with them to put down their devices.
- Extend daily use with the ‘Play’ button or incentivise your children with task completion. If your children completes the specified chore (eg. clean their room), then they can earn additional time.
- Control any number of devices – iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Android and Kindle Fire – and set up multiple controlling accounts.
Screen Time is free to use to monitor your family’s devices for as long as you like. When you first set up Screen Time you get a 14 day free trial of Screen Time Premium which allows you to manage and limit your family’s device usage. After your trial you can continue to use Screen Time Premium with a monthly subscription which is pretty cheap at $40 USD per year. That’s a small price to pay for sanity.