… with ‘It’ being the dreaded screen time.
We might as well stop fighting it. Kids are going to be online, looking at phones, reading on tablets, surfing (does anyone still use that term under the ago of thirty?) on any device they can get their hands on. I’m pretty sure our 14 year old could program the toaster to let him watch Youtube videos of people in Shanghai playing Minecraft if he needed his fix. I swore up and down that my kids would be outside playing sports, reading a book or studying at age 6 for the MCats once I got around to having my own brood. Right. Let it go man. You can be the best dad on the planet, but limiting access to the world of the web will really just put your kid at a huge disadvantage later in life. We all have that relative with 9 Facebook accounts because they can’t figure out how to retrieve a forgotten password. Don’t let that be your son or daughter.
So what can you do? You want them to be safe, you want to make sure the time they are spending isn’t a complete waste of eye deterioration, and you don’t want it to be at the detriment of the rest of the valuable lessons you’re trying to teach… HOW? There may be help!
Tools of the Trade
My friend Mike recently shared a post about an ingenious new dashboard for parents available from Amazon. It allows conscientious child rearers to monitor what’s happening during their kids’ online or screen time. Imagine, insight into where and how they are spending their time while not under your (arguably) over-protective eye.
@AshleyCarman of The Verge reported that the dashboard shows ‘a breakdown of how many minutes each kid is using the tablet and what they’re doing. You’ll see how many total minutes they spent reading books, watching videos, playing in an app, or browsing online. You can also view how long they spent in particular books or videos and what websites they accessed.’ This is amazing, and a great tool for parents looking to make the time as fruitful as possible. Here’s the rub; it looks as though you need to have the kids using one of Amazon’s new Fire Kids’ Edition and / or Amazon Free Time, the content curation subscription that allows parents to update profiles for kids with access to approved / selected online material. Read up on this if you’re really particular about what the kids can view on their fancy new Fire.
But it got me curious.
Enter Walt… Disney.
Ok, so not him specifically. Get this: Disney has unveiled a new piece of hardware for the home that opens up a whole new level of WebBoss for you! You don’t have to be super tech savvy (author disclaimer… nope, not a tech guy… at all) in order to make it work, and you can take the control of the love affair with the web better than a shot gun at the front door for a new boyfriend intro.
the Circle with Disney is a little white box that works over wifi and is configured through either an iOS or Android app. You pair the box to a device over your wifi network, and do all the set up through that device. I won’t get into techno-garble, but in essence you are creating a control for your entire network in the home (both wifi and ethernet accesses), and avoiding the need to set up particular controls on each device in your family. That means if anyone uses your internet, they are centrally controlled by you and limited based on the access you give them.
I guess the only hard part is identifying all of the devices in order to decide who gets what restrictions based on the five available filter settings, Pre-K, Kid, Teen, Adult, or None. As you may know, anything that works on your network (think smart home pieces you may have purchased like garage door, doorbell etc) will go through this filtering. You have to be able to know which device is which, or you could annoyingly set a ‘bedtime’ for your new smartfridge (yes, this is a real thing). Don’t worry, once you identify them, you can rename them in your Circle App so they make sense to you. When your kid is ready to ramp up to teen, it’ll be breeze.
So what? Why would I use this thing?
This is what! Not only can you select apps they can access, how long they can spend online at a time, and establish a ‘bedtime’ that shuts off access at a certain point, but you can have breaks required during long bouts, set time limits per platform (ie two hours of Youtube a day), and you have a master ‘PAUSE’ button for the internet!! You can pause the whole house or just one kid that’s ignoring you from their basement cave (ahem, 14 year old Guy, ahem).
Peep this: there is a free companion app that tracks and filters the devices you have on Circle at home once they leave your network. The kid controls keep going even when they are on cellular data or another source outside the home! The Go version has a monitoring cost (everything can’t be for the onetime $99 circle device fee), but that’s up to you if you think it’s a valid add on. There may also be a way to ‘earn’ internet time by completing chores assigned etc, though I couldn’t confirm this with my research. Go do some work yourself if you really want to know.
What else is out there?
Lots. I’m not writing about them because this one excited me and answered about 9 prayers I’d thrown up in recent months. PCMag.com does a bomber job of comparing the other options that are out there… check it out for yourself; it’s worth the read if you’re a comparative shopper!
I know there are lots of tools to help, and some neat ways to push your kids to more friendly, positive uses of their screen time, but don’t forget that you have to do some of the work too, when it comes to getting them off the screens and doing something with the family. Make the time at the end of your day to just walk, or play catch, or shoot some hoops. Ask for some help with a couple small chores at a time you can both (all) do it… you’d be amazed at home much they want to help when you ask their advice on what should be done with garden, or a repair. Kids are just little versions of us and wired along the same lines (though not exactly… more on that later). The way you might engage a team or coworker will usually work if you give it a try.
‘Hey, I was thinking of fixing that problem with the shed door and am not quite sure how to do it. Can you help?’ Or maybe ‘I want cookies for a bedtime snack, who wants to help me mix some up in exchange for some?’ It’s not manipulation, its showing that time with them matters and that you can ask instead of tell all the time… give it a shot. We’re nothing if not tryin’!