How often do you find yourself arguing about screen time with your kids? Does a phrase like “you’ve played video games (or been on Facebook or Instagram or just a device in general) long enough today, find something else to do” start a meltdown? Do you tell your child it’s time to eat dinner only to hear that they need 5 more minutes to beat a level, and the 5 minutes turns to 10, and then 20, and then 30 before you say, “Enough!”? Does your child get angry and irritable when you insist that they stop playing video games?
Transitioning from screen time can be an aggravating, emotionally-charged, and draining task for both kids and parents. Games, apps, and social media are so engaging that other things tend to pale in comparison. Poor time management skills, focus issues, and other executive functioning problems can make these transitions even more difficult. Fortunately, there are some great new tools to help you stop arguing about screen time.
One of the LearningWorks for Kids team’s favorite is a new app called Screen Time that allows parents to manage the amount of time kids spend on smartphones and tablets. Parents can use their own phone or Internet browser to block specific apps, limit time on devices, and even shut off games and Internet at dinner time so that kids have no choice but to stop playing when they are told it’s time to eat. And it’s password protected to prevent kids from uninstalling the app or changing settings.
While we at LearningWorks for Kids view digital play as an important part of a balanced Play Diet — an opportunity for cognitive development and the improvement of executive functioning and social emotional learning (SEL) skills — we also recognize that there are clear limits to the amount of time kids should spend in front of a screen. In my clinical work with families, my interactions with parents at the LearningWorks for Kids website, and at speaking engagements across the United States, I constantly hear about the difficulty in setting effective screen time limits for children. Though we believe a blocking/limiting app like Screen Time should usually be used sparingly, we recognize that there are many situations that demand technological intervention. Our review team at LearningWorks for Kids was impressed with the Screen Time app, so I decided to contact the developer, Steve Vangasse, to learn a little bit more about why he developed Screen Time.
Steve’s thinking about the need for a tool to limit screen time came from his experience with his own children. He recalls buying his three kids tablets for Christmas and observed how much fun they were having and how much time they spent using them. But like many parents, Steve became concerned that his children were not going outside and doing the things that he enjoyed as a kid — climbing trees and playing in the mud. He attributed their lack of outdoor play to their attachment to screen-based play.
At the time, Steve was working as a full-time developer for another company, but in his spare time he began to develop what he calls a “crappy little app” — one that nonetheless that could be placed on his kids’ tablets to limit screen time. He and his wife noticed that the kids stopped arguing about screen time when their tablet shut off, and, much to his delight, simply moved on to a different activity. After seeing how much it helped his family reduce their tug-of-war over tablet access, he decided to add features that would make it helpful to other parents with similar concerns.
He added remote control over children’s devices and the ability to monitor device and app usage — including time spent, search, and browsing history. Now not only can parents block selected apps, they can use a pause button that gives kids a 20 second warning that their device is about to power down. Some of the more innovative tools include a reward system that allows parents to grant additional screen time for completing homework and tasks and a mechanism that allows kids to use their tablets for reading at any time.
At LearningWorks for Kids, we often talk about the way an open dialogue with kids can improve the effectiveness of screen time limits. Steve told me that one of the most rewarding things about using Screen Time to monitor his kids’ technology usage has been the way it’s improved the communication he has with his children and the way the app empowers them to make the decisions about how to use their screen time. And the best part: he now sees his kids going outside and climbing trees. Though they have yet to start playing in the mud.
If you’re sick of arguing about screen time, take a look at our review of the Screen Time app, which includes ways to talk about the app with your child and involve them in the limit-setting process. You should also check out some of our Setting Limits posts for more strategies on setting effective screen time limits.
Featured image: Flickr user tinkerbrad