“Just five more minutes!” “But I’m about to complete the level!” “I’m so close to beating this guy!”
These are all too common pleas that parents of children in love with video games, the Internet and other screens hear.
So what’s a parent to do, when the American Academy of Pediatrics says that children should be limited to less than two hours of entertainment-based screen time per day?
In our family, we attempted to set limits with our son by telling him it was time to quit. Didn’t work. We tried setting the kitchen timer. Didn’t work. My wife and I knew we needed to take a different course of action, so we looked to technology for help. Here’s what we found.
Software Draws Curtain on Screen Time
TimesUpKidz! is parental control software for Windows that lets my wife and I choose when and for how long our son uses the computer. TimesUpKidz! utilizes the Windows user log-ins, providing parents of multiple children the opportunity to set time limits for each child individually.
Parents complete a simple form within the software to set up weekday versus weekend limits, choosing options such as: the amount of daily time on the computer, hours of the day that the computer will be available, the amount of time at one sitting before the child needs to take a break, the length of the break and much more. Each day of the week can be customized.
One of the software’s features that I find very useful is the ability to make exceptions when necessary. For instance, depending on my son’s behavior, I can easily add or take away computer time for the day. The default time limits automatically resume the next day.
For the child, TimesUpKidz! provides pop-up reminders in the task bar at the bottom of the screen. A pleasant female voice chimes in stating, “You have five minutes left” at the appropriate time. When the time’s up, the screen goes black except for a dialogue box that shows the next time that the computer can be used and the amount of recent usage.
The software is available for a free 30-day trial at www.timesupkidz.com.
Tools Limit TV, Video Game Action
Our son recently fell in love with the Wii U. While playing incessantly with a new device is natural, it was getting out of control – so my wife and I bought BOB. It’s a tool that manages screen time by controlling the power to a connected electronic device. BOB senses current, so it knows when the connected device is on, off or in “sleep” mode.
With BOB, the parent is the “master user,” and each child is referred to as a “user.” Each child gets a four-digit personal identification number used to access BOB. (Each PIN either can be set either by the parent or by the child.) Parents can set the allotted amount of screen time each user has, either per day or per week.
Parents also can set up blocks of time when the device cannot be used. BOB also includes a feature called FlyTime, which allows the master user to add or subtract time to any user’s account for that day or that week.
Another device that my wife and I previously used to limit our son’s time on the Wii is called PlayLimit. With this system, a child is given tokens to insert into the PlayLimit console. Each token is worth 15 minutes of time. The timer can be paused if necessary by pressing the pause button. PlayLimit causes the television to beep when game time remaining is at five minutes, two minutes, and again at one minute. When less than one minute remains, the time display counts down in seconds on the screen. When the time is over, an “out of time” message appears.
PlayLimit did work well for controlling my son’s Wii time, although he discovered it could be fooled by depositing dollar coins instead of tokens. Also, we upgraded to the BOB since PlayLimit doesn’t work with devices that use HDMI cables (like the Wii U).
The old methods of limiting video game time from when I was a kid (boredom with Atari 2600 games and running out of quarters) no longer apply. However, as technology advances, so do the ways to enforce screen time limits.
Brant Skogrand writes regularly for the Reflections from the Center and Skogrand PR Solutions blogs. He is the author of the book “19 Tips for Successful Public Relations: Insights on Media Relations and Reputation Management.”