Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Managing Screen Time

Smartphones have revolutionized the world, putting an unprecedented wealth of resources at users’ fingertips. But many parents worry that the siren song of these alluring devices is a little too enticing. Research indicates that their concerns are well founded, like this study from Preventative Medicine Reports that found associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents; this study from JAMA Pediatrics that found a link between screen media use and lower academic performance among children and adolescents; this study from PLOS that documents a connection between screen time and inattention problems in preschoolers…. We could go on. 

It seems like common sense that too much of anything isn’t good for anyone, yet young people are desperate for more time on their phones and tablets. So what are parents to do?

Apps that limit screen time are a great solution to this problem. After a discussion about family device policies, parents can set boundaries on kids’ technology use and then let the app itself be the bad guy, freeing them from having to monitor screen time and starting arguments when the limit has been reached.

New apps that will help control kids’ screen use crop up regularly. For now, here are a handful of current options that are worth investigating:

Available on: App Store, Google Play

Moment quietly tracks pick-ups and screen time, then generates weekly reports. We like the feature that allows the app to send notifications about how a user’s daily performance compares with pre-set goals. The overall tone of the app is encouraging, not punitive. Of course, these gentle reminders will work only if the user in question is convinced that too much screen time is to be avoided. Moment doesn’t shut down devices, it just provides a snapshot of how much time is being spent on them. So, if learning that she spends seven hours a day on Snapchat won’t shock your teen, this may not be the strong-arm solution you seek.

Screen Time

Available on: iPhone (it comes pre-installed)

This solution couldn’t be more convenient, though it’s easy for determined kids to change the limits they’ve set; you need buy-in from your child for this to work. Screen Time allows users to schedule time away from the screen in advance or limit the amount of time they spend on a particular app. Like Moment, Screen Time works best if your child agrees that limits on phone use should be in place.

Free, with $2/month and $7/month upgrades

Available on: Google Play

This app does it all: controls screen time, blocks apps, locates/tracks the device, shuts down texts, etc. Kids can even navigate to a screen that shows them how much time they’ve got left for a given day, view the schedule for the week, etc.

$40/year for up to five devices
Available on: App Store, Google Play, Google Chrome, Windows, macOS

If your kid hops from device to device, Mobicip is for you. Using the cloud, this app tracks and filters use of apps and websites on both mobile devices and computers, keeping kids safe from questionable content and limiting the time they spend on screens.
Of course most experts seem to agree that there’s one important factor here that none of these apps include: good modeling by adults. Children whose parents are constantly buried in their own screens are likely to follow suit; after all, their parents are their first and best role models. So if you’re really worried about how much time your kids spend on their phones, be sure you start by taking a critical look at your own habits.

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