When working with parents to create personalized internet safety plans for their families, we often hear concerns about screen time. Prolonged screen time is especially common this time of year. Kids are getting out of school and have more unstructured time to spend flipping through their smartphones or tablets, or sitting on the couch playing videogames.
Based on a recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents’ worries about screen time are legitimate. While there are certainly benefits to kids and teens interacting with technology – for example, educational apps and staying in touch with extended family – there are still good reasons for placing healthy, age-appropriate limits on screen time.
The AAP recommends that parents avoid screen time as much as possible for kids younger than 18 months old, and that they limit screen time to one hour a day for kids 2 to 5 years old. While they don’t have specific limitation recommendations for older kids and teens, they do note several negative effects of too much screen time for kids of all ages, including sleep disturbances and addictive disorders, such as internet gaming disorder.
Of course, setting limits is more easily said than done. Parents understandably don’t want to have arguments with their kids every time they say it’s time to put their devices away.
Thankfully, there are great tools available to help ease families into setting screen time limits on their children’s devices. While the exact tools that parents use should depend on their specific goals, the ages of their kids, and the devices in their home, this guide will help you think through how you might use technology to set some limits.
1. Set Limits for Devices on a Home Network
The first place to think about when applying screen time limits is your home network. Say you want to enforce a strict rule that there should be no internet use after 10:00 p.m. Some wireless routers on the market today allow you to do just that, such as the AmpliFi router system. However, setting limits on a router is not always an intuitive process. So, it’s a good idea to get help from a professional if you’re not sure it’s the best use of your time to try and figure it out.
Also, it’s important to keep in mind the limitations of making changes at the network level. Screen time limits on the network will apply to all devices, meaning that parents may not be able to access WiFi during these times, depending on how their devices and the router are configured . And some devices, such as laptops or smartphones, can and often do leave the home wireless network, meaning that screen time limits won’t be enforced if a child takes a device to a friend’s house.
2. Set Limits on Laptops and Desktops
Another option for setting screen time limits is to put safeguards in place for individual devices. For laptop and desktop computers, this can usually be accomplished with a good content filtering solution, which should have the ability to configure usage limits built in. Covenant Eyes, for instance, allows parents to set basic time limits for laptops and desktops that kids use.
3. Set Limits on Mobile Devices
Limiting screen time on smartphones and tablets is, perhaps, one of the biggest concerns for parents. These devices are notoriously tricky to safeguard because not only are they portable but they can also access the internet via a data plan, making any safeguards you implement at the level of your home network moot.
Thankfully, several app makers have invented ways to implement screen time limits on smartphones and tablets. One of our favorite solutions for iOS devices (iPhones, iPads, iPods) is Intego Family Protector. This solution has a wide range of helpful features for parents, including content filtering, app restrictions, and, of course, time limits. It allows parents to “freeze” their kids’ devices, turning off access to the web browser and third party apps during specified times, such as mealtimes and bedtime.
Another solution we recommend for mobile devices is Curbi, which has great features for setting time limits and blocking access to specific apps or to internet access on a phone. It works on both Android and iOS devices, at little to no cost.
Start the Conversation
These solutions are great tools for parents to use when setting healthy, age-appropriate screen time limits for kids and teens. But remember that before you implement any of them, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your kids to discuss what the controls you are putting in place will do and, most importantly, why it’s important that they abide by screen time limits.
If you have questions about the tools we’ve discussed, or would like help setting them up and integrating them into a personalized family internet safety plan, give us a call today.