Should Screen Time at School Count Toward Kids’ Total Screen Time?

by Screen Time Team on 21/08/2019

As schools become more tech-savvy, kids are spending more time at computers, on tablets, and otherwise working with screens. But should that count as “screen time” for parents’ purposes? It depends on how much time is spent, and why you’re concerned.

Screens At School

First, you should figure out the total amount of screen time. Parents should talk to teachers about overall screen time use at school. Schools can vary widely on approaches here, but as a rule, kids won’t be spending eight hours a day tapping away at a laptop. Educators plan a broad mix of activities, including group discussions, free time, and study periods.

Kids, meanwhile, especially older kids, will likely be using screens during free periods to type up papers, research answers to take-home quizzes, and other educational pursuits. When using parental control apps, in fact, it’s recommended to ask teachers what the computer schedule is, especially if kids are bringing their own devices, and how often they have to work on a screen at school. Once you know that, then you should consider your overall approach.

Medical Or Social?

Broadly, parents’ concerns about screens break down into two categories. One, they’re worried their kids are giving themselves eye damage, or straining their necks, or any of a host of other potential ailments. Call this the “medical” category. The other is that they worry that too many games or time spent on social media will distract children from spending time with friends, reading books, and other enriching activities, in other words, social growth. Sometimes the two, of course, are intertwined.

Young teen sleeping at his desk.

Medical concerns are simple enough; if kids have red eyes, stiff necks, or other indicators they’ve spent too much time on screens, you simply need to prioritize school work. You should discuss your concerns with their teachers to ensure they’re given time to heal, and that they have alternates to tablets and computers.

Social concerns are a bit more complex. It’s easy to forget the adults aren’t the only ones in the family who come home after a hard day and want to do nothing more than zone out in front of a screen. Excessive screen use could be a sign of any number of things: Depression, struggling with school work, feeling socially isolated, or even just having gone through a tough day. Even the most extroverted of us, child or not, sometimes just wants to watch some TV.

Other times, it may have nothing to do with having fun. Especially as they get older, some kids may find themselves struggling to keep up with school work, either because there’s more expectations on them, or because they have other demands, like after-school activities or work. That can be its own issue, especially as excessive screen use can make it harder to learn.

If you’re noticing a change in behavior, then ask about it. Don’t push; leave the door open to talk if they want to, especially since some topics may be a struggle for kids to open up about. In some cases, though, you may need to turn to parental control apps to turn off the screen and start a conversation.

Parental control apps can be useful for moderating screen time, whether it’s to keep screen time saved for school or to keep kids from avoiding it. To learn more, try it for free!

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Yolo App for Snapchat: A Guide for Parents

by Screen Time Team on 14/08/2019

Snapchat hasn’t endeared itself to parents, with features like Snapstreaks that encourage using the app mindlessly. But a new addition, Yolo, is only going to make that dislike more intense. Here’s what you need to know about Yolo.

What is Yolo?

Named after the slang term (You Only Live Once), Yolo is an app that you sign into using your Snapchat credentials. Once you’re logged in, you use the app to ask for anonymous feedback. The user doesn’t know who’s weighing in, and there’s not a way to find out at the moment.

What Are Possible Concerns With Yolo?

Unfortunately, as we all know from being on the internet, once people can offer an anonymous perspective, they’ll tend to use it to be as cruel as possible. Previous apps that offered this feature, such as Sarahah and YikYak, quickly saw bullying. Even without cruelty, though, disputes and arguments teens and preteens get into tend to burn brighter and last longer with the fuel of anonymous feedback apps.

How Can I Tell If Yolo Is Installed?

You should see Yolo on your teen’s phone. It’s not a part of Snapchat, but a separate app with a separate icon. If you believe the app has been hidden, open up the app store and search for Yolo; it should tell you if the app is installed. Alternately, parental control apps will tell you what apps are downloaded and used.

Parents looking at their phones.

Should I Allow Yolo?

Allowing Yolo, or any anonymous app, is ultimately up to each family. The questions you should ask your children, and yourself, are simple: Is this app worth what you get out of it? Are you being treated the way you want to from the app? Can you handle it if somebody takes the opportunity to be cruel or thoughtless?

If you do decide to allow Yolo, set ground rules. Your kids, regardless of their age, shouldn’t be answering personal questions from complete strangers, and you should be allowed to see what they’re being asked. And make it clear that if you don’t like what you see, you’re going to pull the plug.

How Can I Keep Yolo Off Phones?

To prevent your kids from using Yolo, you should use a mixture of strategies. First, you should make it clear to your kids that you don’t want them using Yolo, and why. Make it clear that you’re worried about their mental health, and leave the door open for discussion.

Next, use the phone’s parental controls to block Yolo. Most phone operating systems will allow you to block certain apps entirely, and since Yolo is separate from Snapchat, you can block one without disabling the other. Keep an eye on the app, though, as apps can change over time.

Finally, use third-party parental control apps to block Yolo and to keep kids from downloading it, and also to keep them from disabling other parental controls. Parental control apps like Screen Time from Screen Time Labs can also be used to constrain how often kids use Yolo if you think your kids can handle it, and you just don’t want your family distracted from other tasks.

Parental control apps can help settle disputes and keep children on an even keel. To learn more, try it for free!

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How to Transition Kids to School Year Screen Time Rules

by Screen Time Team on 07/08/2019

It’s almost time to head back to school, and for kids, that’s always going to be something of an adjustment. But one area you might see particular pushback is with tightening up the rules on screen time again. Here’s how to limit tears and arguments when it’s time to pick up books.

Review The Rules

Start by sitting the family down and going over what the rules were for the previous school year, and how they might change. This is also a good time to establish that they’ve stuck by the rules before, and the world didn’t end. If you have a rewards system as part of your rules, such as earning more screen time for chores, now would be a good time to address how that’ll work with school and homework in the mix.

Now is also the time to adjust the rules. As kids grow up, their needs will change; screen rules that made sense in elementary school may not work so well once they’re in middle school. Contact their school and ask how much computer time kids will likely need for homework and research in a given week, and factor that in when making decisions.

Ease Into It

Like any other change, easing into new rules helps. Start a few weeks before by instituting changes one at a time, making it clear as you go along which rule will be set up, and aiming to balance a range of activities, from screen time to going outside to reading. It’s best to start with something simple, such as lowering overall screen time over the weeks until you’re at a school-year level. The week before, institute any schedules you’ve planned, such as no screens between the start of school and the end, and you should be good to go.

Add In Activities

Screen time reduction is just one part of getting ready for school. As you reduce screen time, fill it in with the preliminary work that needs to be done for school. Even if kids have already read their books and filled out their worksheets, it’s still a good idea to sit down and go over their work.

Don’t forget that it’s never too late to deal with the “summer slide,” the loss of skills and techniques kids experience when they stop going to school. Finding fun, educational activities that get them back into the school mindset will help them excel once they’re back in class. And there’s nothing wrong with simply playing outside the way generations of kids have always done.

Child swinging on a swing.

Use Parental Control Apps And Settings

Even the best kids may sometimes be tempted, so back up your conversations and rules with both parents settings and parental control apps. Most devices and apps will have at least some form of setting parents can configure, but parental control apps will allow you to enforce schedules, block certain apps from being downloaded or deleted, and even “pause” access to the device if necessary.

Screen time will always be a point of contention between parents and kids, but striking the right balance, with the help of good rules and good tools, will help kids strike the needed balance between screens and the other fun and important things they need to do. To learn how it works, try it for free!

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Screen Time Device Management for iPhone: How It Works

by Screen Time Team on 31/07/2019

When you set rules for kids and their phones, it’s good to back it up with parental control apps. Device management for iPhones allows families to better enforce the rules, and gives you more flexibility than Apple’s parental controls. Here’s what you need to know about keeping iPhone usage to a healthy level, while teaching your children better online safety.

Apple’s Parental Controls

Apple does let parents set a passcode and control certain aspects of the device, such as installing or removing apps, in-app purchases, and access to specific apps such as AirDrop. This can be useful, but there are things it won’t do, such as enforce a specific schedule.

Furthermore, Apple has made it a separate app you have to enable and enter a passcode for, instead of it being integrated into the operating system where it would be most effective. This makes it vulnerable to deletion and, of course, somebody could figure out your passcode. 

It’s also an “all or nothing” proposition: If you want to allow your children to play games after they’ve done chores and homework, you have to go in and personally enable it, then follow the same process to disable it afterwards. Finally, it lacks remote management options. You’re not able to control your children’s iPhone via a laptop or another phone.

Child sitting on a concrete bench outside looking at her phone.

Device Management for the iPhone

Installing your own device management, such as the tools of Screen Time Labs, gives you some distinct advantages:

  • It offers a second layer of security, so if Apple’s app stops working or is removed, you still have control of the device.
  • Remote access allows you to lock and unlock the iPhone as needed, such as in emergencies, or to enforce a strict time limit.
  • Schedules can be created, updated, and enforced, so that if a child needs a phone for practical reasons at school, they’re limited to certain apps and contacts.
  • It isn’t subject to the whims of the platform provider. Apple makes far more money on the App Store and through subscription services than it does selling iPhones; it simply doesn’t have a strong incentive to let their customers cut these services off. Apple is unlikely to do anything unethical or illegal, but it also may only offer the bare minimum of what parents need.

Most importantly, remember to talk through the rules with your family and why they’re in place. We all are more likely to pay attention to rules when we understand the reasoning behind them, and children are no different. Often with online safety it’s a question of what kids do when Mom and Dad aren’t in the room, and they may need to act quickly or handle some difficult emotions. Having a conversation about what you expect, and leaving the door open to change it as needed, can be an effective safety tool.

Device management is a fundamental part of online safety for kids, but it’s also not a “set-it-and-forget-it” type of phenomenon. You need tools that will change as your family grows, grows up, and goes out in the world. To learn how Screen Time can fit your family’s needs, whether you’ve got teenagers or toddlers, try it for free!

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Parent Advice about Kids’ Screen Time, Age by Age

by Screen Time Team on 29/07/2019
Young teen looking at a laptop screen.

Defining “Screens”

First, one important note. Screens, in this case, means “all screens,” not just phones and tablets. Laptops and TV time should also be considered when applying screen time guidelines. Another point to remember: There’s little evidence, currently, that screens cause medical harm, but there are concerns around a lack of physical activity and that excessive screen time can negatively impact social skill development. This is true across all ages and needs to be taken into account.

Babies And Toddlers Up To 18 Months

In general, screen time of any length is not recommended for children younger than 18 months. This is less due to any harm possible from screens and more to do with keeping children engaged and active in the world around them: The WHO also recommends kids be kept out of strollers and other restraints as much as possible.

18-24 Months

In the 18-24 month period, it’s recommended that any screen time be supervised with a parent who actively watches and engages with the content along with their child. One example is educational programming that encourages kids to count or spell along, for example. Unsupervised time is still not recommended for this age bracket, and supervised time should be kept to under one hour per day.

24 Months to Five Years

These recommendations are largely the same as the 18-24 month olds, but with a suggestion that parents work to develop “real-world” connections. For example, if you watch a show with a child, you might ask them how experiencing what happens on the show might make them feel.

6 Years to Preteen

Young teen boy sitting on a couch looking at a tablet.

Parents can allow unsupervised time, although it’s recommended that you install parental control apps to limit risk, and to keep kids from using screens more than two hours a day. If kids want to use online environments, such as video games, you should have a detailed discussion about safety and set clear rules and limits on games children have to abide by.

Preteen to Teen

This is the area where the conversations begin to get tricky. Parental control apps should remain in use to prevent downloading of certain apps and to enforce schedules, but here it’s really more about the quality of the screen time. For example, it’s been shown that endlessly scrolling on Instagram is potentially bad for your mental health. This is the age where a conversation about the upsides and downsides of the internet is key.

Teen To College-Age

While parental control apps should still be in effect, this is the time to help your child transition into adulthood when it comes to their screen use. Work with them to better understand practical uses of phones and screens, like applying for work or doing homework, versus leisure time activities perhaps better spent elsewhere, like online games.

Some of these ranges will be subjective. Especially as demands for technology at schools change how we do homework, and as employers expect even teenagers to have smartphones, you’ll have to make judgement calls that best fit both your child’s needs and your concerns. Good parental control apps can help; to learn more, try it for free!

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