Parenting in the digital age involves a whole new layer of supervision, education and good ol’-fashioned snooping. Kids left unsupervised on devices can get into all kinds of trouble to be sure, but they also need help building their balance muscle— how to manage screen time so they can grown up to be healthy, happy adults (I write this as I clutch my mobile phone, laptop in my lap, iPad at arms reach— hey, don’t do as I do, kids).
Of course, most kids don’t have moderation goals, they have “how can I play ’til my eyes fall out, and then finish the level I’m on” goals. So screen time wars are a constant struggle for most moms and dads I know, and we could use a little assistance. There are a handful of new gadgets on the market— some are routers, and some are smart hubs— that put control back in parents’ hands. Have a look below at four of my new favorite allies, signaling the possible end of screen time wars.
Even I get tired of hearing myself say, “Guys, put down your devices.” So was software/hardware engineer Tali Orad, the creator of Screen (available for pre-order at $99). So she built Screen as a hub that can command all your screen-based electronics, including TVs, streaming media, and game consoles, as well as all your tablets, laptops and smartphones. Once it’s plugged in, a parent syncs it with an app and can set rules about when kids can play and when they can’t, setting times for homework, play time, and family time. What really sets it apart: it keeps tabs on kids and their devices no matter where they are. So if your kids are at a friend’s house during “no screen” time, Screen will still shut off their devices. And before the device shuts down, kids get a warning so they can finish what they’re doing. Last resort: In times of desperation, you can shake your phone and use Screen’s app to shut down all devices at once.
Still available only on pre-order ($199) with plans to ship early this year, Torch is being marketed as a “pause button for the Internet.” It connects to your wireless router, letting you switch off your home’s devices at any given time using an app. It’s also profile-specific, so it can shut down your kids’ gadgets and leave yours running. Torch will also send you reports of your kids’ browsing history, so you can custom-block any content you don’t like. All that said, it only works on devices that inside the house. And while it can control both iOS and Android devices, its associated app is available only for iOS and the web, but I’m guessing that an Android app will be next.
Circle is a device that connects to your home’s Wifi, then allows you to control and monitor all the devices connected to it, including the magical ability to “pause the Internet” for the entire home. It’s profile-specific, so you can choose whose device shuts off and when. You can also “bedtimes” for devices, and create daily time limits. Unlike Torch, it’s only $99. Plus, for grown-ups and kids alike, Circle can function as an ad-blocker. To achieve all this, Circle uses “ARP spoofing,” technology that’s typically used by hackers to intercept your data. So is it safe? The creators insist that it is, and hope that their partnership with Disney will reassure buyers.
Luma is like surround sound for your Wifi: A series of signal-boosting devices that give your home perfect Wifi throughout, with parental controls within. Available now on pre-order ($99 for one), Lumas can also “pause the Internet”—on devices at home or away—plus set time limits and show you who is connected at any given time, and what they are doing online (if that sounds a little creepy, it’s because it’s TOTALLY A LOT CREEPY). Like Circle, it offers preset filters, and it additionally includes a virus protector and automatic scans for hacking attempts. Unlike Circle, its app is compatible with both iOS and Android.
Devices like these are just one tool in the chest when it comes to helping your kids build good habits around screen time. Hopefully you’ll be having a dialog with them all along the way about moderation, health and safety, and the importance of living life without a device in hand. But as immediate fixes for your younger family members, I think they’re a refreshing solution.
Do you use parental controls? How do they work for your family? Let me know in the comments!