Reclaiming Screen Time

Perhaps one day archeologists will filter through the detritus that is our legacy and find nothing but blank, staring rectangles to explain our society. These forgotten relics will divulge nothing of our time here as they would should they maintain the life current that is battery charge. The secrets of this century will be sealed tightly behind the tempered glass, framed with the metallic glow that glints from whatever future millennial sun peaks down on our forgotten things. Whether we like it or not, we live in an age of technology and dependence on screens and energy. Sometimes I forget this, but then I am brought back into this century when a student expresses dismay that I once had to research homework by actually thumbing through physical books and encyclopedias (when I explained the latter to a group of them, one responded “Oh, so like a book of Google?”)

The more we move through life as modern parents, the more we come to realize that the simpler life was a time of less stress and certainly less pressure. Nowadays, there is a stance on everything we do for our offspring, from diapering to feeding to entertaining. Many parents feel that children should have no access to electronics while others use them as default babysitters. I find myself walking the line depending on my mood or the day. It is not always going to be beautiful weather for playing outside and you are not always going to feel like playing board games or making crafts with your children indoors. There is no reason to feel badly about this, but you can reclaim how your children use their screen time.

It is difficult as parents to regulate our children’s screen time when we are guilty of many of the same transgressions. Children model behavior seen in the home. If you are always telling your child to go do something creative or productive, yet you can’t go ten minutes without picking up your phone then this is poor modeling. There are many things we can say “well, I’m the adult” about, but I don’t think this is one of them. Our dependence on mobile devices is a learned behavior which we are passing down to our children. There are many times when I sing at restaurants and watch parents come in for dinner only to park their school-aged child in front of an iPad. I’m not going to lie, the iPad is a fantastic distraction for my four year old when out dining, but I do not agree that a child over the age of seven cannot sit and partake in dinner conversation. It would be quite rude of me to sit at dinner with a book in my face for the whole meal and I feel that having a tablet in front of your face should garner the same social reaction. Teaching and modeling polite, socially acceptable use of screen time is something which is fast becoming akin to basic etiquette.

It is important at this point to note, however, that not all screen time is misused energy. I’ve found that by streamlining my children’s experiences on their devices, I have been able to better control the content to which they are exposed during their iPad, Kindle Fire or video streaming use.

Reclaim Apps

“News” App for iPad 

The original intended use of this default iPad app is to provide newspaper content to adults, however, with some tweaking in the settings you can utilize this app for an independent reader as young as ten. My daughter and I chose topics and magazines which interest her from the set up screen of this app in order to create a daily “paper” just to her liking. She can now browse articles about science and technology or read editorials from publications such as National Geographic or the Smithsonian.com. There is the occasional “trending today” article feed so if you would rather shelter your child from the perils of the world of politics, I recommend using the News app for reading together.

Duolingo

This is a fantastic free app for learning foreign languages in “bite-sized” lessons. You can set it up to send reminders about studying so that you get in your allotted ten minutes daily. My daughter recently downloaded this and has been really excited about using it. The user interface is fun and easy to navigate, even for children.

Hopscotch

I had read a lot about this app across various web magazines and thought I would give it a shot. It teaches older children to code by using quick step-by-step video tutorials to create their own video games which they can then play themselves or with you.

It is initally free, but to access the full version you subscribe for around $8 a month. This may seem pricey for an app, but the content is fantastic and updated often. Think of it as an extracurricular for your child.

YouTube Kids

I have NO idea how I didn’t realize this existed, but shout out to Becky for alerting me! This app filters the content of regular YouTube to age appropriate videos for either preschool or primary school aged children. It also has a nifty timer on it so you can set the app to lock after a specified period of time. (Side note: this timer is only good if your child cannot read because the “code” to access it is randomly generated and requires you to type the numerals for number words supplied.)

There are a number of fantastic YouTube channels which you can utilize to make screen time educational and engaging for your child. My family is partial to any drawing tutorial video and we love to make friendly competitions to see who will win. Even younger children can get in on the fun since some tutorials detail how to draw popular cartoon characters which are easier for little hands.

Toca Boca

I love all the apps created by this Sweden-based developer! They are fantastic because they  have a large selection of apps for all ages which engage children in matching, logistics, or fine motor skills while maintaining a game-like interface. The animations are whimsical and the music is not entirely annoying, so it’s something you can handle listening to. My four year old has been loving this collection of apps since he was a toddler and I can see him getting a lot more use out of them as he grows.

Super Mario Run

Nothing educational here, just good old-fashioned nostalgia which you can share with your child. My four year old and I have a fantastic time playing this game together during screen time. It isn’t a two person game, but we take turns playing different levels and I usually have to remind myself that pressing harder on the iPad screen is not going to make Mario jump higher. The app itself is free, but if you are a sucker like I am then you will end up paying the $9.99 to access all the worlds. You won’t be disappointed. I have been known to sneak his iPad at night to play while he is asleep.

Kindle Free Time

Prior to their iPads, my children were frequent Kindle Fire users. They still use them for games or reading, but the user interface of the iPad is something they both prefer now that they are older. There are aspects of the Kindle Fire which I miss, however, and primarily longed for is the Kindle Free Time feature. While in this app, your child cannot exit the kid-friendly environment or make purchases from the app store. You can either buy apps, videos* or books and make them available in Kindle Free Time or subscribe to Amazon’s Free Time Unlimited service which grants you access to thousands of popular apps, videos* or books. The best part about this is that you can set a timer to block access to apps or videos* until your child has read for a set time. You can also force the Kindle Fire to go to “sleep” or “wake” between set periods of time. This is a fantastic feature for the parent who enjoys free range screen time for their child. I’m still waiting for iOS to up their parental control game…

*the video feature on Amazon doesn’t work in Anguilla.

Family Sharing for iPad

While they’re not on Amazon’s level for parental controls, Apple is trying. Instead of making your child their own independent Apple ID, you can create one which is linked to yours under a Family Sharing profile. Any purchase your child attempts in the AppStore is routed to your device for confirmation before it goes through which allows you to not only monitor what your child is downloading, but also control in-app purchases which may be linked to your credit card. Family Sharing also allows you to share media content which is great if you make frequent music or video purchases and want them to appear across your family’s devices. While this feature isn’t as great as Amazon’s ability to control app usage or when the tablet shuts off, it is a step in the right direction.

Reclaim TV

Streaming can be a blessing and a curse. Thousands of shows all at your finger tips can mean thousands of choices which can become overwhelming for a child. What I enjoy about streaming is that my children are not exposed to advertisements as they would be on mainstream TV. One way to keep Netflix (my streaming platform of choice) kid-friendly is to create a profile for your child. This will not only restrict them to the “Kids’ Netflix” titles, but will also keep Netflix from suggesting that your husband watch My Little Ponies: A Very Minty Christmas based on “his” previous selections. Oops.

If you have an older child, creating a Docu-Movie Night may be right up your alley. My daughter and I have recently been making it a point to watch a documentary every week. Netflix has hundreds of documentaries, however not all of them are safe for viewing with your child, so make sure you pick a film which suits your family. Our queue has many nature and science documentaries. For instance, we have most recently watched The Lion in Your Living Room (twice) and a show called Unlikely Animal Friends along with our favorite, Brain  Games.

In addition to great documentaries, you can parcel out streaming screen time for educational viewing with shows like Odd Squad, Octonauts, Dinosaur Train, Justin Time or The Magic School Bus. There are also several great boards on Pinterest showing some awesome educational picks for Netflix viewing (search key terms like “homeschool Netflix” or “educational Netflix”).

If you have anything else you think I should check out or that you would like to add to these lists, leave me a comment below!

 

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