As a parent, I hoped it wouldn’t happen, but it did. Screens have invaded my two girls’ minds, and I needed to get control over it. Since my kids switch between a few devices and types, I needed to use a combination of things to reign this in. Here is what I was up against:
- Mobile Phones – My kids both have mobile phone devices that use Google Fi. That means they can use mobile data plans or WiFi to access the internet. I needed to be able to control the apps they use, the time of day they can use them, the websites they visit, and be able to update the time they can use these devices as needed, such as when the schedule changes temporarily or to reward good behavior. The problem is controlling both Mobile network access and WiFi.
- Amazon Kindle Fire Tablets – The cost of the Amazon Kindle Fire Tablets is so low (especially on Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday or if you get a refurbished unit) that we got one for each of them. They also got Amazon Freetime Unlimited for Kids so they do lots of reading on the devices. But they also spend time doing other things including using some educational apps that I recommend anytime, and some not-so-educational things, like watching Rhett and Link videos on YouTube.
- Chromebooks-I LOVE Chromebooks in case you were wondering. They are quick, virus-free, and reliably do what they are designed to do–run a chrome web browser and Google Docs. Unfortunately, the parental control options are quite limited, so this required some thought.
The parental control that works for us
Given the mix of devices above, there isn’t one complete solution. Especially because of the mobile data on the kids’ phones, I needed to come up with something extra for that, but here is what works in our household:
Google WiFi – I have to say I am very pleased with Google’s WiFi product. It was easy to set up, and depending on the size of your home, you can add additional “nodes” around the house to get full coverage–it sets up a mesh network around your home very easily. You can purchase either one node at a time or buy them in sets of three. Three will do quite well for most medium and larger homes. Once you’ve set up your Google WiFi, you control it through an app on your phone. Among other things, that app allows you to easily pick out devices on your network and schedule the time they are able to access Wifi. For most of the things my girls do on their Chomebooks, Phones, no WiFi means things aren’t going to work. They definitely won’t be watching videos on YouTube, for example, if they have no WiFi. This takes care of alot of the issue, but not all of it.
Screen Time – I really like this kid-supervision app. It is installed on mobile phones and works on Android and iOS devices. It allows us to limit the total amount of time the kids can spend on their phones using apps. You can restrict app installs, and set limits for specific apps. You can also use this app to schedule when the phones can be used.
There is an easy “pause” button that allows you to turn off access on the kids’ phones–great for dinnertime. When you click it, you can set the amount of time the phone will be in pause mode. You can also add time if you like. In fact, one great feature is that you can set up tasks that. The app costs about $4/month with discounts for multi-month purchases.
There is a limited free version of the app that will let you get the hang of the app and is potentially all you need.
Kid’s FreeTime App – This is specific to the Amazon Kindle Fire Tablets. It is more difficult to use than the ScreenTime app mentioned above. However, the basic version is free and included with the Kindle Fire Tablets. It limits the time in apps and also prevents kids from installing their own apps or books. The Kid’s FreeTime Unlimited add-on allows kids to choose their books and movies based on Amazon’s pre-selected titles that it feels are okay for children.
None of the above are perfect; for example, your kids may find a way to enable their devices via the mobile network by turning on a WiFi hotspot that isn’t controlled by your screentime app. This is why I have also taken to pausing my kids’ mobile phone service. In the case of Google Fi, you can just go into the app and turn service on and off at will for a given phone. The only other think you may have to look out for is a nearby neighbor who has an unsecured network (or they have given your child the password).
[Are you looking for the best beaches in and near Maryland? Also, see my other list of activities to do in Maryland with children. You may also want to view my list of educational TV shows available on streaming]