App-y Holiday, Mom

The holidays are here, moms and dads are making their lists and checking them twice, and kids are hitting the sack with visions of smartphones and hand-held tablets dancing in their heads. And odds are, a lot of them are gonna see those high-tech dreams come to a Christmas morning reality.

Of course, with techy treasure can come techy temptation … and techy trouble. And while many parents accept that small screens and childhood are fated to comingle in this day and age, there are still plenty who feel a bit wary about that fact. After all, some experts are suggesting that by the age of 7, most kids have spent over a year’s worth of 24-hour days watching some sort of little screen.

So what is a discerning mom and dad to do? Once they open Pandora’s iPad, how can they keep a hand on that tiger’s tail?

Fortunately, there are a number of smart mothers and fathers who have been putting a lot of thought into the subject. One of them is a guy named Steve Vangasse who helped create an app called “Screen Time.”

The free version of this downloadable application gives users a bit of what-are-my-kids-doing monitoring ability. But when mom or dad ponies up a small monthly fee, that’s when the magic is truly uncorked.

What can it do? It sets time limits on screen access and game play, of course. And it selectively blocks whatever you want blocked. But it also does a number of other really cool things, too. For one, it lets you set up certain times of the day or night when game play and the like is turned off altogether. So, if junior heads off in the morning with a phone in his pocket, he’ll be free to call if there’s an emergency, but the phone will know that web searching and Candy Crush play are strictly verboten during school hours.

The app also lets parents essentially connect all their kids’ devices to their central remote control. So even though the chillens may be scattered to the four winds, one punch of a button on your phone puts any or all of the devices in “pause” mode. Nothing will get a kid running to see what Dad needs quicker that having the iPad pause in the middle of a Netflix show binge. Oh, and there’s a get-the-chores-done bonus feature in the mix, too. If little Susie runs out of allotted time and sees that she can earn a reward of 20 extra minutes for 30 minutes of backyard play, you could see unexpected things come to fruition.

(And you might also be surprised to see how quickly a 30-minute “chore” outside can grow into much longer playtime once the, uh, ball gets rolling.)

On top of all that, as the promotion clip suggests, the Screen Time app is more than happy to be the mean ol’ baddie and shoulder the blame for time limitations and blocked apps. “Hey, it’s not my fault, Jimmy. It’s the app.”

The drawback to all this, of course, is the fact that the app really only gives you the goods if you opt to pay a $3.99 monthly fee (or $39.99 per year). It would be so much more wallet friendly if this little helper were a freebee. But, hey, nothing’s perfect. Besides, wielding smartphone super powers like this might just well be worth buying one less latte a month.

Who wrote this?

Bob Hoose is a senior associate editor for Plugged In, a producer/writer for Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey, a writer of plays and musicals and one-half of the former comedy/drama duo Custer & Hoose. He is a husband, father of three and a relatively new granddad.

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