It’s probably the number one dilemma of modern parents: how to ween your kids from the irresistible allure of the screen.
According to research firm Childwise, children age 5 to 16 spend an average of 6.5 hours a day glued to computers, phones, tablets, and televisions — often viewing multiple screens at the same time. Of course, in some cases that screen time is beneficial; kids are doing homework, writing research papers, composing music, or creating videos.
Most of the time, though, they’re watching PewDiePie on YouTube or playing League of Legends. And with the average U.S. home containing 5 to 10 connected devices — a number expected to hit 50 by the year 2020 — managing them all can be a full-time job.
Which is why entrepreneur and parent Tali Orad created Screen, a new time-management app and hardware solution that will be available later this year for $99. (Screen is taking pre-orders on its site starting today.)
Unlike other solutions that limit kids’ ability to surf the Internet at home, Screen claims to give you the power to turn devices on or off with a few taps on your phone — no matter where you or the devices happen to be.
Orad came to the Yahoo offices last week to give us an early look at it. Screen looks promising, though we’ll reserve final judgement until we can get our hands on a working version.
Download on the downlow
You start by downloading an app to every connected device in your house — laptop, desktop, phone, or tablet. Then you set up rules for each one, determining when the device can be used and for how long.
So you can have everyone’s phones automatically shut off during dinner hour, turn off the 8-year-old’s tablet at 8 pm, but allow your teenage daughter’s laptop to operate until 10 pm. Or you can simply limit each person’s access to their devices for a specified number of hours each day, as well as set bedtimes and awake times for each gadget.
Screen also provides a kind of intelligent switchbox for video game consoles and HDTVs that intercepts the HDMI signal coming from these devices and lets you control them as well.
The phone app allows parents to adjust schedules as needed — if your child needs an extra 15 minutes to complete a homework assignment, for example. Want to get everyone’s attention in a hurry? Launch the Screen app and just shake your phone; all of the devices it controls are instantly shut off.
One thing Screen doesn’t do is protect your kids from the dark slimy belly of the Internet or stranger danger. You can see that kids used a texting app or launched their browser, but you won’t be able to see whom they were texting or where they surfed. You can also see what’s on anyone’s screen at any time, or set the app to take periodic snapshots of what your kids are looking at, then view them later.
Because Screen uses 4G to communicate with the company’s servers in the cloud, you don’t need to be logged in to your home network to use it; it can operate from anywhere you can get a signal. And if your teenagers rebel and try to delete the app from their phones (or remove the Screen box), you get an alert — and they get a stern talking to.
When devices get cut off, Screen suggests a list of alternative real-world activities you can customize. Orad says the idea is to ask kids what they would be doing if they weren’t watching a screen, then offer those things as suggestions.
One of the key elements to Screen is that kids have to literally sign an agreement in the app, outlining the family rules around screen time and appropriate device use. That’s important, says Orad, who sees Screen as an educational tool rather than simply a way to control runaway device abuse.
“Screen is about more than just device management,” says Orad, a software engineer by trade. “It’s about teaching kids how to develop good screen habits.”
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Dan Tynan spends way too much time in front of screens, especially on Twitter