Just how much time should children spend in front of TVs, tablets and computers? Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics revised its guidelines about kids and screen time. Titled “Media and Children Communication Toolkit,” this document contains a lot of common-sense advice for parents, such as monitoring which apps your children are downloading and checking them out yourself, making electronic-free zones and times, interacting with your kids as they use and consume all things digital, and balancing device use with things like exercise, family time, and sleep.
But let’s be honest: most of us aren’t hovering over our kids and interacting with them as they’re using a phone or tablet. In fact, back when my kids were little I did the opposite: I used screens to give myself a break from my kids, or get things done like laundry or cooking dinner. And once the kids are older, hovering simply isn’t possible. They’re out and about on their own.
So how do you monitor what your kids are doing online without hovering? One of the best systems we’ve seen is Amazon FreeTime (opens in new tab) for Kindle Fire. FreeTime comes installed on all Kindle Fires produced after 2012, and is free to use. You set up profiles for your children and the only things accessible while using FreeTime are things you put in there.
Don’t want your child having access to certain books or movies that you’ve purchased through Amazon? No problem. Just give them access to the appropriate stuff. Same with apps.
The parental time controls are excellent, letting you give access during specified times, or restricting only certain categories, such as giving unlimited access to books but limiting apps to an hour a day. You can even let the child earn time for one category by reading or using educational apps for a certain amount of time.
For a monthly fee that ranges from $3 to $10 based on the number of profiles and whether or not you have Amazon Prime, you can subscribe to FreeTime Unlimited, which gives you access to tens of thousands of books, TV shows, movies, educational apps, and games – all appropriate for children. Some Kindle Fires come with a year of FreeTime Unlimited.
But what about phones? TeenSafe is an excellent subscription app that lets you monitor what’s happening on your child’s phone. You can see texts—even deleted ones—and a compete log of calls. You can locate the phone, view a browser history, see all of the third-party apps installed on the phone (Android only) and see messages from apps like Kik and WhatsApp (iPhone only).
It’s worth noting, however, that you will not be able to see images or videos that have been texted to or from the phone. TeenSafe costs $14.95 for an unlimited number of kids.
You can check out this week’s Parenting Bytes podcast to hear more about monitoring your kids’ screen time and AAP guidelines.
Amy Oztan blogs at AmyEverAfter.com and co-hosts the Parenting Bytes podcast. She can usually be found on her couch in Brooklyn with her husband, two kids, and cat.