I appreciate this hack from Melissa -- simply, how her family uses the parental controls built into her computer's operating system to manage her kids' computer use. It's easy to overlook the tools we already have right at our fingertips.
What's great about Melissa's hack -- beyond just using both low- and high tech tools and setting the limits -- is that the larger conversation is also happening. Getting along with siblings, sharing, balancing electronic time, getting active...it's all part of the bigger picture.
I know you had a post about timers and other methods of limiting kids' screen time, but I thought I'd share our strategy for the computer.
If you have a PC running Vista or higher, in the Parental Controls section of the Control Panel, you can select which hours of the day throughout the week each user can be logged on to the computer. So if each child is set up with a user account, you can set the specific times when they have access to the computer.
Set time limits using Windows parental controls
For our family, not only does this help us limit total screen time, it has also eliminated the fights between the kids about whose turn it is to use the computer. We have a chart that shows when each person's time slot is, and the computer logs them off when their time expires.
Nobody has access in the mornings before school, in the hour after school (so that there is some uninterrupted homework time), or after 6 p.m. Our weekday schedule is different than our weekend schedule, and during school breaks I often adjust the times to a holiday schedule.
You can also use the parental controls to restrict which websites a child can access. It's not a perfect tool, but works especially well for younger kids. My 5-yr-old has just three sites he can visit (like pbskids.org) and I feel confident that I don't have to monitor every minute of his time.
Though they occasionally whine when their time ends in the middle of a game or video, they have become better at managing their time at the computer. It also forces them to get up and move around, instead of spending all their screen time in a single session.
Just thought I'd share, in case it might be a solution that would work for other families!
Parental Controls panel in Mac OS X
I use a Mac running OS X, and there are similar parental controls available in the System Preferences.
It's interesting how the conversation about managing kids' screen time changes so quickly. Remember when we used to talk about "setting limits on TV?" The idea seems almost quaint now that screens are a part of everything we do.
How do you manage your kids' computer use? Do you lump "screen time" together or do you differentiate between TV, video games, and Internet use?
We've got a number of screen time management tips at Parent Hacks, including tying video game time to points earned by doing chores, or using a system of tickets.