If you’re like me you’ve read enough articles about the detrimental effects of screen time on kids to give you a sufficient amount of guilt and anxiety to last a lifetime. No fear, this is not one of those articles. I’m a dad of two boys – 12 and 9 years old – and I don’t need articles or research to tell me that sitting and staring at a (television, computer, phone, tablet – whatever) screen for hours on end isn’t what a healthy, flourishing childhood (or adulthood for that matter) looks like. But I’m also a realist. Pandora’s box of technological wonders has been opened, and there’s no closing it. Sooner or later our kids will have access to the technological marvels of our day, and it’s up to us as parents to help them figure out boundaries and guidelines of appropriate use. In our house that means setting and enforcing boundaries around what, when and how much content they can consume via screens. Setting those limits is often easier than enforcing them. Which is why I was so excited to find a new ally in moderating screen time – OurPact.
OurPact is a system created “to empower parents to guide their children through the balanced use of technology.” In short it’s an application that you set up on your iOS or Android device that allows you to grant or deny access to the internet and apps on a scheduled or an ad hoc basis. This allows you to set boundaries on when and how long your kids have access to devices, and the system enforces those boundaries. Want to make your dinner table a technology-free zone? Set up a recurring schedule to shut off access during dinner. Want to make sure your kids aren’t using devices after bedtime? Set up a schedule to shut off access from bedtime until wakeup time. While the scheduling feature is nice, what I love most so far is the ability to enforce time limits for ad hoc use. How many times have I said, “Okay, you can watch videos on the tablet for 30 minutes,” only to get distracted and come back an hour later to find my kids still glued to the screen?! Honestly, it’s not their fault. I’m pretty sure space-time bends in a strange way around all tech devices so that one minute of screen time is equivalent to fifteen minutes of real time. With OurPact you never have to guess or fight over how long they’ve been on the device. Simply grant access for the amount of time desired, and when their time is up, access shuts down. Parents can manage all devices through a simple interface through the OurPact app (iOS or Android) or on a browser through the web app. In my experience set up was a breeze and took only a couple minutes on each device.
Obviously this doesn’t solve all our problems. We still have to find other ways to manage computer, TV and console game usage, and there is no filter to control what your kids access (check out OpenDns for that). But in my house OurPact has been a great tool to help reinforce our family’s boundaries around technology and guide our kids toward a more healthy relationship with media content.