Controlling screen time: tools for parents

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Smartphones, tablets, smart watches and the like are incredible tools. For many of us, they have become essential parts of our daily lives, enabling us to be connected around the clock to all manner of useful services, alongside all the collected information in the world at the tap of a screen, or a quick “Hey Siri…”

However, these devices have a darker side. There has been much discussion in the media of the dangers of screen time, particularly for children. I was intrigued to read, in an article for the New York Times, that top executives in Silicon Valley keep their children away from the products that they themselves are creating:

Tim Cook, the C.E.O. of Apple, said earlier this year that he would not let his nephew join social networks. Bill Gates banned cellphones until his children were teenagers, and Melinda Gates wrote that she wished they had waited even longer. Steve Jobs would not let his young children near iPads

Research continues to show the extent of our addiction to mobile phones, whilst other studies find links between screen time and mental health problems. It is these concerns, among others, that have led us to hold fast to our ban on mobile devices at Churchill Academy; for main school students, mobile devices should not be seen or heard in the Academy at any time. We expect our students to be developing their social skills by having face-to-face conversations, and we want our school to be an oasis of calm away from the constant demands of notifications, group chats, news feeds and snapstreaks. You can read my previous post about our reasons for banning mobile phones in school here. And the message appears to be sinking in with our students: the winning team in this week’s public speaking competition prepared their presentation on the theme of phone overuse.

But what about when children are at home? How can parents manage and monitor children’s access to devices? I don’t think a total ban is helpful; these devices are superb tools for learning and entertainment as well as for communication. When children are travelling independently it is reassuring to know that have a phone with them if they need it.

I do, however, think that limits are helpful. Parents at our curriculum information evenings earlier in the year were keen to manage children’s screen time, but many said that they didn’t know how. Here are some tools that you might find useful in helping you in this rapidly developing field.

Apple: Families and Screen Time

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Apple’s Screen Time options – you can create personalised settings for your children

The Apple iOS has family controls built in. It’s the system my family uses and I find the tools really helpful. It allows an adult to set up an account for children under the age of 13, and you can continue to monitor and manage your children’s accounts up to the age of 18. I use the Family Sharing feature so we can share subscriptions and app purchases, but within Family Sharing you can also use Screen Time to set privacy and content restrictions. The “Ask to Buy” feature means you can control which apps your children download. Within Screen Time you can use four features to set the right limits for your children:

  1. Downtime: you can set “downtime” for a specific period. During this time, only phone calls and apps that you choose to allow are available. The default is for Downtime to be set overnight, but parents might consider setting Downtime during the school day as well, to reduce the temptation to sneak a look at the phone in the bag…
  2. App Limits: you can set daily time limits for different categories of apps each day. For example you could limit social networking time, games time, or entertainment time separately and independently. When children hit their limit, they are locked out automatically. They can message you to ask for more time, and you can decide whether or not you want to allow it.
  3. Always allowed: in this area, you can decide which apps should always be allowed even if children have hit their app limit or if they are in scheduled downtime. This means that you can contact your children in an emergency – or they could contact you – providing you with peace of mind and allowing you to decide which apps children can use.
  4. Content and privacy restrictions: within this area, you can allow or prevent your children installing and deleting apps, or making in-app purchases. You can also decide which of the pre-installed apps your children are allowed to use. Finally, within “content restrictions” you can set age-appropriate limits for the music, films, TV programmes, books and apps your children can view and use. Most useful, I think, is control over web content to prevent children accessing adult websites. You can also add particular websites to your children’s devices which are always allowed, or never allowed.
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Example content restrictions in Screen Time for iOS

 

Android: Parental Controls and Google Family Link

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Google’s Family Link app enable parents to monitor children’s usage and set appropriate controls and limits

The Android operating system has similar controls to iOS, but they aren’t all built in. You can set up parental controls on Google Play, but if you want to stay on top of your children’s usage you need a separate app called Google Family Link. Family link lets you manage your child’s screen time in a similar way to Apple’s Screen Time, but it also includes a handy feature highlighting teacher-recommended apps to help your children use their devices constructively. As with iOS, you can also track your children’s location using Google Family Link. I’m not an expert on Android, but this handy “how-to” from TechAdvisor is a good step-by-step guide to setting everything up. There’s even a Family Link app for iOS so Apple users can monitor children’s usage of Android devices!

How much time is too much time?

As a Headteacher and a parent, I am concerned about the amount of time our children spend looking at a screen. I share those concerns about myself as an adult, and I am using Screen Time to control and monitor my own mobile phone usage this year! It is for each family to decide what the limits should be for their own children. These limits will depend upon the children’s ages, their maturity, and the level of responsibility and control they have shown they are ready for. However, I am completely convinced that there should be limits set, no matter how mature and responsible the child is.

These devices are fantastic – but being glued to them all the time cannot be good for us, and it is our responsibility to ensure our children get into good habits and develop a healthy relationship with their phones and tablets.

Welcome to the Athene Donald Building

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Happy New Year! 2019 has begun with the first lessons taking place in the Athene Donald Building, our brand new facility for science and food & nutrition. On January 7th, the students of Tudor House made their way to their brand new tutor rooms, and the first classes came down throughout the day. What a difference! The new rooms are spacious, well-designed, and purpose-built for modern teaching and learning. Every room is air conditioned. The building is almost completely airtight, making it very efficient to heat and cool, whilst the entire roof is covered with solar panels, further adding to its environmental credentials. It is fully accessible, with ramps, lifts and adjustable lab and food preparation benches for wheelchair users. The corridors and staircases are wide and airy, with aspects overlooking the fields and out over the tennis courts.

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The project has been years in the planning. Funding was finally awarded by the government’s Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) in April 2017. The concrete slab base was laid in December 2017. Construction continued throughout 2018 – you can view a gallery of progress on the Academy website.

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The building’s name was decided following a student research competition in February 2018, with the winning entry championing Professor Dame Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics and Master of Churchill College, Cambridge. We are delighted that Professor Donald has agreed to join us at the Academy for the building’s official opening ceremony, which will take place in March.

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Moving in!

The process of moving in has been another challenge. Science and Food do not travel light! Our staff have been amazing in packing and unpacking all the equipment, resources and materials to ensure we were ready-to-go for the first day back, and the process will continue over the coming weeks to get everything properly set up.

It has been amazing to walk up and down the corridors and see the classrooms full of students, working and learning in these wonderful facilities. I know that they appreciate them – so many of them have been to tell us how brilliant it all is! And there is even better to come…Mrs Pattison put together a superb application to the Wolfson Foundation, and was successful in securing a £50,000 grant for brand new equipment. This means that the rooms will continue to be kitted out over the coming months with state-of-the-art equipment to match the surroundings.

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Goodbye to the Tudor Block

The Athene Donald Building replaces Churchill’s original school building. The Tudor Block was built for the 402 pupils of the new Churchill Secondary Modern School in 1956. It has served us well for over sixty years, but its time is now up; contractors have been in this week to strip out furniture, fixtures and fittings in preparation for demolition over the coming months. By the time the new school year begins in September, our site will look very different!

I’d like to thank all of the staff involved in making this project a reality, especially Deputy Headteacher Mr Branch who has overseen the whole thing with unflappable dedication. The building that we now have is ample reward for all that hard work and effort; our students will reap the benefit for many years to come.