Revealed:Technology secrets for parents wanting to reign in screen time.

It was spring ’20 and COVID-19 was just starting its reign over our lives. I needed to assess the tools we had and the goals we wanted to accomplish. Compounding our goals was summer vacation looming, and unknown return to school in the fall. There were a number of gyrations because of spring break, returning to school, summer vacation, and then a return to school. Let’s fast forward to the fall when on-line school started again. Note: Our kids go to Valor Public Schools, and they started back earlier than Austin Independent School District or Dripping Springs ISD.


Our goals at first were simple, get my son on-line as quickly as possible in order to support his education. Our youngest was in pre-school, so we had some weekly assignments we could do at home. Since then, we’ve realized that unchecked amount of #screentime creates an “undeserved sense of self-entitlement” in our kids.

#ios12 #parents #parenting #children #backtoschool #teachers #family #innovation #leadership #education #school

How do we manage it all?

Being married to a spouse who isn’t as technically inclined as me, How could I be a great dad and a husband? I have 25 years in B2B/B2B2C Enterprise Technology, my spouse has 10 years of being married to me, so lots of osmosis by way of overhearing it all. To her benefit, she’s quite savvy with mobile apps and an accomplished graphic artist. My goal is being a great husband and dad.

Working Together

When COVID-19 happened, we were headed into spring break here in Austin, TX. So we had some breathing room. However, I needed to assess the tools available to us. Our kids were using iPhones at the time, little if any Windows PC usage, and we had one Roku and one Amazon Fire TV, a work Mac and older ZTE android device. All of these devices were running on an ORBI WI-FI MESH system connected to AT&T Internet. Compounding the wifi networking opportunity was my desire for smart lights and systems. To sum it up, we have myriad of lights and equipment on the same network (like and comment this article if you want more on smart home setup).

Assessing the tools and goals

It was spring ’20 and COVID-19 was just starting its reign over our lives. I needed to assess the tools we had and the goals we wanted to accomplish. Compounding our goals was summer vacation looming, and unknown return to school in the fall. There were a number gyrations because of spring break, returning to school, summer vacation, and then a return to school. Let’s fast forward to the falle when on-line school started again. Note: Our kids go to a public charter school that started back early.

Goals, Times, and Tools

Our goals at first were simple, get my son on-line as quickly as possible in order to support his education. Our youngest was in pre-school, so we had some weekly assignments we could do at home. Since then, we’ve realized that unchecked amount of screen time creates an “undeserved sense of self-entitlement” in our kids. So, our goals…

Tools and Goals
  1. Reduce the amount of time they are on their screens
  2. Create a break from screens like phones, computers, TVs, to support reading
  3. Establish a system of rewards with the reduced time and breaks
  4. Establish goals in games, or other online activities in order to extend times
  5. Unknown to us at the time: improve our kids ability to set a schedule, listen, be aware of time, and get up early every day in the summer

These goals established the following schedule (changed to protect my kids)

Summer Vacation

  • 9am, before 9am one hour computer time Monday through Sunday
  • 9 to 10:30am, Sunday online services online
  • 9 to 10:30am, Monday through Saturday TV time, with possible extension
  • 10:30am to Noon, Monday through Sunday TV time, depending on behavior and goals
  • Noon to 3PM, Monday through Sunday, no screens, find something physical to do, reading, resting, board games, etc.
  • 3PM to 4PM, Monday through Sunday, computer time based on behavior, with options to extend based on goals or behavior
  • 6PM dinner and some kind of family activity outside, or inside pending weather

School Season

Since school returned, we’ve revised this schedule for weekly school activity

  • 6am to 6pm Computer time Monday Friday
  • 9 to 10:30am, Sunday online services online
  • 9 to 10:30am, Saturday through Sunday TV time, with possible extension
  • 10:30am to Noon, Saturday through Sunday TV time, depending on behavior and goals
  • Noon to 3PM, Saturday through Sunday, no screens, find something physical to do, reading, resting, board games, etc.
  • 3PM to 4PM, Friday through Sunday, computer game time based on behavior, with options to extend based on goals or behavior.
  • NPM to NPM, Monday through Thursday, computer game, phone time, TV time, depending on completion of school work, tax and income statement duties.
  • 6PM dinner and some kind of family activity outside, or inside pending weather
  • 7:45pm, Sunday through Thursday, all screens, computers, TVs, etc. shutdown for bedtime

Once we established the schedule, goals, and duties, we are able to incorporate the technology management layer. For us, we were building the goals, timings, and technology management on an iteration basis, with my wife and I doing a daily stand-up, and releasing as much as twice a day, usually daily.

Technology Tools

The technology management layer when we started wasn’t as robust as it is now. So I’ll spare you the unknowns you’ll likely run into. The key for Microsoft and Apple setting up "family accounts" for your kids, for Circle (NetGear/Orbi) it is buying the right technology.

Microsoft Family Safety (setup guide)

Apple IOS Screen Time | Family (setup guide)

Circle | Parental Controls for NetGear | PREMIUM (setup guide)

Learning and Data Center Tools

Each of these requires some level of setup, so I am going to spare those details here because each company has reasonable setup guides and the links are provided. You’ll want to review each.

A special note, Microsoft and Apple are include with their OS complementary. Circle | Parental Controls for NetGear | PREMIUM is a paid service, with a one month trial.

Microsoft Family Safety Secrets

  1. Download and use the mobile app vs. desktop for the best customer experience.
  2. Set restrictions at the device level to disable the entire computer (Mobile App, Select Child, Select Screen Time, Select Devices, make updates). This enables us to allow computer usage all day during the week, and limited times on the weekends, see our schedule above.
  3. During school (week) days, review their Most used apps via the mobile app (Mobile App, Select Child, under Screen Time, Most used apps). That section will display which apps are used when you’re not looking at their screen. Lock down non-school apps using Screen Times Update Weekday | Limits Set to 0. This creates a forcing function where it’s blocked and they must ask to use it. Weekends we use a separate schedule for apps.
  4. That’s it, we keep these settings to either off or on, if needed you could set content filters for each kid. Individual content filters are cumbersome, e.g. block all websites except, because they can't be scheduled. Produt request, set a schedule where all sites are blocked except school sites.

Apple IOS Screen Time | Family Secrets

  1. The biggest secret with this is you can manage it with a parent’s phone. I setup Screen Time on the older iPhones we don’t use anymore and it is a pain to manage per phone (March ‘20). Fast forward (Sept ‘20), I realized when school started that I can control the Screen Time settings remotely by navigating to My Phone, Settings, Screen Time, Family, and select a child’s name. Caution: It is easy to confuse their Screen Time settings and yours. If you forget where you are, look for Child’s Name iPhone label at the top
  2. Reset a forgotten Screen Time set on a child’s device. I thought I would need to reset my son’s phone, but I was able to recover by resetting from my iPhone. From the family manager phone you can reset the child’s phone screen time with your Face ID or passcode. Navigate to My Phone, Settings, Screen Time, Family, and select a Child’s Name then scroll to the bottom and Change Screen Time Passcode.
  3. In our case, Microsoft Teams app is always enabled, because it is used for school. What about other apps? Yes, you can put them into request to use mode. Patience is needed when setting this up because your phone needs to read out the apps installed on the other phones. The list may be slow to load when you first review settings for Always Allowed apps.
  4. Content restrictions, e.g. restrict TV-MA and NR/R movies. Navigate to Settings → Screen Time → Child’s Name → Content and Privacy Restrictions, then Content Restrictions, then update settings like TV Shows and Movies, as well as controlling explicit language. It was good to set the maximums we allow without us being in the room. Note: there may be a bug here because this seems to reset everytime I review the settings.

Circle | Parental Controls for NetGear | PREMIUM Secrets

There are a couple of reasons you want Circle | Parental Controls for NetGear | PREMIUM edition.

RewardsTime Limits, and OffTimes, where rewards allow easy extension of BedTime and Time Limits, or disabling OffTimes

  1. Set websites (think games) to managed, so they can be easily disabled or limited across multiple devices.

We have three profiles for both kids 1) computers 2) iPhones 3) TVs

  1. Computers profile we use time limits to restrict all online games during school days, turn on YouTube safe and safe search filters, and limit YouTube usage. Example, online games and YouTube is limited to 15 minutes, so they could play a little, but then they get shutdown and we get notified (in case we need to discuss it later). Note: this profile has only a couple of settings and acts as a saftey net to Microsoft Family Safety, .e.g. safe search and youtube safe search.
  2. iPhones profile we use Circle BedTime to control the use of the network, vs. an actual bedtime. I found at trick that where I set the BedTime to 9am, and awake time to 8:15am. This provides a usage period of 45minutes from 8:15 - 9 AM. Our Circle iPhones profile has a set time limit on games ROBLOX and YouTube. If the boys want more Time Limits and adjusted BedTime we update as a one-off using Circle | Premium’s reward feature. More on Apple IOS Screen Times later.
  3. TVs profile we use Circle BedTime, Time Limits, and OffTimes. BedTime controls general TV watching no earlier than 6am, no later than 7:45pm S-Th, and 8:45pm F-S. Time Limits control watching YouTube Lastly, we use three separate OffTimes 1) 8am to 10:30am 2) 10:30am to Noon and 3) Noon to 3pm. Circle | Premium rewards only disable OffTimes. BedTime and Time Limts are easily extended using Rewards, whereas OffTimes may only be disabled. So our OffTimes are "buckets" that are enabled and may be disabled with a polite gesture, or completing work on their income statements (Please click 👏 Celebrate for details on the Kid's Income Statements).

We use these tools to our benefit. Our kids are still looking for the gaps in the program. It’s easy to take everything from them. We want them to use the tools and talk to us. If we shut them out, they’ll shut us out. We have talks with them weekly. Let us know your tips and tricks in the comments. Follow me on LinkedIn for more on parenting secrets and B2B SaaS operations.

Comments

Popular Book Excerpts

The GIVES framework: How to test your growth?

The art & science of great communication

Market Research: Neurodiverse people account for 15% of your target customers