In order to set the right limits for their kids, parents need to work to understand what draws kids to screens and what keeps them there.

By Kurt Beidler, as told to Jessica Hartshorn
October 24, 2019
Maskot/Getty Images

It’s a key parenting issue of our generation: How do we limit our kids’ screentime? That we need to is pretty much a given, because adults, too, are endlessly fascinated with our glowing boxes and rarely even eat a meal without scrolling. It’s no surprise that our kids are hooked as well.

As general manager of Amazon Kids and Family, I’ve lived through raising two boys in the iPhone generation. It’s informed my job, developing tools like Amazon Freetime Unlimited, the subscription service containing thousands of pieces of kid-friendly content. My sons’ Minecraft obsession led to one particular lightbulb moment that I think can help other parents, too. 

Learn Your Kids' Favorite Games

From my point of view, Minecraft was sucking him in and he was spending a lot of time with it and I just assumed it was bad. But then he invited me to make a world with him and I realized that Minecraft is mentally challenging and builds a lot of problem-solving and creative skills. There’s a lot of really great stuff out there, but parents need to understand it.

We’ve added Discussion Cards to the Amazon Parent Dashboard to help parents “get” what their kids are up to. I hope the Discussion Cards help parents understand why a game interests their child without them having to go in and play themselves.

Use Screens as Educational Tools

I also recommend the dashboard for discovering all that Amazon devices can do. For instance, a Parents 101 about the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition lists more than 1,000 audiobooks that the device can play. Once you know that they’re there, it opens up a tremendous world of education and entertainment.

Let Kids Help Set Screentime Limits

It's important to make an informed decision about how much screentime your kids should have. Amazon Parent Dashboard lets you set time limits, use a “Learn First” feature to have your child read on their Fire tablet, say, before they can play games and videos, and set automatic shutoff times at bedtime.

These tools are most effective when you have a conversation together. I’ve been down the time limit road with both of my teens. Ask your child, ‘Is it reasonable for you to be playing Minecraft after 8 p.m.? Reasonable for you to be playing for 4 hours straight?’

Once you set guidelines together, then they are not surprised and don’t feel like they’re being jerked around. I have a lot of empathy for kids whose parents snap when screen time seems to have gone on too long. I know if I am watching a show, I want to watch it to the end. For a child in their little world of a show or game or book, if you rip a device out of their hands, it can be pretty traumatic. I recommend saying, ‘I get it, you want to finish.’

But that doesn’t mean you don’t keep talking about screen time and set limits that make sense for your family. We are parents and we are in control. Just like we don’t give kids unlimited soda and cookies, we have a say in their digital diet, too.

Kids want their own place to play and learn and discover and be independent, and it’s super valuable for them to have that. It’s valuable in the physical world and digital world. There’s a lot of goodness with the right safeguards in place.

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