While it can be great to have more time to spend as a family when vacation rolls around, a parent can only listen to the whines of a bored child for so long. It can be easy to forget how to limit screen time – or tempting scrap the idea and let your kid watch as much as she wants to keep her occupied. And it’s can be especially challenging to control kids technology and data usage on family trips and outings.
Luckily for metro Detroit moms and dads, Michelle Gilbert, vice president of public relations for Comcast in Michigan, and her daughter, 14-year-old Ashley Gilbert, who live in Bloomfield Hills, shared some strategies they use at home to control kids technology and data usage. Whether you’re dealing with bored kids home for the summer or downtime during the school year, these tips have you covered.
1. Get the older kids involved
While parents have their kids’ best intentions at heart, the technology divide can sometimes be tricky to bridge. In Michelle’s family, she knows she can rely on teenage Ashley to keep an eye on her 10-year-old sister. “I’ve had conversations with my younger sister about not uploading videos with her face in it and not watching certain content on YouTube,” Ashley says. “I think a sibling can connect more with them, because they’ve had more of the same experiences.” Those sibling relationships can be extra helpful.
2. Use technology to your advantage.
For Comcast customers, there is an app called xFi that allows parents to control the devices of every family member. “Every family member in my home has a profile (on xFi) with all of their devices,” Michelle says. “I can set usage parameters by profile, so I can set different times a day the device can be used on weekends versus weekdays. I can set a timeframe – like you can use your device between noon and 4 p.m., or even give her three hours a day.” Verizon offers an online option for pausing internet connectivity for devices as well.
3. Set limits.
“We were getting into a bad habit of bringing our devices to the dinner table,” Michelle says. “But using the xFi app, I can pause the devices.” After a few times pausing the devices, it wasn’t necessary anymore. “Now, everyone knows to leave the devices behind when sitting down at the table.” It’s also helpful because parents can pause only some devices, so if mom or dad needs to make an urgent phone call, she or he can, Michelle adds. Even without the app, getting the family to set down devices at the same time every day can form good habits with technology.
4. Download ahead of time.
Ashley says she cuts down on extra data usage by downloading songs, Kindle books and Netflix shows to her device if she knows she’ll be traveling. “I also download games that don’t use data,” she says. In order to check if an app is using data or not, go into settings and turn off cellular data usage for each app, as some applications need data to function. If that fails, many places, like restaurants, college campuses and rest stops, have made Wi-Fi available. Using Wi-Fi to download and stream will keep data usage down, says Michelle. In general, optimize your speed, too, by learning how to make Wi-Fi stronger.
5. Disconnect the credit card.
Thinking she was using an old gift card attached to her account, Ashley once racked up real purchases on her mom’s credit card. “The app was charging $30 for in-game purchases, and when my mom found out, she wasn’t very happy about it,” Ashley says. “Now, my mom has taken her credit card off my account and I keep an eye out for in-app purchases.”
6. Spend time away from the screen.
Ashley says she keep herself occupied during summer vacation by taking art and animation classes. “I am one of the types of people who get mopey when they don’t have plans,” she says. “I sign up for camps over the summer or I make plans with friends so that I can do something I enjoy surrounded by other people.” Explore summer camps in metro Detroit and Ann Arbor or check out what’s offered by local colleges and community groups to find new things to do. When all else fails, Michelle brings out the board games. “We always put our noses in our devices, and it’s independent – but when we get together and socialize, it brings us together more than an online game would,” Ashley says.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Gilbert