Friday, February 17, 2012

Making Screen Time Limits Gentle and Fun

Guest post by Cathy Earle

Transitions can be hard for kids, and sharing can be even harder. It would be lovely if everybody on the planet could have their own top-of-the-line computer, but it's not a reality in all schools and families. Even the least-scheduled homeschoolers can't play Minecraft and Wizard 101 whenever they please, because there are appointments to keep, baths to take, meals to eat, beds to sleep in, and hopefully fields to run in! Whether parents and teachers limit kids' computer time in order to share one computer among several users or because of educational or health reasons, enforcing “screen time” limits can be very frustrating.
There can be whining, begging, bargaining, or even all-out arguments.

Industrial Designer Justin Thoreau Lund tells me that he found himself in this situation with his normally mild-mannered daughter Vega. He writes:

Our attempts to come to a mutual understanding regarding screen time were the inspiration for BEEP, a USB device that gently transitions kids off of a computer when their allotted screen time is up. BEEP has bendable arms that allow the timer to be positioned on the computer monitor, and BEEP's animated eyes act as visual cues showing the passing of time. As a child's screen time winds to a close, BEEP falls asleep, and so does the computer.

This idea won a notable design award, which led to press coverage and statements of interest from many people. This inspired me to take this idea from its conceptual stage to completion, and I spent two years developing the idea further. BEEP is now ready to move to the production phase, and I have launched a social funding campaign on Kickstarter.”

If you don't know, Kickstarter is a funding platform for artists, designers, filmmakers, musicians, journalists, and inventors. Here is the Kickstarter page about BEEP and this video tells a little more about the product.  

Of course, kids need to learn to make transitions gracefully and on their own steam. When my own kids were little, I felt that kid-inertia keenly: I couldn't get them into the tub, then I couldn't get them out of the tub! I couldn't get them into bed, then I couldn't get them out of bed. It was a challenge to motivate them to go outside to run around in the fresh air...but then it was a challenge to get them to come back inside to eat and bathe and sleep. 

Of course, all of that was a phase; looking back, I can see that kid-inertia was a factor of only a small part of their lives, and they soon moved from activity to activity pleasantly. A gentle, fun tool like BEEP can help the learning-to-transition process be pleasant as well!


  1. The secret for us was weening our kids off tv and computer, and getting them interested in reading. We use audiobooks as a good first step. They're way more engaging to the imagination. There's lots of sites to download them, but we use one site in particular because the stories are all original and free. Here's the link, if anyone is interested.