Times Up Kidz.
The fact that it was SAM that suggested this tickles me! Sam and I spend half our lives battling over his spending too much time on the computer, with him demanding FIVE MORE MINUTES and me saying FINE JUST FIVE which goes on for an hour every day. Or twice or three times a day. Aaaargh! One of my major parenting issues is "How can I get my kids to spend less time obsessing about the computer?" Anyway, I called Sam's friend's mum and asked her about the program, and she said it had revolutionized life in their household of computer-mad boys.
So I got the free one month trial. It's took me just a few minutes to download. What Times Up Kids does, it it lets the parent decide EXACTLY how much time your child will be allowed to spend on the computer on a sliding scale. There's 'total time for the week', daily time, and a 'take a break for 15 minutes every hour' feature if you like.
So, the older boys, for example, can have 14 hours per week each. Their daily weekend allowance is 3 hours, and weekdays they get two and a half. If you do the math, you'll realise that's more than 14 hours, so they WILL run out of time by the end of the week if they use all of their daily allowance. Max gets 11 hours for the week, because he doesn't need to do as much homework online. They need to budget their own time, if they still want to have any at the end of the week. Good skillz to learn!
Parents can set the program to not allow their kids to log in between certain hours (Like after bedtime or early morning). When kids log in, they see a little alarm clock in their toolbar which displays how much time they have in that session. If they click on it, it will show them how much total time they have left for the day, and for the week. They will get little reminders in a friendly 'Mom' voice and popup, saying "You have ten minutes left... You have five minutes left... Two minutes! Time to save your work and log out!". And then, the screen disappears and locks them out. Astounding!
It is possible to log back in, just for a few seconds, to quickly click on something or log off, but Times Up Kidz does not mess about.
I like it, because it makes the kids responsible for their computer use. I said that I was INCREASING their allowed computer time from an hour a day to two hours average because I expected them to do their homework, check email and all that in their time. I made it clear that if they ran out of computer time and had not done their homework, that was their own problem. Too bad.
The kids like it because it's different and cool, and because they are getting more official time, but also because they no longer have to ask to use the computers and I'm not nagging them about it. They have two computers: Max uses the desktop, and Chas and Sam use their laptop, where they each have their own screen and of course there are 'Admin' screens where all the parental password-protected stuff goes on.
Today, Sam and Max had a game-fest morning, used up their 3 hour weekend time (with fifteen minute breaks every hour), and spent the rest of the day making a mess with chilled puff pastry, playing the keyboard and guitar, reading, climbing a tree, jumping on the trampoline... and never said "Can I go on the computer? But I hardly went on at ALL! And HE had much more time than me! It's not FAAAAIR!!!!"
Not even once. It's really lovely!
Being locked out of their screens after an hour has made the boys more active. Instead of just sitting slumped in 'five more minute-dom', they get up, stretch, and wander off to play. When Sam is done (and Max, because they usually go on at the same time), then Chas generally gets his turn. Sam and Max play, help in the kitchen. When they are ready to go back on, I say "As soon as you've put the recycling out/cleaned the toilet/set the table", which they do cheerfully. I tell you, this has REVOLUTIONIZED OUR LIVES!
I even had a minor problem downloading, emailed them, and got a speedy reply from a real person to help me out. Now that's service!
And all for under $30 U.S, a steal! Times Up Kidz, you get five stars and an A-Plus from this family. Where have you been all our lives?
P.S, I think that this program might even help kids AND adults who are addicted to computer games? What do you think?