The reviewer has been compensated in the form of a Best Buy Gift Card and/or received the product/service at a reduced price or for free to share these tips to manage screen time this summer.
Kids are home for summer break, which has its pluses and minuses. I love being able to spend more time with them, but they thrive on structure. I still need to work over the summer, and without friends within walking distance, they have to entertain themselves most days. If I didn’t set rules, they’d be happy simply spending all day, every day on their devices.
Unfortunately for them, I’m not cool with them vegging out in front of screens nonstop. The good news? I have plenty of ways to keep them occupied and happy on and off screen with rules we implemented. Every house is different, but at least some of these ideas should work for you to help manage screen time.
The first step? Set up a Disney Circle. The limits you can set with this device makes it far easier to manage screen time for many of these strategies. Best of all, with kids running all over creation, the Circle Go add on subscription means you can monitor and control their devices even when they aren’t at home!
I’m getting ahead of myself though.
As with any parenting, the first and most important step is full disclosure and setting expectations. Don’t turn on rules without ensuring everyone in the family is aware of them. With Disney Circle, talk about it ahead of time. Talk about what you plan to monitor and how and why. Explain what rules you plan to enforce so no one gets surprised. Open communication is by far more important than any device or technology can be, no matter how awesome or helpful.
How To Manage Screen Time Over Summer Break
Assign daily chores
Kids can do chores, especially over summer when they tend to be less busy. They don’t have to be extensive, but the rule in our house requires chores before screens. Until they finish their chores, they aren’t allowed on any device. Depending on the day’s schedule, they may have more or fewer chores. Some examples include feeding the cat, doing a load of laundry, putting away clean dishes, and cleaning their rooms. Depending on your kids’ ages, you can determine what chores fit best. I have a daily to do list for my kids that I laminate so they know exactly what they need to do each day of the week (with room for me to add extra items as needed).
The trick? Use your Disney Circle to pause the internet on your kids’ devices when you go to bed at night to help you manage screen time before caffeine kicks in. Until my kids show me they’ve completed chores, I don’t resume it. Why do it the night before? My kids may be 11 and 13, but they’re still early birds who wake up long before I do. If I don’t pause the internet, it’s too easy for them to grab a device and go. Disney Circle also allows you to set a bedtime and awake time if you prefer to not allow access before a specific time of day.
Set time limits
Disney Circle to the rescue again. Once you purchase the $99 Disney Circle device, set it up via the Circle with Disney app available for iOs and Android devices. It takes just a few minutes to connect and set up, including setting up profiles for each member of your family. Within those profiles, you can set a variety of limits both in terms of content and time.
For my children, they’re allowed no more than two hours of screen time a day. In addition, I limited her time limits on various platforms. She loves to explore music on YouTube and could wile away the entire day there if I didn’t pay attention (and when I’m trying to pay attention to work, that can be hard). Instead, in addition to her two hour overall limit, I set a 45 minute limit for YouTube. I can set various platforms from Minecraft to Disney to Hulu to Instagram and tons more. This helps her find alternate activities and not get locked into one.
Make sure material is age appropriate
As my kids get older, more and more of their friends tend to… experiment. Kids want to see what they can get away with. During the school year, they tend to be on their devices only after school when I’m (mostly) done with work. That I can easily peer over their shoulders or otherwise monitor what they’re doing.
Over the summer, it’s harder. I need to focus on my computer and my work, so I may not see their screens as often. The last thing I want is for them to stumble upon something that’s older than what I want them to experience. The Disney Circle helps me ensure they stay within their age range. When I set up each profile, I can choose Pre-K, Kid, Teen, and Adult. (Skip None, as that prevents you from connecting to Circle Go.)
Each age range has different starting allowances to make restrictions easier. Pre-K has access to PBS, Disney, Netflix, restricted YouTube, and Amazon only. Kid adds Club Penguin, Facetime, Minecraft PE, and other platforms they tend to be interested in. Teen adds more like Instagram, Pinterest, and Reddit while pulling platforms they’re “too old” to enjoy. Adult has the most options, but within each filter, you can set which of those platforms are allowed and not allowed. The administrator also controls what categories are allowed from email to music to online games and more. Turn off app stores and downloads, and you no longer need to worry about mysterious games appearing on your children’s devices.
Require social use of devices
My big pet peeve is when I try to have a conversation with my children and they keep their faces buried in devices. When we’re at restaurants or eating meals at home, we don’t allow devices. This could so easily turn into a battle of wills. My kids know the rules, however, partly from the contract they signed when they first received their devices.
If they don’t listen, I pause the internet. Simply enter the profile of the offending child in the Circle with Disney app and click “pause” on the screen. Immediately, the device no longer has internet access and that changes behavior – at least in my house – quickly.
Reward positive behavior
While I talk a lot about limits, there are times when kids deserve something extra. Maybe they had a bad day at camp or maybe they went above and beyond in helping around the house. It’s easy to use the Circle with Disney app to reward the child through the profile. You can choose to extend the time limit, remove offtimes you’ve set (times during the day when devices aren’t allowed) or set a later bedtime for that night.
Consequences go both ways in my house – they get rewarded as often for positive choices as they are punished for negative choices. I’m consistent with both, so they always know where they stand, and they appreciate this.
Set offtimes when they have to find offline entertainment
Circle with Disney allows you to set offtimes throughout the day when kids can’t access the internet. The offtimes can be as short as fifteen minutes or as long as the entire day, and you can set them up for each day of the week you wish at one time by clicking the days of the week at the top of the screen you wish to restrict.
This is perfect not only over summer but during the school year when you want to ensure kids don’t use their devices during the school day when they aren’t supposed to have access to them. During the summer, I set periodic offtimes during the day to encourage them to get up and move or go outside and play. They usually have so much fun playing outside that they don’t watch the clock for when the offtime ends and they have access to screens again.
Manage friends’ devices in your home
We’ve had a longstanding rule in our house that we allow electronics only on the main floor. They can’t take devices upstairs or into the basement. The same rule holds true for their friends. When friends come over, I have a small basket I use to hold phones and devices while they play elsewhere. If a phone rings, I can bring the basket to kids and let them answer, but otherwise, the device stays in the basket. It’s too tempting to keep pushing the limits and do something inappropriate when tweens and teens are in groups.
Circle with Disney also alerts me whenever a device enters my network. That allows me to determine whether I want to manage what that device can access. When it’s a kids’ phone, I choose to limit their access – no gambling, no dating sites, no unrestricted YouTube, etc. When adults come to hang out, I don’t have to control their access if I don’t choose to – and honestly, I trust my friends and take no action.
Manage kids’ devices outside the home
With the add-on service Circle Go, I no longer lose control once my kids leave my house. This used to be a pet peeve with my kids’ school iPads. The school network is locked down appropriately, but once they left the school network, it was fair game. The school doesn’t allow us to download our own parental controls, and I saw the challenge of ensuring the same behavior off the school network matched expectations on the school network.
I don’t have that problem with their devices with the $9.95 monthly subscription to Circle Go. The subscription covers up to 10 devices (thankfully, we don’t have that many – yet – but we’re close!) when they leave our home wifi. Whether it’s phones on our carrier’s 4G network or connecting to another wifi network, I still have visibility.
Using the My Circle app (again available for iOs and Android devices) that I download to each device, I set myself up as the administrator – and my husband, too! – and can see the amount of time each device has been online and the types of usage at a quick glance. Just like my home network, I can manage screen time by setting a bedtime and time limits no matter how the device accesses the internet, which gives me security as my kids get older and spend more time outside the house with friends and at activities where I’m not present.
Set appropriate bedtimes
My kids tend to be early birds. Although bedtimes get later in the summer, they still have bedtimes because we need to get going the next morning – especially in the early part of summer where summer school starts at 8am. My least favorite phrase when I tell my kids it’s time to go to bed (or really anytime) is: “Just a minute!” It’s never just a minute, and please tell me I’m not alone.
Using the Circle with Disney app, I can manage screen time at bedtime, too. At my chosen time, access to the internet simply ceases. It isn’t me telling them, just how our family has things set up, which means I get less grief or begging or attitude. I like to set the bedtime at least an hour before their actual bedtime so they can wind down outside screen, which I find helps them fall asleep faster and sleep better.
Tips for using Disney Circle to Manage Screen Time
The box shares quick setup techniques. It turns on quickly and easily and walks you through the steps once you download the Circle Home app. Within five minutes, I completed my initial family profile setup. You don’t need a tech degree to run this device!
I had a challenge when first trying to set up my Circle Go subscription to manage screen time when off our home network. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the website to recognize my Disney Circle. I tried assigning all non-child devices to my profile. In desperation, I tried rebooting my Disney Circle and my router. I tried moving my Disney Circle, but nothing worked. I finally updated my profile setting filter from none (because it’s me – why do I need to filter myself?) to adult. That was the key. You mus assign the Circle to a profile and the profile needs to have a filter other than None. Once I completed that, setting up Circle Go was a snap.
Understand that Disney Circle manages access to the internet, not the device as a whole. It can’t shut off the device or stop applications from working. The good news is that most functions my kids want and use tend to require the internet. They can’t watch YouTube or play Minecraft or any number of the online games they’ve discovered outside the limits I’ve set, and that’s my main concern. If they want to spend extra time reading books they’ve downloaded on their devices, I’m totally ok with that.
Set the Disney Circle up near your router. The better the signal it has from the router, the better your experience will be. If you don’t get a good signal or connection speed, use the enclosed ethernet cable to attach the Disney Circle directly to your router rather than via wifi.
Make sure Disney Circle and your devices run the same wifi. In my house, I can use my overall cable company wifi (not very strong), wifi from my router, or 5G wifi from my router. If I’m on 5G and my Disney Circle is on my regular wifi, they won’t communicate, and I can’t set up the Circle properly. All on the same network makes us all happy.
If you have sneaky kids, they may try to unplug the Disney Circle. Good news? It has a battery backup so doesn’t lose power immediately. And you get a notification on your phone when power gets interrupted so you can intervene if necessary. Simply unplugging the device doesn’t stop your ability to manage screen time. Fortunately, my kids haven’t tried that one yet though my husband has, but I know it’s coming!