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Screen Time and Family Sharing

There is considerable, and often polarised public debate about limiting children’s consumption of media in all its various forms and much research is being done into calculating how much ‘device time’ is “too much”. Several studies have argued over what kind of media is harmful, and how long children of various ages should be using a device.

The American Academy of Paediatrics has made recommendations for under-6’s as no more than one hour per day, but hasn’t made firm recommendations for children beyond this age, no more than to say “…to make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.“ however, recently, in a contrary British Medical Journal study no solid evidence that time in front of a screen is toxic was proved, although did find associations between higher screen use to obesity and depression.

Perhaps then, we should focus more on what good such amazing technology can do for our children. Large amounts of research has been done into the positive outcomes of technology in early learning, and the emphasis on motivation and enthusiasm are significant. As are the links to fine motor control for writing and coordination. The British Educational Research Association (BERA) published a 2018 project by Dunn and Sweeney which advocated a more balanced approach to the use of iPads in a classroom environment and making the use of technology relevant to their lives.

Whilst that covers the use of such devices in an educational setting, what do you do when your household is slowly filling with iOS devices? By now, many households report that even primary school aged children have their own devices. How should we be managing not only how long these devices are used per day, but also what they are being used for?

Family Sharing and Screen Time are steps in the right direction for managing, monitoring and restricting the use of devices in children’s hands. Whilst not widely known about, these can be great tools for parents and guardians in helping kids get the most from their technology. When properly configured, you can control what they’re doing and manage features, applications, Apple ID’s, and begin setting some limits on their use of these devices. This can be great for peace of mind when we are all aware that we can’t and shouldn’t spend every waking minute supervising our children.

Family Sharing lets your family members share purchases from the AppStore and iTunes without all having to share the same Apple ID. You can add up to six members of the family, and as long as their devices are all running iOS 8 or above, you’re good to go. In addition to sharing purchases and music (and other purchased content such as TV shows, movies and books…).

To get started with Family Sharing, a parent or member of the family, who is called the ‘Family Organiser’ needs to first create AppleID’s for anyone under the age of 13. These are known as ‘child accounts’ as there are restrictions created specifically with younger children in mind around purchasing and app requests. For children over that age, they can create their own Apple ID’s but Family Sharing controls can be set up so that everyone under the age of 17 is included.

For users of newer products running iOS 12 or higher, the new ‘Screen Time’ feature enables parents to help and guide device use for their children. Details on how long you’d spent on individual apps have been around since iOS 11 but ScreenTime goes one step further with easy-to-read analytics and notifications as well as helping parents manage their children’s use of technology. Especially useful in this situation as it works across multiple devices so if they are using an iPad and an iPhone then the limits are cumulative. There is no escape by switching over to other devices within the household.

The debate will run and run on the suitability and benefits of technology by children and young people but, Apple has made the technical tools available for parents and adults alike to monitor, control and to make informed choices over how technology is used within their own families.

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