- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 9, 2005

Sometimes, it is better to take the emotions out of the argument. That’s the theory behind a pair of gadgets that help parents set limits on children’s use of electronics such as computers, video-game systems and television. The devices work by preprogramming amounts of screen time for each child. When time is up, it is up — ideally, cutting down on nagging, pleading and whining.

“When parents tell kids to turn the TV or computer off, they are always the bad guy,” says Ray Ivins, spokesman for Time-Scout, a monitoring device. “This way, the machine is the bad guy.”

Time-Scout was developed after the president of CardAccess, the parent company, came to work every day with his children’s video-game system in the back seat of his car because they were playing it too much, Mr. Ivins says.

Parents plug the TV, game system or computer into the Time-Scout ($89.95), which is about the size of a small paperback book. The device, which can be locked, is plugged into the wall outlet.

Each child has an ATM-type card with a set amount of time loaded onto it. The card might have three hours, for instance, which the child can use all at once or in chunks over several days.

A similar device, EyeTimer ($29.95), uses software to control TV and computer use. Parents set time budgets for each child with the software. Transmitters are plugged into the TV and gaming systems. When a child wants to watch TV, for example, he goes to the computer and types in his password. The computer program shows him how much time he has and then, via wireless signals, turns on the TV. The device also will shut off the TV when time is up.

Though parents still need to monitor what their children are watching or playing, these gadgets can be an additional tool in gaining control over screen time, says Douglas Gentile, assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University and director of research for the National Institute on Media and the Family.

“There has been very little research on how effective these devices are,” Mr. Gentile says, “but anything that gives parents more control and information is a good thing.”

In the long run, children might learn time management, he says.

“It takes away the fights in the same way that allowance stops arguments over ‘Can I get that?’” Mr. Gentile says. “There is nothing more maddening to a parent than [a child who turns] on the TV to see if something is on. Something is always on, but it does not mean it is worth your time. Teaching kids to budget time is going to help them the rest of their life.”

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