Computer Access for School-aged Kids

Parent Q&A

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  • Screen time "timer" for laptop?

    (2 replies)

    Hi, does anyone know of a simple tracker or timer to limit internet screen time on a laptop (Windows)? I'm looking for something that ideally starts when you open your browser or click to start it, provides a warning before the time is up, and then stops your browser usage when the time is up. If there are features that allow a time "bank" for unused time, or allow you to adjust the time easily (e.g., if child watched a 30 min TV show you can adjust to allow only 30 min of internet instead of the usual 60), all the better. And ideal too, if the child can enter the screen time they want to use now (e.g., gets 30 min and wants the timer to stop usage after 15 min, to save 15 min for later in the day).

    We have a young child who watches YouTube videos and plays video games on the browser, on a Windows laptop that we provide access to. We currently use a visual timer, but it is a pain to remember to set it each time, or for kiddo to set it, and often kiddo wants to finish some little part of a show when the timer goes off and then doesn't notice that 30 minutes have passed, and we don't want to have to monitor so closely that we have to watch the clock. Kiddo would also like an internet timer that just pops up so you don't have to remember to set it, so luckily we all want the timer and it doesn't need to be something with security to keep kiddo from disabling it.

    I've researched this online and found a ton of parental control software, but it is all way more than we need. We don't need filters to block websites or timers across multiple devices, or geofencing (we might need these things down the road but not now). Since my spouse doesn't use a smartphone, we'd prefer to have something we just download onto the laptop and not need to use a phone to control it, if possible. When I tried to find software that just tracked time, I found things for contractors who keep track of time for invoicing clients but nothing that met our needs. The timer that comes with Windows utilities is too subtle (you have to open it, set the time, and then it just goes off but there is no warning, you can't see it if you're using the browser, and you can't snooze it or get the internet to stop when it goes off). 

    We might just have to purchase something like Net Nanny, but since we don't need anything that thorough at this point, I'd much rather get something simpler if possible, and ideally either cheaper or one-time fee to download, or even free if it exists. Any ideas? Thanks in advance!

    I use workrave to remind me to take regular breaks when using the computer, but it also has a "daily limit" function and you can disable the breaks. Not an exact fit for what you want, but it is simple and free.

    We use stayfocused (for years) and I recommend it. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Webkinz -- internet safety concerns?

Feb 2008

My daughter just asked for Webkinz for her 7th birthday. I don't know much about them, but when I went to the Webkinz site, I was a little unnerved by the fact that I'd be intentionally introducing my daughter to online chatting. There do seem to be some security and privacy safeguards in place, but it still makes me feel uneasy, especially in light of all of the scary Myspace stories you hear in the news. Do you think Webkinz is safe, or is it starting down a slippery slope of comfort in other, potentially less secure online environments? Thanks for your opinions. cybercautious

Webkinz is set-up to entirely cater to kids without the worry of predators. In fact, it is SO scripted, that when you have the opportunity to interact with your ''friends'' (kids that you will specify to interact with. You set this up yourself so that your daughter can have her pet interact with her best friend's pet), it is pretty boring to an adult. There are only prespecified lines of ''conversation'' you can use. A pedophile would die of boredom with this. We actually played a game on webkinz with another participant (or it could have been automatic). It was strange knowing there was someone on the other end of this interaction that we didn't know. Several players of other games sent messages asking my child if they wanted to play pool or something else. I do feel that it is completely safe and I think your child can gain skills in using a computer and navigating with a mouse, etc. There is alot to gain, but like any other electronic media - in moderation. Anon

Internet access for 9-year-old?

Jan 2007

We got an old Mac so our 9-year-old daughter can play educational computer games and set it up in her room. Now she wants to write books on it. But our printer isn't compatible. So my husband wants to connect her computer to the internet so she can e-mail anything she'd like to print to one of our laptops. He also thinks she needs to learn how to research things on the net and have access to sites like PBS Kids or Disney. Everything I've read says don't let kids have internet access in their room. But my husband (not a great reader of women's magazines or parenting articles) thinks I'm the victim of exagerated dangers. So what do other people do? How do we give her safe access to the internet? Not sure what to do

My daughter's school just had an info night on this very topic. These are the primary tips that were suggested:

Parenting Tips for using the Internet*

  • Keep computer in family area to better monitor your child's activity
  • Regularly spend time online with your child to learn about his or her interests and activities
  • Teach your child to end any experience online when he or she feels uncomfortable or scared by pressing the back key, logging off, and telling a trusted adult as soon as possible
  • Establish an atmosphere of trust and understanding with your child by not blaming him or her for uncomfortable online experiences
  • Discuss the difference between advertising and educational or entertaining content and show your child examples of each
  • Establish strict rules for ordering products (and then monitor credit card bills)
  • Talk back'' to Internet Service Providers and content creators to let them know what you want and expect from them in keeping kids safe online

*excerpted from

Of course, this is mostly geared toward teens but I think they are good rules to live by. My daughter who is 5.5 uses the internet to go to Disney Playhouse, but she just thinks it's part of the computer. Ultimately, I don't think it's ever too early to teach your child safety and rules regarding the computer, and I do agree that the computer with internet access stay out of the bedroom. Good luck! Better safe than sorry

You are right that your child should not have internet access in her room. You should be aware of what your child is doing online. The internet can be a wonderful, educational tool, but it can also be dangerous. Children need to be taught not to give out any personal information whatsoever. Pediphils will pretend to be someone in a chat room that is the same age with similar interests as a child until they lull them into a sense of security. Then, once enough contact information has been exchanged, the child may want to meet this online friend. The scary part is the arrangement might be without your knowledge, and then the child never comes home. This is the extreme of what could happen with unsupervised internet use. The minor issues would be your child having access to material that is not acceptable to your family's standards. If the main thing her computer needs to be used for is printing, set up a wireless network with a print server. Let her have internet access for research purposes and other fun, good uses where you can see what she is up to. I hope I don't just come across as an alarmist. When I was teaching at a middle school in another state, the police department conducted an internet safety class for the parents and they told us about real-life situations where children have been kidnapped and assaulted or murdered by people they ''met'' online. Concerned Mother

I'm with you. Don't give your nine year old internet access. It's the black hole of time, from email to Club Penguin, to computer games to itunes.... It's so much better for her to read, draw and play with other kids, in person! She'll have plenty of time for internet research later, or she can do it on your laptop occasionally if needed. Kids will come up with a million good reasons they ''need'' the internet, (or a cell phone), but think about it- up until 10 years ago, no one had these things. Not a ludite, really.

We have a 10-year-old and I agree with you that limiting the exposure to the internet is the safer way to go. Our son has a computer in his room also but internet access only in our ''computer room''/office, where the door is always open. In your position, I would use (and have used) a flash drive (a ''memory stick'' kind-of-thing that connects to a USB port) to transfer any documents to another computer with a printer attached. They're really cheap and reusable. Ruth

I would recommend checking out Besides for rating and reviewing all media from a developmental perspective, they also have an internet safety guide which you can download for free. You can find this on their website under ''resources'', then ''parent tips'' and under ''managing media''. Good luck. Dana

We have 2 kids: ages 8 and almost 11. Our only computer is in the living room. We don't get online very often. I don't see the need. If your daughter needs to print something, have her save it then print it out when you get a chance later. Also, what is wrong with writing long-hand? My daughter, the older one, has been doing that for a few years now. They do not ''need'' access to Disney or other sites. How about getting her more programs to use on the computer. heather

Our computer is in the dining room, and we are all in and out of the room. My 10 year-old has been using the internet for the past couple of years, and probably averages about 2-3 hours a week. She goes to the American Girls website, the Scholastic site, and has looked at the Harry Potter site, and some of the places on the American Library Association list (a good place for info). When she's had to research topics (a bird report, a native american report) she's also used the internet. In the past few months, she's been emailing friends. I basically think this works fine, and I like how happy she is to write to her friends(to my mind she's developing literacy skills and she doesn't spend much time on the phone yet.) She goes to her regular sites herself, and when she does a search, we help. If we want them to grow up to be independent learners, they need some freedom. Of course it is a matter of age -- what works for a 10-year-old, wouldn't be appropriate for an eight-year-old; and of scale -- an hour is very different than three hours (not a problem in our house as there is too much competition for the computer.) looking for balance

Limits on 8-year-old's Computer Use

Aug 1999

Speaking of Pokemon, my almost 8-yr old son has a fairly new Pokemon gameboy, that (it seems) he would love to spend the day playing. We made a rule that he can play an hour a day - we just picked this time limit randomly, with his input. We are just starting a no TV on school days (today was the first day of school, and so the first day of no tv) for him and our 6-yr old daughter...I'm just wondering what do other parents do re: TV, video games, computer games, etc...