Getting e-time under control

EyeTimer: The system gives parents the power to set limits on kids' computer, game console or TV time - and cuts the power when they go over.

December 25, 2003|By Craig Crossman | Craig Crossman,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Electronic devices help to make our lives better.

As adults, we hope we've learned how to manage the time we spend on these devices. But to many children, the computer is seen primarily as a form of entertainment rather than a tool. Some devices such as the Xbox and PlayStation are clearly for entertainment. DVD players and the television do have some redeeming values when it comes to public-access broadcasts and educational videos.

As parents, it can be tough trying to set limitations on all of these gizmos. Keeping track of which child can use what device and for how long can become an unmanageable task. Fortunately, there's an electronic system that can help to get a handle on a lot of it. The EyeTimer (www.eyetimer.com) lets parents set limits on the time their children spend on electronic entertainment.

The EyeTimer, which consists of a transmitter, receiver units and software, lets parents set up weekly "Time Budgets" as a guideline for kids to manage their own time. With the EyeTimer system in place, the parents dole out how much time a child has to spend on a device within a given period. The children can decide how they wish to spend that time.

Initially, you install the EyeTimer software on your Windows-based computer. If all you're concerned about is regulating the usage of the computer, you don't need to do anything else. The software lets you set individual computer usage Time Budgets for each child. The software locks and unlocks the computer based upon the budgeted time.

When you are ready to expand the system, attach an EyeTimer transmitter to the computer. Each device you wish to control requires a receiver unit into which you plug the device and then plug into the wall socket. The EyeTimer will send a radio signal to the appropriate receiver that switches the power to that device on and off.

So let's say for example that you want little Johnny to watch television for only one hour a day. When he wants to watch, Johnny signs on to EyeTimer. If he is within his allotted time, the EyeTimer will send a signal to the TV receiver and Johnny can watch his favorite show. When the time is up, off goes the set. This scenario applies to the Xbox, DVD player and just about any other electronic device requires AC power.

A special "Study Mode" feature lets children access word processing and other school-related applications on your PC without docking their entertainment Time Budgets. A special log file keeps track of which applications were being used and at what time, just in case Johnny decided to play a few games of Diablo instead of finishing that homework report.

I know what you're thinking: Can't the kids just unplug the device from the receiver and plug it directly into the wall? They can, but then they would break the included anti-tamper security tape that binds the power cord to the receiver.

Is the EyeTimer an effective means of controlling how much time your children spend with these electronic marvels? According to EyeTimer's maker Clarion Solutions, it lets you be a parent and not a watchdog, it teaches responsibility, prevents marathon television viewing sessions and puts an end to arguments since it is the children who are now placed in the position of managing their own play time. And while nothing is foolproof, the EyeTimer may be a good start to finding a workable solution.

The EyeTimer software sells for $39.95. The First EyeTimer Switch Pack includes one transmitter and one EyeTimer switch. Each additional EyeTimer Switch is $49.95. Value Packs are available.

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