An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

Gifting myself an extra set of hands

Congratulations to Jessica in Oregon, Angie in Indiana, MaryKate in New Jersey, Jennifer in Utah, and Erin in California, the randomly selected winners in the Circle giveaway! Many thanks to those who commented and joined this important and at times terrifying conversation. I finally looked at the insights for myself and it was like I’d stepped inside an episode of Black Mirror. Whoa, the shiver that went down my spine.

……

A few weeks ago someone left a comment on one of my Instagram photos that could quite easily be construed as a harsh judgment on how much screen time I allow my kids. This may surprise some of you FINE ALL OF YOU, but my exposure to criticism online is so vast and rainbow-flavored that I can differentiate between those who are trying to be helpful and are perhaps oblivious of their tone from those who are going out of their way to be an absolute turd.

I HAVE EARNED WISDOM WITH AGE AND IT IS SO GROSS.

I offered her the benefit of the doubt (something I have been actively practicing since I got infected with yoga and a rash that spelled out “use your wings” erupted across my entire body) because I do play it up a bit. The panicked hysteria around excessive screen time seems ridiculous to me. I spent entire weekends of my youth trying to save the princess at the end of Super Mario Brothers. HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS. Oh. AND EVEN MORE HOURS. My mother had no idea where I was or what I was doing because we roamed! We soared! WE USED OUR WINGS! And on Thursday nights I’d watch at least 16 hours of television. At the bare minimum.

You cannot blame my ongoing public idiocy on that, however. Remember, I graduated from BYU. We clarified that this is the culprit.

My kids don’t roam, at least not as freely as we did. We don’t live in a neighborhood where they can enjoy that privilege. ALSO. Can we talk about the homework? Oh. Looks like we already did. Consider this a shout out to all the faculty at my kids’ school who read this website. Hola!

My girls are juggling a lot of homework, gymnastics, piano, projects, book reports, tests, and devil worship. Their evenings are packed, and that’s after a full day in the classroom. English author Sir Ken Robinson gave a TED talk about childhood education (yes, I am about to quote a TED talk, someone find a cure for this bout of yoga STAT) that I want to have tattooed on the outside of my middle finger so that when people get all huffy and puffy about kids on planes I can just hold it up:

“If you sit kids down, hour after hour, doing low-grade clerical work, don’t be surprised if they start to fidget. Children are not, for the most part, suffering from a psychological condition. They’re suffering from childhood.”

I’m pretty liberal when it comes to screen time, relatively speaking (I’m not a total monster). I mean, I know parents who don’t allow their kids to play on devices at all during the week, and if you are one of them you’re going to catch flies in that open mouth of yours when I tell you that I allow my kids screen time every night. I do try to limit it, especially in the hour leading up to bedtime, but sometimes (all the time) that can be hard to stay on top of as a full-time single parent. I only have two hands, and I remember years ago thinking, “I have no idea how full-time single parents do this.” I’ve been doing it for well over a year now and I still ask that question. Often out loud. Even though I know the answer. Sorry, serious dooce® for a minute: We have no choice. We just do it. The end.

Back in spring when I announced that I was drastically cutting back on sponsored blog posts I got approached by a ton of brands who said, “We read that you don’t want to do sponsored blog posts anymore. Great! Will you write a post about us?” Not kidding. One even asked if I’d like to feature their new washable diapers that they’d send over for my son Marlo. I saved that in the folder where I keep every email addressed to Sarah Armstrong and Heather Anderson.

During that time a startup reached out about working with me on my social channels where I’m much more comfortable adding #Sponsored or #ad to a line of text. They’d developed a device that just plugs into your router and from there can manage every device on the network. And by manage I mean give me an extra set of hands.

A sister wife.

I put my pinky into the corner of my mouth, emailed back and said, “Go on…”

This is the “meticulously styled, design blog photo” of the device:

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Turns out that when they said “just plugs into your router” they weren’t kidding. It would have been a deal breaker for me had it not been so simple because there are 60 million things in this house plugged into, I don’t know, maybe you can tell me how many routers I have and what wire connects to what when you see the “not meticulously styled, reality-laden mommy blog photo” of the device:

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Today I am using an app on my phone called Circle that sets time limits for both girls (including how much time they can spend on a specific platform or app [oh, remind me to tell you why I finally understand why Leta was more excited that I was going to be in the same room as Tyler Oakley than she was about me being in the same room as the POTUS]), filter their content according to age/maturity level, and set a bedtime for devices. I can even pause the Internet right in the middle of a Minecraft video. Just to go out of my way to be an absolute turd.

Yeah, so why am I writing a blog post about this, HEATHER B. ARMSTRONG? Didn’t I say that I was drastically cutting back on sponsored blog posts? Those are your exact words, WOMAN.

First, this is my blog and I will do whatever the hell I want to do with it. You are not my mom. (Except for you, Mom. And we both know that I don’t listen to you [ducks to avoid the ceramic rooster being thrown at my head].)

I was the one who recommended that I write about it after I used it.

End of story. Except, not.

Second… second is the story about Leta, and it’s something that I would have written about anyway. Because I set up the device and the profiles for everyone in the app while the girls were in school and then forgot that I’d need to explain it to them when they got home. I got distracted with work, and when I was done for the day I came upstairs from my home office to find Leta doing something on her phone (yes, she has a phone, her parents are divorced, no further justification needed). Out of curiosity I wanted to see how much time she’d spent online, so I pulled up the app and WHOA HOLY PINK SPRINKLES ON A CORNDOG. She’d spent 45 minutes already on… YouTube.

Those of you who don’t let your children touch devices? Sorry about that. I will help you cover the cost of any injury you suffered from falling over.

The insight! YEOW (read that in the voice of a cat that just got flicked in the nose). No wonder she’s a bigger fan of Grace Helbig than she is of anyone who stars in a nationally syndicated television show! I snapped off my phone, stuck it in my back pocket and walked over to her.

“Why don’t you get off of YouTube and read a book,” I said without any intonation.

Hahahah! Haha! Hahaha! Haaaaaaaaaa! You guys! I think I get grandparents now! You have children so that eventually you can mess with them! The look on my face when I find out that my mother has let Marlo eat seven cinnamon rolls and drink a Diet Coke for breakfast? Probably as satisfying to my mother as the look on Leta’s face was to me.

I am a horrible person. And I don’t care.

AND THEN! After dinner she snuck off to her normal chair, slung her legs over the side and turned on her phone. Five minutes later I thought I was hearing a remix of that footage you see of women losing their minds when The Beatles come off of that plane except the women are all chickens.

“WHAT HAPPENED! What is wrong with the wifi! The wifi is being weird! WHAT HAPPENED TO MY PHONE!” she finally managed to enunciate.

“Oh, that,” I responded with no intonation. “It appears you have reached your time limit.”

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And then I did this. This exactly:

A video posted by Heather B. Armstrong (@dooce) on

You guys, when I looked at Marlo’s profile at the end of that day… I mean… this has to be the best part of it all, the singular reason why I’m WRITING A SPONSORED BLOG POST, but it’s not. But it should be: she’d spent a total of 18 minutes online. Looking at “science and technology” related websites in a browser.

What. On. Earth.

That kid is a living, breathing Jack-In-The-Box toy.

So, not only do I have an extra set of hands to keep track of their screen time, I also get insight into my children. I’m seeing inside a part of their personality that had before been curtained off.

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That’s been the most fascinating part for me, and while some of you may consider that policing I will admit that before this I had no idea what or who or huh? my kids were doing online other than being comforted by the fact that I had taken a bunch of time figuring out how to set “restrictions” on each device. And Circle even takes care of that for me by filtering the content across all the devices. It pretty much stops short of creating a Minecraft video to keep Marlo entertained so that I don’t have to scream from inside the locked bathroom, “I get to do this alone, how many times do we have to go over this!”

And just so we are clear. Permanently taking away all the devices or limiting screen time to zero minutes as an alternative to this is not an option in my household. Because I, too, was once a kid. My parents would not let me watch MTV or HBO or own a Nintendo, so I spent as much time away from home as I could at my friends’ houses watching MTV and HBO and playing Nintendo. And my parents had no idea.

THIRD WHY YES INDEED THERE IS A THIRD WHY STOP AT TWO WHEN YOU CAN HAVE THREE. In fact, why stop at three when you can have five? Because Circle has given me five devices to give away for the holiday. And as a full-time single parent, this is exactly what I would want to give myself. An extra set of hands. A sister wife, especially in this capacity.

This is the glaring reality for those of us who are parents of this generation: being online is and will always be a part of my childrens’ lives (don’t even get me started with cyber bullying) on a scale I did not ever comprehend when I gave them those lives. Managing it effectively is now as important and vital as sitting down together at dinner. Which we do. Every night. Every single night. And while we eat I can ask Marlo to expound on the “science” she learned that afternoon (What. On. Earth.).

Circle is still in its early stages and is only available in the United States and on iOS. Leave a comment below preferably sharing your thoughts about the Internet and what it means for our kids’ generation. I’ll close comments tomorrow night at Midnight EST and then randomly choose five winners, contact them via email, and then announce them in an update on this post afterward.

Also, you can just buy one here. They’re having a Cyber Monday sale, today only.

OH! And then there was this… I let the kids use an old laptop of mine, and one night I tried to use it to look up something I needed in a hurry from my website. Mmmmyeah. FILTERED! I guess this site isn’t for kids?

……

This post was made in partnership with Circle, and apparently Marlo is a nerd.

  • naima801

    The internet in our house is my 4-year old watching Ghostbusters on YouTube over and over and over again. I would like to think with a device like this, I’d be more open to him playing online and games a bit more. Please help me be a cool mom.

  • NT

    As a mom of two, it’s terrifying to think of the shenanigans children can get into online. This device looks like a great opportunity to allow my children the freedom to explore while also providing transparency for me to feel comfortable with their explorations. Thanks for whoring your blaahhg! 😀

  • The internet is a great resource, but we could all use some limits on how long/what we look at when we’re on. This device sounds amazing!!!

  • raz1975

    Oh my goodness, this would be SUCH a help in our house. I could blame the end of tv time on ‘The Magic Internet Fairy’ – mum win!! Mind you, when my daughter uses her time to watch Little Princess on Netflix or listen to Dame Judi Dench narrating Winnie the Pooh on YouTube she can have all the time she wants for that! 😉

  • Kate C.

    My son is 8 and would gladly spend every free moment on his iPad. I’m trying to be relaxed about it, since he does his homework and goes to sports practice, etc. But every once in a while he’ll see a video on YouTube that scares the crap out of him, and I worry about how to help him navigate the universe of the internet. Circle looks like a great way to keep an eye on him and also talk to him about how he spends his time online. Thanks for the chance!!

  • Christina

    Ahem, don’t judge but I think I might use this as much for myself as my 12-year-old. Yes, I’m 40-years-old and completely incapable of putting my phone down even when I know I should.

  • Anne

    I’ve got teens and struggle daily on what limits to set, how to help them set their own limits, and how to make sure they don’t get sucked into stuff that they’re not emotionally ready for. (And agree with you, Dooce, that total bans on anything (junk food, TV, the internet) result in sneaking around and binging on the sly.)

  • Angie Rogers-Howell

    I have 4 kids and 2 grand kiddos all who love to use the internet. While I’m all about fostering online savvy children, I’d love to be able to monitor/limit my 11 year old’s mine craft video watching tendencies. Love this idea!

  • Kelly Severs

    I’ve no kids myself but I’d love to have one of these to gift to my sister-in-law. An extra set of hands is the best thing I could get her this Christmas. Thanks, Heather!

  • Miss lee

    With two adults (and 3 dogs) in this house I’m not really concerned about internet limits — but I do have a friend across the street with two kids, so I’m posting for a chance to win one for her household.

    I could probably do with limits for myself. Ha. Like I could even.

  • Erica Rubin

    I love this idea – I could even see my almost 10yr old being into it and wanting to help set up his own parameters, lol. I like that you can see not only the total number of minutes but how those minutes were used – fabulous!

    I <3 the internet and I've always stressed the importance of knowing the difference between leisure time and "business" when it comes to using it…he knows that he can't watch YouTube videos all day but he also knows he can do (almost) as much Khan Academy as he wants. The academic things he has access to at home with just the touch of a screen makes my younger self very jealous.

  • kristibug

    This looks AMAZING! We actually limit the devices for the kids, they get them once or twice a week only on weekends. But my oldest is turning 10 and I don’t want her to feel like she lives in a cave and I would love to set this up. What a great sponsored post for you.

  • Sarahkate32

    Mine are just getting old enough to ask for screen time and it’s already a struggle. Let’s face it though, I need this for me. Please limit my internet time.

  • Amy Reilly

    I LOVE this device, and clearly I desperately need one! I have 6 children ranging in age from 3 years old to 12 years old….trying to manage screen time for each of them can be a bit complicated, much less trying to be sure they are not being exposed to unsavory content. We actually had a nearly disasterous incident a few months ago when my then 11 y/o son had a friend sleep over. The boys snuck their phones in their room during the night so they could watch youtube videos. Typically they watch Minecraft videos, but this day in particular they had something else in mind. You see they had just been taught about the “birds and bees” at school that day, which was followed by a playground conversation with other boys of what do you know what have you seen? Apparently these other boys are allowed to play Grand Theft Auto so they are seasoned pros when it comes to members of the opposite sex. So the boys were told to search for “grand theft auto sex” and “grand theft auto strippers”. Thankfully, my kid is dorky enough to know when something pops up and says “You must be 18 to watch this video” he must click away. But I am fairly certain that Circle would have kept things from going even that far! And that would have been great because then I wouldn’t have had to have a conversation with two 11 year olds about what a prostitute or stripper are………

  • Anne M. Butler

    Would love to have this for my step-sister’s family. Would make an awesome Christmas gift for them!

  • monicahaynes

    Managing screen time for 3 kids is my downfall. This device would be a lifesaver!

  • Jill Darbyshire

    I need to set this up for my husband and both kids!

  • Aubrey

    Not a parent (oh no, don’t stop here – please keep reading my comment!) but I freaking love how you’re raising your girls. I can’t believe all the mayhem I got into running wild when I was a kid, and to me it seems technology is a way for kids to have what was our whole world inside of their pockets. Plus my niece can text me poop emojis now, so that’s pretty neat. I’d absolutely love to win one of these – mainly so I can gift it to my sister and get back in her good graces for giving my niece my old iPhone in the first place…

  • Stacy

    As someone who is obsessed with the internet and screen time myself, I desperately need this for my kids!

  • issascrazyworld

    Okay I need this. I keep having to take away my teens phone because I catch her with it at 10pm. It’s really hard to police a nearly 14 year old (plus two more kids) and even when all she is doing is watching random YouTube cat clips, hello go to bed child! I’ve threatened turning off the wi-fi at a certain time, but then I’d not be able to use it either. This seems like a perfect solution.

    We go back and forth on screens in my house. Some days they don’t a single device and others they’re on them much more. I figure it works out in the end. I had a serious Mario addiction as a kid. Mine are in sports and clubs and have massive amounts of homework. Down time is needed for all.

  • Sarah R

    Wow, this sounds like such a great device. For my son, but for my husband and me too! I know I spend a lot of mindless time playing on my phone.

  • Page Barwick

    My 11-year-old son uses YouTube to learn magic tricks and Minecraft tips and to relish in other people hurting themselves. His path to knowledge is so much more efficient than mine was at his age! No trips to the library. No card catalogs. Instant access to whatever you want to know.

  • Stacie

    I think this is a fabulous answer to a question I am just beginning to ask. I have an 8 year old and a 4 year old and sometimes, having them watching videos on a device is easier for ME, so I can become very lax on weekends and holidays especially. I will definitely be looking into this device, and it would be even more awesome to get a free one! 🙂

    What will these developers think of next?!

  • KO

    Holy cannoli this is snazzy! I think this could be a great tool to start some real discussions about internet safety, internet etiquette, and the difference between the cyberworld and the real world. I would love to have one of these!

  • Margaret

    I need this desperately. My kids are constantly on YouTube watching Minecraft videos, and my youngest is only 4. They wake up at 6:15 and immediately go to the iPads. I struggle with it a lot. This looks like a great help. Thanks Dooce!

  • Melissa Work Black

    This would be a lifesaver for me! Two kids, age 9 and 13, one with a phone and tablet and the other a tablet. My 9-year old daughter is on YouTube constantly and I struggle between “you must be in the same room with me when watching, so I can make sure you’re not watching anything you shouldn’t” and “OMG…you have watched that same video 50 times and my head will explode if I hear it again, please go anywhere else.” For my 13-year old, he’s hitting the stage where he holes up in his room for hours, so I really worry about what he’s watching/searching for. They’re both amazing kids, but it’s just scary how much info is at their fingertips these days.

  • Catherine Sullivan

    Hi, I’m also a full time single mom and struggle with how much screen time is ok for my son. I’ve decided that is rather him have access to apps that are educational and fun and interactive than to just zone out in front of the tv.

  • erbie

    I’ve been struggling with this with my kids as well. My kid spends hours on YouTube and I’m trying to make her use more reasonable without taking it away completely. They do need to be tech-literate, as a life skill, but where do we draw the line? She has not learned to self-regulate, so a Circle seems like a great thing to try for a reasonable limit from both sides.

  • Ivori

    We love the internet at home and do a good job limiting our time on it…we being me and my 6 year old. I would like this to set up a profile for my 22 year old for when she comes over. She claims the time to be a visit, however, she never puts her phone down during this time. Mom’s house – mom’s rules…no matter the age 🙂

  • Julie Vrla

    My kids use laptops and tablets every day in their classrooms. I can’t take the internet away, even if I wanted to do it. But it’s nice to see that there’s help to monitor and filter what children can do, without really impinging on their exploration and learning. So, kudos to this device. A long time coming.

  • Leigh

    Several months ago I had breakfast with an old roommate, and in our conversation she told me that she severely restricts her four kids’ screen time: something like 30 minutes on weeknights and two hours on weekends. Right after that breakfast I met a couple of other friends and their kids for lunch, and when I arrived their kids were each playing on their phones. My friend was carrying a messenger bag, and I asked if he had to go to work after lunch. He said, “No, these are backup devices for when the batteries die on their phones.” I died laughing and said, “THIS is why we’re friends!!”

    When they use their devices for homework AND talking with friends AND watching shows AND who knows what else, it’s very hard to know how best to limit screen time. It does make for an effective punishment, though–taking away my 14-year-old’s phone is like cutting off one of her limbs. (I would never, for the record, cut off her limbs).

  • nicoleishida

    I am afraid of the internet for my kids and need to get more up to speed on how to filter and monitor. Unfortunately there’s no avoiding it but a device like this would help. I hope they’re working on video game time limiting devices as well. My Wii could use some monitoring (but mostly for my husband if I’m honest)

  • Marie

    This device looks amazing. I’d even use it for myself. Thanks for bringing this to our attention Heather! Love you!

  • Tonya

    I would love to have something that would make my kids have to get off their devices. Saying it seven times gets so old so fast.

  • AJS

    We were the parents that smugly said we will not let the internet babysit our child. And then we laughed and laughed and slept the sleep of people without children. And then we tried to cook Thanksgiving dinner with a toddler underfoot. Or you know go to the bathroom. AND NOW SHE’S A NINJA AT NETFLIX. She can dismiss texts, switch apps and find YouTube and Netflix by icon not location. She is 20 months. She better be Marlo-level nerd by the time she’s three. Circle sounds AMAZING. And I want it for my Nerd-in-Training but also for us to be able to track how much time WE spend in front of a screen. B/C honestly how can I expect my child to pull herself out of a screen if we’re constantly buried in one?!?!?

  • I’m interested to hear more about this… I received the Circle about a week ago and have been testing this in my home. A few things I have found… One, on wifi, there does appear to be a lag/slowness when passing through the Circle (have you seen this)? I have two wifi networks at home and the system can only monitor one – I then connected the Circle (as you mentioned) directly to the router – but now I’m not seeing anything from any of the monitored devices (and we have too many devices).
    In general I need to do some network clean-up in my home so maybe with some wireless and network adjustments I will clean all this up and get things working well.
    I’m the director of technology (and parent of two boys – 5th & 6th grade) for a k-12 independent school in NYC and would love to feel comfortable recommending this to other parents in my personal circles as well as parents that may want some visibility into their students screen time.

    We are a one to one iPad school here and can support and manage to a large degree what students do with and on their devices here on campus but when they go home – that is a different story. Would love to hear some additional comments and suggestions. Thank you!

  • Sarah

    This would be perfect for our family. Our kids each have several different devices and it can be a headache to figure out restrictions and settings on each one. This would definitely help regulate that. Also love that you can see which apps they’ve been using.

  • Cara D

    cdenuccio

  • Alyssa

    I was just realizing this weekend that my eight year old is way too comfortable and naïve about the internet! I’m a single mom too, and I would love to have something else telling them that internet time is over for the day. I don’t have strict time limits right now, but I think I will need to soon.

  • Janet Nimiroski

    I have three kids and thought I had all the devices set up so they couldn’t access anything too weird/creepy/mature for them. Missed the part on youtube where you have to do it there as well, one day I took a peek at the user history to see just what my 8 year old was looking at. OMG. She went from minecraft videos to videos of people playing with frozen toys to “how to wipe your ass with 6″ fingernails.” which then lead to weird prank videos, worlds fattest man, woman breatfeeds monkey WHHHAAATT???????? O.M.G.
    and some of THAT was AFTER I set the age level for youtube! this device would save me,lol.

  • Rachel R. Vail

    I’m a single Parent 86.67% of the year with a 12 year old boy at home. Seriously, this device would be a life saver for both of us. I’m doing my best to keep him young in an environment that can be overwhelming. There’s too many choices to view things that he’s not emotionally ready for. He’s a wonderful boy and enjoys being outside fishing, archery, sports….I just want to make sure he makes time for those things as well as the ipod. It’s very easy to get sucked in….I’m hoping I can include myself as, I too, need to monitor my own screen time. Thanks Dooce.

  • Elizabeth

    I would love this, and I would be sorely tempted to set it so my husband got kicked off his Kindle at 2 AM. Unfortunately you probably can’t prevent them from accessing the paper books, huh?

  • Cara D

    OK, learning how to comment on a blog…check! This is a brilliant invention and may save my relationship with my 3 children. I am SO SICK of policing screen time every day and trying to convince my children that they DO have other interests and explaining to my 9 year old that watching a person on youtube play a video game is just beyond absurd to me. Do I sound judgy? I’m sure I do, but aaacckk! this is such a struggle for me. If I am not a randomly selected winner, this is going on my Santa PLEASE list (along with a massage).

  • Brianne Christiansen

    omg. I NEED this for my 4 year old with Aspergers. And of course I can’t afford it right now. It’s going on the list if I don’t win one from you!

  • Jamie B

    My oldest is five, and spends almost no time on the Internet, mostly because the idea of allowing him to browse online scares the crap out of me. Having something like this to help set limits and to curb what he can access online would be amazing, because the day is coming, whether I like it or not!

  • Courtney Smith

    Oh well, I am pretty sure I need one of these!

  • Fredda

    Although attentive in other areas, my mother paid seemingly no attention to what I read or watched. Our home was full of books so I could learn about sex from reading popular novels like Tobacco Road. Admittedly media was pretty tame in the 50s and 60s but it didn’t seem to hurt me, although it did scare the nuns a bit when I submitted a book report on The Diary of Anne Frank in the third grade. Following my mother’s example, I didn’t limit my sons either. They couldn’t seem to put The Joy of Sex back on the bookshelf as it had been left so I was aware of their reading. They seem entirely normal as well.

  • Siobhan Provolt

    This is exciting to me! I have 6 kids 4 that use technology to some degree and it has been a huge headache trying to figure out what to use to keep them safe. Thankyou!

  • Carrie

    I would love one of these – I can’t keep track of 3 kids’ screen times on my own!

  • elaine laurin

    this would be so useful for my 10y.o, who never wants to get off the net.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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