Jay McGavren's Journal


Console family timers

The most recent game console generation (Xbox One and PS4) offers NO parental time limits for kids. Microsoft (and presumably Sony as well) continues to ignore the thousands of requests it’s getting for this feature. The last console to do this (mostly) right, as far as I know, is the XBox 360, with its “Family Timer” feature. This is unfortunate. In my case, it means we’ve been unable to purchase any of the new consoles in order to avoid giving my screen-addicted teenager a constant distraction from homework.

Many parents who ask for a feature like this get accused of shirking their responsibilities. And a timer is certainly no substitute for appropriate supervision. But my teenager knows all the tricks to try and get extra screen time out of me (and my fiancee), and I find that the timer avoids a great many arguments. Time’s up? You’re done playing. No discussion necessary.

I’m putting together this post so that future parents know what they should be able to expect from the parental controls of a game console, computer, etc. I feel it’s needed, because very few manufacturers get everything right (if they even try at all). This will be a “living” post; I intend to update this as new use cases come to light, or as errors are found.

Aspects to look for in a system’s time limit feature

Each entry will be followed by a list of systems that offer that feature.

  • Time allowance can be set to renew on a daily or weekly basis. (XBox 360)
  • More time can be added at any time, whether because a child legitimately missed some of their screen time or as a reward for good behavior. (XBox 360)
  • When time is up, the system doesn’t shut down. Instead, it blocks the screen from being viewed, with the option to add more time. In the event that a child is caught off-guard by time expiring, this allows the parent to give them a few more minutes to save their progress. (XBox 360, Windows 8, Mac OS)
  • Can set times of day system can be used to prevent midnight playing. (Windows 8, Mac OS)
  • Can suspend timer so others can play without affecting child’s remaining time. (XBox 360)
  • Can adjust time remaining (up or down) via web account, so it can be done without interrupting play on the system. (This is a wish-list item, as no system I know of allows this. Windows 8 allows adjustment of overall settings (not time remaining) via a Microsoft web account, but in my experience this feature is completely broken anyway; no limits were enforced until I switched to managing them locally on the PC itself.)

Aspects to avoid in a system’s time limit feature

Each listing will be followed by systems where it’s a problem.

  • Can’t set times of day system can be used. (XBox 360)
  • Child can easily circumvent it. (On Windows 8, I have to set a one-hour window each day when my son can log in, because he knows how to circumvent the time limit aspect.)
  • Can’t modify timer unless time is up. (Mac OS, Windows 8)
  • Poor, hard to understand UI. (XBox 360 controls are split between the “Family Safety” and “Preferences”.)
  • Not possible to subtract time (except by logging in to let the timer run down, and then watching to ensure the child doesn’t play). If my kid breaks the rules, it would be good to be able to reduce their available time as a consequence. (XBox 360, Windows 8, Mac OS)
  • Not enough granularity in allowed time. (Windows 8 only allows time to be set in half-hour increments.)

Readers, your help maintaining this post would be appreciated! If you see an error, or have info on a system that isn’t represented here, please contact me.

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