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Here’s How One Mom Built a Screen Time App That Motivates Kids

How Cynthia Crossley aims to make screen time work FOR your family (not against it).

Cynthia Crossley struggled every day to get her kids off screens. “We had constant battles with our sons about screen time, which also got in the way of finishing homework, doing chores and having quality family time.  Ultimately, we built our app called Habyts to stop the struggles and bring back balance,” she says.

Before Cynthia and her husband Andy co-founded Habyts, they researched countless parenting techniques and parental control apps.  But nothing addressed the real practicalities of daily family life, such as constantly-shifting schedules, multiple devices per child, online requirements for homework, and the unique needs of each child (and family).  They also sought guidance from established child development and parenting experts to make sure the app reflected the holistic challenges of raising young digital natives to be healthy and responsible adults.

As the CEO of Habyts, Cynthia firmly believes many parents want more than just parental controls, they want to teach their kids good habits for life.  She focuses on creating a system that gradually teaches kids self-regulation by requiring tasks before screen time and letting kids earn points for privileges.  Thus, Habyts uniquely brings together management tools for parents and a motivational system for kids.  Here’s what she has to say about her experience as a parent of digital natives and a founder of Habyts.

Why has screen time become such a big problem?

Technology should work FOR your family (not vice-versa).  Right now, parents are fighting against websites, apps, and other digital media designed specifically to stimulate engaging, compulsive, and potentially addictive behaviour.  The irony is that many tech leaders don’t allow their kids excessive (or even minimal) screen time. 

Apple founder Steve Jobs did not allow his children to use the iPad when they were young. According to Jobs: “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”  Apple CEO Tim Cook believes there should be limits to the use of technology in schools and says he does not want his nephew to use a social network. Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel limits his own seven-year-old stepson’s smartphone, allowing him only to use computers and smartphones for 90 minutes per week, or 12 minutes a day on average.

At the same time, we parents are repeatedly told that our kids know way more than us about technology.  At times, that may be true. But it doesn’t mean that the ‘digital natives’ don’t need parental guidance when it comes to tech. Parents know more about life. We know that video games, social media, and texting should not eclipse kids’ connections with family and school—two of the most important contributors to their well-being. We know the habits our kids build now – good or bad – will shape their lives forever. And that will always be true.

What’s the thing you are working on right now that gets you most excited?

Parents are constantly asking us how to get buy-in from their kids to manage screen time.  Kids then tell us that their parents are hypocritical when it comes to spending time on their own devices.  To help address both these issues, we’ve just launched an exciting new set of features called Family View. 

Family View encourages a shared family screen time journey by allowing parents to monitor their own screen time use (if desired) and share progress in a Family Scoreboard (within limits).  The Family Scoreboard allows the whole family to stay inspired by sharing stats and progress, thus creating a ‘we’re all in this together’ dynamic for the entire family.  I can’t wait to see the response from our community!

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Well, I’m a parent so I still have to get my youngest son to school.  He and I are both early risers, and I like that little pocket of time that just the two of us have before the rush of the day.  Sometimes I get up a bit earlier to get some work out of the way, but I absolutely love it when he pops his head around the corner for ‘morning hugs’.

What inspired you to start Habyts?

As a parent of three sons, Habyts came out of my own experience and frustration with screen time.  I believe that screen time is a privilege to be earned, rather than an entitlement to be expected. I also worry about the still unknown ramifications of the digital habits kids are developing now. Don’t get me wrong, having worked at Microsoft for 13 years, I love technology, when it comes with balance.  I believe kids massively benefit from varied habits of physical, social, creative, and unstructured play (in addition to digital fun). These habits build important cognitive & social skills. Sadly, many kids today don’t have diverse enough play at home due to the dominance of digital media.  As Aristotle said, “Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.”

Also, as a busy parent of three boys, I often struggled to be consistent when it came to managing rules and routines – and managing screen time is one of the hardest areas to be consistent.  Numerous parents have told me they feel the same.

But automating screen time structure (including rules, routines, and tracking) with an app like Habyts makes it easier to be consistent. And this same consistency helps parents motivate kids with clear expectations such as “when you finish this, then you can…”. Over time, these ‘habit systems’ help kids learn to self-regulate.

What has your journey been like to get to where you are now?

There is not a single day that goes by without a high or a low.  I am constantly learning something new, making mistakes, questioning my judgment, and growing as a person.  It’s hard, but I love it.

If you could give one piece of advice to another parent about anything what would it be?

I have two bits of advice.  First of all, focus on progress over perfection.  Many parents feel like they have to know it all and do it all to get started with managing screen time.  It’s a recipe for frustration, failure and fights.  I recommend getting your kids engaged in planning and then treating the whole process as an experiment.

Sure, there will be stumbling blocks along the way, but that’s OK if parents treat it with a mindset of experimentation and learning.  It’s not about blaming and shaming, but rather teaching kids a process to deal with bumps in the road.

It took your kids time to learn to walk, ride a bike and read a book. You watched them fall, falter, and fail, then helped them on their feet. Take the same approach with managing screen time. 

My second bit of advice is to celebrate the wins.  Notice ANY effort your child is making and recognise even the smallest wins.  Don’t take progress for granted, sometimes a simple acknowledgement is all they need. For example, when they come off their devices after finishing screen time, recognize the achievement.  Say something like: “I see you’ve come to the end of your screen time. You’ve put down your device without arguing. That’s very responsible”.  After each win, you both will be able to take on the next specific goal with greater confidence and mutual trust.

Who has been the biggest inspiration or had the biggest impact on your life?

My family.  It’s that simple!

Cynthia Crossley is the co-founder of Habyts, a family app that helps parents regulate screen time, eliminate homework distractions & motivate their kids!  Habyts combines breakthrough parental controls with an automated task and reward system that helps kids build good habits for life. Find out more at www.habyts.com.

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