February 22, 2006 4:38 PM PST

New tech aims to get kids off the couch

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There's a new boss in the house, and his name is Bob.

Bob is a new time monitor device from start-up Hopscotch Technology that let parents control how much time their children spend watching television, playing video games or using the computer.

Bob consists of a timer and a reporter box. A device's plug is locked into Bob, which is then plugged into a wall outlet. Parents assign their children a certain amount of time on the device by day or week, and when it's up, Bob cuts the current.

Bob comes out in April for $89. Hopscotch, based in Boulder, Colo., said that results from initial tests with 40 families across the country have been positive.

"The only consistent quote was that it brought peace to the house," said Hopscotch President Brian Baker. "Parents argue with their kids about media all the time, almost daily. After using Bob one or two days, the kids accept that 'this is mum and dad's rule, and we can't do anything about it.' It becomes a nonissue."

Bob
Credit: Hopscotch
Media time management device Bob,
which switches off the TV at parents'
will, aims to move kids from the
sofa to the playground.

Many families apparently asked if they could buy the test units--and some wouldn't take no for an answer, Baker said. "We still can't get two of them back. They won't even answer our calls any longer," he said with a laugh.

The company was started when Tom Gallop, a stressed-out careerist and father of three, fled his busy work lifestyle and moved to Boulder to spend more time with his family. But Gallop soon realized that his children didn't have a lot of time for him--they were stuck in front of the TV.

At a neighborhood picnic, Gallop aired his concern to neighbor and product developer Brian Baker. Baker shared Gallop's feeling that the bikes, baseball fields and tree huts of their childhoods had all been swapped for the living-room couch.

A few months later the duo formed Hopscotch.

Bob allows each customer to have up to six user accounts and requires a PIN for it to be switched on. Apart from restricting the amount of time on a device, parents can also block out certain hours, to keep their kids from playing video games after bedtime or from watching TV when they should be doing homework.

Baker said that managing the amount of time that children spend on digital devices is crucial for the their well-being and intellectual development.

"The average child now spends almost as much time in school as they do watching television. That's crazy. The kids end up eating junk food. Child obesity has skyrocketed the last few years," he said.

So what are they supposed to do instead? To Baker, the answer is easy: play. The tested children who were under age 10 adjusted almost immediately and instead played with toys or friends. "Older kids are lost for a few days; they don't know what to do. Teenage boys get angry with it and try to break into it or figure it out. But after a day or two they are done," he said.

Gallop and Baker believe that there is a huge market for Bob. They referred to a U.S. Census Survey which showed that 92 percent of parents make rules about video games and television, but 75 percent fail to enforce them.

"The whole idea is to give the media industry the impetus to buy our software. This should be in TVs, PlayStations and all. You could even put it on teenagers' phones," Baker said. He's not sure that the TV companies share his enthusiasm though, because limited TV time could mean less income from commercials.

Hopscotch talked to both Sony and Microsoft about integrating the feature in their game consoles when it displayed Bob at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. While Sony was not taken with the idea, Microsoft showed interest.

"Their No. 1 complaint is time. If you give the kid an Xbox machine Christmas morning, you won't see that kid until Jan. 1, when he or she shows up for food. So the parents sometimes take away the boxes or don't buy new games because the kids get addicted," Baker said.

He claims that it's not only children who benefit from less tech time. Apart from spending more time with their children, grown-ups also have the chance to help each other get rid of their own bad habits. "Take our CEO--his wife only gives him four hours of football on a Sunday. And that's it," Baker said.

See more CNET content tagged:
couch, kid, Boulder, time management, video game

12 comments

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too bad computer power cords are...
too bad computer power cords are detachable (from the computer) and avaiable for 3 dollars at a local computer store.
Posted by Madrone (43 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Lock and Key
We both know there are ways around that. You can attach a lock to the case of the computer with a loop for the power cord. And if that's too complicated for some, take out the monitor. I doubt the kid has another monitor cable to hookup to.

All in all, this sounds like a pretty good idea, and not just for kids. It looks like a good way to help yourself break out of some bad habits, as well as monitor your own time in front of the TV.
Posted by jotomaino (14 comments )
Link Flag
too bad computer power cords are...
too bad computer power cords are detachable (from the computer) and avaiable for 3 dollars at a local computer store.
Posted by Madrone (43 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Lock and Key
We both know there are ways around that. You can attach a lock to the case of the computer with a loop for the power cord. And if that's too complicated for some, take out the monitor. I doubt the kid has another monitor cable to hookup to.

All in all, this sounds like a pretty good idea, and not just for kids. It looks like a good way to help yourself break out of some bad habits, as well as monitor your own time in front of the TV.
Posted by jotomaino (14 comments )
Link Flag
X-Box, PlayStation, Computer...
They all have removeable power supplies...

If I were to ever have to get around one of these devices, I would simply unplug the AC adapter from the machine and replace it with another that is new and plugged into a non-limited plug.
Posted by blurn (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
X-Box, PlayStation, Computer...
They all have removeable power supplies...

If I were to ever have to get around one of these devices, I would simply unplug the AC adapter from the machine and replace it with another that is new and plugged into a non-limited plug.
Posted by blurn (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Haha...hahaha......ha.
It's a good idea, but it will be hacked. There's no way to avoid it. Someone will hack it and tech kids in school will make a ton of dough hacking these for people. The better (and cheaper) way is to remove a necessary piece of the device, or lock the device away in a gun safe or something. Don't trust electronic devices to take care of your children because you are a bad parent.
Posted by TheCrazyAssasin (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I think you misunderstand this concept
Referring to the comments about hacking, and buying new computer cords I am confused. How is my 7 year old going to hack into something, or get to a computer store without my knowing? I don't believe that there is an underground computer cord market at his school. And is it common knowledge to know how to hack into an ATM machine, or a computer network - even among most teens?
I think this sounds like a great idea and not because I am a bad parent, but because I can't be right next to my child 24 hours a day. I don't enjoy daily negotiations with him about watching "one more show" before he has to do his homework.
I think it is great that there is a product out there that helps children manage their own time. It seems like a pretty positive solution to me.
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
Haha...hahaha......ha.
It's a good idea, but it will be hacked. There's no way to avoid it. Someone will hack it and tech kids in school will make a ton of dough hacking these for people. The better (and cheaper) way is to remove a necessary piece of the device, or lock the device away in a gun safe or something. Don't trust electronic devices to take care of your children because you are a bad parent.
Posted by TheCrazyAssasin (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I think you misunderstand this concept
Referring to the comments about hacking, and buying new computer cords I am confused. How is my 7 year old going to hack into something, or get to a computer store without my knowing? I don't believe that there is an underground computer cord market at his school. And is it common knowledge to know how to hack into an ATM machine, or a computer network - even among most teens?
I think this sounds like a great idea and not because I am a bad parent, but because I can't be right next to my child 24 hours a day. I don't enjoy daily negotiations with him about watching "one more show" before he has to do his homework.
I think it is great that there is a product out there that helps children manage their own time. It seems like a pretty positive solution to me.
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
Seen better
Seen better, if truth be told,integrating the the cosoles with gym training equipment is far better, as the cool factor of playing the game plus basic physical fitness training simultaneously, with all people operating at their individual respective levels!

Oh well, back to the drawing board!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Seen better
Seen better, if truth be told,integrating the the cosoles with gym training equipment is far better, as the cool factor of playing the game plus basic physical fitness training simultaneously, with all people operating at their individual respective levels!

Oh well, back to the drawing board!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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