Time Tokens: Screen out excess screen time without a struggle

Monitor Screen Time with Time Tokens

Tired of constant conflict with the kids over excessive TV? Done with being nagged for the iPad? West London mother-of-two Amanda Bucknall witnessed the effect of too much screen time on her son and came up with a solution so clever she turned it into a business called TimeTokens. The MotherHood asked Amanda how it all came about and how TimeTokens can save us from screen strife.

Tell us a little about yourself. 

I live in West London with my husband, Simon, and our two boys, Harry (nine years old) and Wilfred (four). Before I launched TimeTokens I ran the sales and marketing side of Simon’s bike servicing business. Before I had children I was a freelance TV development producer coming up with ideas for TV programmes, which was great fun. In my early 20s I set up, ran and sold a small sandwich business.

I’ve always loved thinking up ideas and selling things; some of my earliest memories are of me and my younger brother selling holly from my parents’ garden at Christmas. My whole family is very entrepreneurial so I think it’s in my blood!

What was your inspiration behind TimeTokens? 

Exactly two years ago this half-term, we stayed with my parents for the week. I’d been really looking forward to the countryside break, my mum’s delicious food, help with the boys and some time to catch up on some sleep! The reality was very different. My mum was ill all week, so I had to cook and look after everyone and it rained every day! My dad was supposed to help me look after the boys. Whilst I looked after Wilfred (a very active two-year-old), he was going to entertain Harry.

But the reality was Harry ended up having an overdose of tech. During the week Harry’s behaviour completely changed: his hoody came up; he started grunting instead of speaking, not making eye contact; he became tearful, bad mannered, rude—I spent the whole week apologising for him. The penny didn’t drop until I got back to London and I found out that Harry had very quietly been spending his time not helping Grandpa but rotating between the iPad, TV and my parents’ computer hour after hour. Up till then I had never really worried about how much screen time he had—so the impact it had on him came as a real shock.

I immediately turned to Google (!) for help, thinking I would be able to buy something to solve this problem. But there was nothing. Even Amazon couldn’t help. So together Harry and I developed our own system to manage screen time and that’s how TimeTokens were born.

How does it work? 

TimeTokens is a physical product that children use to manage their screen time. It’s a special pack consisting of a large wallet, an LCD digital timer, seven hours of TimeTokens in different time denominations (5, 10, 15, 30 and 60 minutes), a golden ticket and the all-important Promise Contract.

Here’s the process: you and your child agree how much screen time they should have each week and sign the Promise Contract. You then count out their allowance in TimeTokens, pop them in the wallet with the timer and give it to your child. From now on, whenever they want to use a screen, they must trade in a TimeToken for the time they want to use (e.g., 30 minutes of TimeTokens = 30 minutes’ screen time) and start their timer. When the timer goes off, that screen-time session is finished. When their wallet is empty and they have used all their screen time, no more TimeTokens until the next weekly allowance.

To keep everyone on track, if your child keeps to the contract, and there are no complaints or tantrums during the week, they get to use the golden ticket at the weekend. This is for an extra ING-time treat (family orientated if possible), like bikING, bakING, swimmING, playING a board game.

TimeTokens cut rows over screen time. I never have to hear “five more minutes, p-l-e-a-s-e”. I also never worry about how much screen time Harry is having as I know he never uses more than his weekly allowance. He is also learning some key life skills like delayed gratification, self-regulation, time management and personal responsibility in the process.

Are there any other features you’d like to tell us about? 

Yes, TimeTokens feature a fun gang of friends called the Frazzles—they love their screen time, but they realised they were spending so much time on screens they were missing out on all the fun INGs in life. Now they use TimeTokens they have more time for INGs but still get their screen time too!

When you buy a pack of TimeTokens, the Frazzles will send your child a personalised letter explaining how TimeTokens work and how much fun they are to use!

Apart from encouraging life skills, TimeTokens also benefit other learning: encouraging mental maths with the different time amounts to add up or take away—Harry loves trading in 30 minutes for a 2 x 10 and 2 x 5 minutes, etc.; perfecting grammar—INGs are verbs, words ending in ING—and they are nearly always fun!

Who is your main competition? 

I’d like to think we are pretty unique. As co-creator, my son Harry has first-hand experience of growing up in this digital age. Like many children today, he doesn’t remember life without an iPad and whilst technology is exciting and an important part of his future, imagination and social skills are also key. I’d like his childhood memories to be more than Minecraft!

What’s next for TimeTokens?

Well, our long-term mission is to help encourage all children from 5 to 10 to learn to self-regulate so when they hit their teen years they hopefully have a better chance of managing their screen time rather than being managed by it. We also hope to encourage parents to start a digital conversation with their children, building trust and establishing good screen habits.

We also have lots of exciting ideas for new products in the pipeline, which we hope we can tell you about in a few months’ time, so watch this space!

For more on TimeTokens, check out the website at timetokens.com.