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New Xbox Family Settings app gives parents more control over kids' game time

It lets parents control children's screen time, content filters and access to other players.

Microsoft's Xbox Family Settings gives parents and caregivers more control over their children's Xbox console game activity.

Microsoft has a new tool called Xbox Family Settings, which it hopes will give parents and caregivers more control over their children's activity on Xbox consoles. The app, released in preview on Wednesday, allows parents to set limits on screen time, create content filters and manage who their children can play and communicate with -- all from their mobile device.

The app allows parents to modify screen time limits, giving kids more time to play or create on their consoles as the novel coronavirus forces them to social distance from their friends, Dave McCarthy, vice president of Xbox Operations, said in a statement.

"We believe that especially now, gaming plays an important role to help connect friends and family and have fun while staying home," McCarthy said. "The app makes it easy to find the right balance of gaming time that feels right for your family."

Around the world, people's lives have been turned upside down by social distancing measures and even more stringent lockdowns put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. While some discover new hobbies or focus on long-neglected home improvement projects, millions are to turning to video games to while away their time.

Microsoft said earlier this month that in April it tallied a 25% increase in the number of new players joining its game community, but educators and parents worry that children could become addicted to some games. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends younger children (aged 2 to 5) have no longer than an hour a day of screen time, and "For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media..."

Microsoft said its new app allows parents to set screen time limits for each day of the week, allowing flexibility for more screen time on the weekends or less during the week when school work is the priority. It will also allow content filters to be set based on the age of the child, blocking titles deemed too mature.

Parents will also be able to determine their child's ability to talk or play with others during game play, from allowing all or "friends only" or blocking everyone altogether. They will also be able to respond to notifications in real time and get daily or weekly reports about their child's activity on Xbox.

The app is available for Android users and to the first 10,000 iOS users who download it.