“To Screen, Or Not To Screen…”
That certainly is the question! And it came back to my mind today after reading this article about British TV star Kirstie Allsopp who famously smashed her kids’ iPads earlier this year.
Screen time is such an easy form of entertainment because it requires nothing of the participant and is always available; it’s no different to Generation X and Y kids being plopped in front of the TV all afternoon. Unsurprisingly, many parents find it gives them a much-needed mental break from the kids to cook the dinner, load the washing machine or any other number of other things that need to be done.
But long-term, few would argue that screen time comes at the expense of activities which develop imagination, creativity, resilience and resourcefulness. It also helps children learn to cope with boredom.
So what do we do?
- On average, our kids have screen time about 3 nights a week, normally for about 10 minutes each. They have an old Google Nexus 7 and a couple of HP Touchpads (vale, webOS) which have a couple of dozen offline games loaded onto them, such as:
- The Serpent of Isis (a hidden objects game)
- Geometry Dash (arcade game)
- Ground Effect (plane game)
- Miriel’s Magical Adventure (own a shop and bake things for customers)
- Stick Cricket
- They have to be offline games. We don’t allow them to connect to the internet and be bombarded with ads or invitations to join some dodgy chatroom. If the game relies on an active internet connection to work then they don’t use it. We can’t know the details of every game they play so we keep the list down and ensure there’s no way online content can get in and change the game to something we didn’t bargain for.
Normally after their shower they ask if they can have a game. Because they don’t get it every night they’re not too fussed if the answer is no; but if we have time and they’ve done all their job / homework, it’s normally a yes. They set the kitchen timer for 10 minutes and away they go, and the other two normally watch. So between the three of them they’ll normally have about 30 minutes a day either playing (10 mins) or watching (20 mins).
After that? This is typically how else they amuse themselves:
- Read (a big one in our house)
- Drive toy cars around on the floor
- Ride their bikes
- Build mud dams and dig holes in the back yard
- Have a water fight
Yes. It might seem unrealistic, but children will rise to whatever standard you set for them. Our kids have never experienced endless hours of screen time and they don’t hanker for it. They’re getting old enough now (9,11,13) where they can see it’s not healthy to have too much.
If you want to change your screen time habits, the process is likely much the same as explained at “Who’s in charge here?”
- Plan some alternative activities – if the kids are used to relying on screen time this may take some work. Get some books; buy a deck of cards; borrow a simple game from the local toy library. Whatever you do, make sure there’s something they can move onto after screen time
- Make screen time dependent upon good performance – e.g. they only get it once they’ve done their jobs. It’s a privilege, not a right.
- Make the expectations clear – kitchen timers are really good because they are an objective measure of how long something’s been.
- To start with, be prepared to spend a bit of time with them on the alternative activities. If kids have never sat and read a book before, it’s unrealistic to expect them to jump straight into Harry Potter. Initially, you might need to sit with them and read to them (perhaps read a page each) / play the game with them while they get used to it.
- Stick to your word – once the time is up, that’s the end of screen time. Over time you may be able to extend it a bit here and there, but only once the expectations have been reset.
So should you smash your kids’ iPads? I’m not a fan of wanton vandalism, because apart from being wasteful, it’s an extreme outcome which is normally only necessary if previous processes have been ineffective. It would be far more effective to deal with the issues leading to the excessive use rather than destroy a tool which, in itself, is not the problem. We’ve never been close to that point because we’ve always governed the timing of our kids’ activities; but if you’re in an extreme situation and the above process doesn’t work, you may want to consider withdrawing the devices completely for a period of time until they adjust.