Apps, games and tech: Another screen time battle

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I’ve written many a times about my dislike of children having too much screen time. I’ve noticed, however, that a new front has opened-up in the battle for my kids’ eyes.

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Screen time: It’s no longer about television and films. It’s about games and apps and limiting access isn’t easy. Photo credit: Pan Xiaozhen on Unsplash

When Helen was younger, the issue was keeping her away from cartoons on the television. It wasn’t that much of a struggle, all things considered.

Helen is now eight year’s old. Her ability to use technology has improved and when she learns a new skill, her four-year-old sister, Izzy, is not far behind.

It’s no longer cartoons that are the issue. The issue is limiting the amount of time my kids spend playing on apps, computer games, watching YouTube videos and films.

The other day I was speaking to a mum with kids of a similar age.  She summed up the situation perfectly:

“I tell my kids to get off one screen and they do it, but a few minutes later I find them using another screen. A few minutes after that, I find them using another one and then another and another.”

I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. There isn’t an eternal supply of wireless devices in our house. I also ensure the kids spend time outside being active every single day.

I’m also not opposed to kids have access to tech. I’m taking steps to introduce my kids to coding and there are some fantastic, fun and educational games out there for kids. I merely believe children need to understand there are limits and why they are in place.

We’ve had a great summer holiday spending time in Scotland, camping for a couple of days, going on play dates and so on. Even so, I have, on a few occasions, felt that screen time has been an issue over recent weeks.

After watching some television, I have told my kids to go and do something else. After a few minutes of quiet, I’ve then found them playing Minecraft or Super Mario.

The options and temptations are there and they are multiplying because they are surrounded by technology. It’s easy entertainment and I simply don’t want them spending too much time in front of screens.

Of course, us mums and dads don’t always set the best example ourselves. The other day I took my kids to have a bite to eat.

A dad and his child were sat at a neighbouring table. The father was playing on his mobile phone for the entire meal while his kid was using a tablet. I’m not simply talking about while waiting for their food, but while eating as well. The sight made me feel genuine sadness that this guy wouldn’t break away from his screen and pay attention to his kid.

We are, of course, in the midst of the summer holidays. The kids are at home a lot more so the normal routines aren’t being followed. This leaves more scope for the kids to entertain themselves with screens and I’m also probably a lot more sensitive to it.

Even so, I have taken some drastic action to try and remedy this issue. I’ve discovered a fantastic app called Freedom. It allows you to set a timer and lock down either the entire internet or specific websites.

The fascinating thing is how the kids react when they suddenly discover YouTube isn’t available to them. I’d expected moaning or whinging but they simply saunter off and find something else to do without complaint.

As much as I love our Google Home, I have disconnected it from our Chromecast. Helen had figured out she could get the Home to Chromecast videos and programmes to the television and I’m afraid I wasn’t having that. It wasn’t so much television programmes that bothered me, but how Mrs Adams and I could monitor the YouTube videos she was watching if she was selecting them via the Home.

On the plus side, the Home also plays music. It’s a delight to walk into the kitchen dancing because they’ve chosen some songs on Spotify and are having a great time listening to them. It shows that you have to strike a balance with tech.

Thus far, these steps have worked well. It has led to a reduction in the amount of time the kids have spent using screens and they’ve been more creative.

The fact apps and games have crept in where cartoons used to rule should come as no surprise. It’s merely a sign of my kids getting older and Mrs Adams and I have to accept and adapt to this reality before it becomes a major problem.

Do you find your kids drift from screen to screen if you don’t intervene to stop them? If so, what steps have you taken to monitor and limit the screen time your kids get? I’d love to know how you do it.



10 thoughts on “Apps, games and tech: Another screen time battle”

  1. My daughter constantly wants her tablet or our phones so that she can watch Netflix… She’s only 2… So, we hide them away so that she doesn’t get tempted, until it is TV time in the evenings, where she can watch Netflix (normally My Little Pony) for a while before going to sleep.

    I do feel bad doing that, but I think everything needs to be in moderation. So, she plays outside for a bit each day, then plays with her indoor toys, then gets to watch TV. A little bit of everything…

    1. I totally hear you Gareth and think you have the correct approach. I think you may find things become more challenging when you little one wants to play computer games / watch YouTube etc. I fear Netflix probably won’t cut it forever. Shame, it was so much easier when that’s all my kids wanted!

  2. We’ve introduced a reward system where our boys earn screen time. However over the summer holidays, I have noticed that they’ve had an increased amount of screen time. I like to embrace technology, but worry about the detriment too much may have. Great post John.

    1. We do similar. The kids have to do some spellings or handwriting practice before they get access to screens. I have, however, noticed that they’ll rush these tasks to get access to screens if we don’t keep an eye on them!

  3. I’d love to know how people do it too! This is a very familiar scenario to me. I put a timer on the Xbox a few years ago, so my son just went straight from that to his iPad. Now he simultaneously watches videos on his iPad, while messaging his friends on his phone and playing Pokemon on his DS. He would do this for 15 hours a day if I let him!

    1. Yeah, my kids would probably react in a similar way if I let them. Truth is, I should have seen this coming. I think it’s the summer holidays have made me appreciate just how many devices we have and each one provides a slightly different version of screen time. Access has to be limited I fear.

  4. I’d rather our kids were playing a video game than just watching telly. Playing games encourages problem solving, team work, and hand/eye coordination to name but a few benefits.

    It’s also very easy to mis-remember what we did in our youth. As a 42 year old, I distinctly remember playing computer and video games from the age of 6 or 7 onward. Whilst game consoles might not have been quite so ubiquitous back then, SNES and Megadrive titles were definitely aimed at a younger age group than a lot of the 18 certificate shooters now.

    My youth revolved around playing games on my Spectrum, then Atari ST, then Megadrive, mixed in with reading, cycling, drawing and hanging out with my little gang. It’s not so different to what my kids do but they’re afforded much less in the way of freedom than I was when I was little. Whether that’s a sign of the times or shows my mum was particularly reckless, I wouldn’t like to comment 🙂

    It definitely wasn’t all Famous Five and Swallow & Amazons style larks growing up in the 70’s and 80’s (and 90’s for that matter), but I suppose there was markedly less television (if you didn’t have Sky and we didn’t), so it is easier for kids to fill those pauses with TV now, where I might have put an album on and read Crash or Zzap 64!.

    1. Well, that is interesting. I do have a slight preference for my kids to play something like Minecraft than watch videos about Minecraft (something they would do endlessly if I let them).

      Alas, I simply wasn’t in to computer games as a kid. Even as an adult I am no fan. I hesitate to say my upbringing was Swallows and Amazons, but it was largely spent outside away from screens. may explain why IO have such an issue with it as an adult.

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