Its summer here in Australia and school is out. The sky is blue, the beach is calling and the cicadas buzz eternally. In such an idyll, you’d expect to hear the screams and laughter of kids making the most of the beautiful barmy weather. Wrong. I bet you a bottom dollar most of the kid population are holed up in darkened rooms, air-con humming looking at a screen of some sort. Hot favourites at the moment are the highly addictive game Fortnight or the body-shaming world of Instagram.
This is not a new story. Since we let Pandora out of her box and the digital world into our homes, the debate about how much or how little screen time our kids should be having has raged on. Now, please don’t take this as a hectoring advice piece about what bad parents you are. I’m one and I’m constantly battling with my two sons about screens. Today, my eldest has been locked in a three hour time warp trying to take out virtual soldiers. I did manage to get him to eat some food and go out for a run, but beyond that, I, and the world, might as well not exist. My youngest is less problematic. Sure he likes a screen and when Minecraft was in its heyday we endured massive tantrums when he was forced to get off the game, however, he, unlike many kids, likes to mix things up. A bit of gaming, a bit of guitar playing, a bit of lego and a long swim. Fine. That I can deal with. Unfortunately, the situation of the eldest is more common than the youngest. I was keen to know what the current thinking is among professionals but also just as interested in what my fellow parents had to say.
This wasn’t a very scientific analysis. I basically emailed the parents in my network and tapped up the thoughts of my local neighbourhood Facebook page (see? Social media can be useful). All of my parent friends were experiencing the very same problem many of us face. Gaming and social media use to an excess none of us are comfortable with and struggling to combat it. Fights, punishments and tears seemed to be a very common theme. To address the issues they have all employed various strategies.
The most consistent of these strategies is the time limitation approach (a strategy we also employ in our house). During the school term, we/they ban gaming Monday to Thursday with access granted for a couple of hours over the weekends. Due to some pretty poor academic results for our eldest, we actually banned gaming completely and it was only allowed when we were satisfied that homework and study had been completed to our satisfaction. It was not a popular call, but by being consistent with our message we are starting to see the benefits.