Opinion with Matthew Munson: How much screen time is too much?

Online gaming

How much screen time is too much? How many games consoles constitute too many? These are questions that I consider regularly; given that screens were fewer in number when I was a child, I have to teach myself a whole new language about technology.

A while ago, Bryan was taking part in a discussion at school, and it turned out that he is the only person in his class without a games console. I was surprised; in a class of 27 or 28 children, all but one have a piece of tech for game play.

I’m not against consoles; there are a lot of interesting games out there. Bryan plays games occasionally on his tablet, and there’s a lot of hand-eye coordination type games – as well as ones centred on maths, English, etc, but are also genuine fun. We play them together from time to time, but he has never been overly bothered by – or interested in – computer games.

I asked Bryan if he felt like he was missing out, but he didn’t seem phased; he has gone to a couple of birthday parties where computer games were the centre of attention – but he didn’t then come home and desperately ask for loads of games and immediate connection to the internet so he can multi-play with strangers and friends.

Some games and websites bother me – Fortnite and TikTok, for example – but there are a lot of interesting things. During the first lockdown, we found a lot of really interesting channels on Youtube that Bryan still adores now; Dr Binocs, Operation Ouch, art channels galore, musical channels that teach and are fun at the same time – and like I said, we found some games that he loved playing.

I’ll be happy giving Bryan a mobile phone when he goes to secondary school; he’ll want some independence, and that device gives us some security. Technology gives us some extra protection and safety, and not everything is all good or all bad; if Youtube has a lot of good channels, then so does TikTok.

My intention with Bryan is to try and teach how to decide what’s good and what’s bad; to learn how to differentiate between content that’s fun and content that’s damaging. He’s not going to get it right every time now (he’s 10) and neither am I (I’m only 39), but I’m grateful he is open to trying new things. He needs to feel trusted, and I want to be able to trust him as he grows up; he can’t prove himself if he’s kept entirely away from technology, and it’s down to me to show him how to be responsible online. I can’t bat the topic away with the refrain, “Oh, they didn’t have all this when I was a kid” – that pounds like something my granddad would have said.

On the subject on ages, I am very nearly 40; some people might consider that to be a significant milestone, but I just consider it another page in my multi-epic autobiography. Bryan delights in calling me “middle-aged” – which is entirely true, I guess – and I heard him tell one of his friends the other day that I was very middle-aged now and that I was very grey. There’s a lot of truth from kids.

I don’t worry about the changing years; it’s going to happen whether I like it or not, and I want Bryan to have a healthy respect for age. He won’t entirely respect his youth – does anyone? – but he’ll appreciate his years and hopefully have a lot of fun. That’s a lot better than counting your age.

1 Comment

  1. I think I would offer the technology and try it together with Bryan and ask his opinion on it. You might be surprised that he says he doesn’t want certain apps on his phone or games on his console. As long as he can come to you with any concerns he has regarding what he comes across on them and you can talk it over sensibly with him then there is not much more you can possibly do without seeming draconian in style, which you don’t really want to do. It is better to see what Bryan can see so you can educate and reason with him than him hiding whatever it is then it affecting him negatively. To have an open dialogue with your son is all you can strive for. He will appreciate your openness and truth. In the end it will be down to Bryan to understand what would be best for him, but he will remember what you have spoken with him about in context and use that to make his own decisions. I see Bryan growing up into a very thoughtful individual. I know secondary school can be a difficult time for some children so you will need to keep an interest from day to day as I believe you will.

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