When other children are invited to your home, leaving them to their own devices can be a recipe for trouble. But here’s another consideration: Almost certainly, it’ll be a lot less fun.
If you’re in lockdown right now, chances are your kids are practically suctioned to their screens. And that’s okay. But the day is coming - oh lord hear our prayer! - when our social lives will get back to normal, and meet-ups with friends can happen in all three dimensions at once. And when that day arrives, what an opportunity to become a little more mindful about their time online … especially when hosting others.
When it comes to managing playdates and tech, Family Zone cyber expert Dr. Kristy Goodwin has seen - and heard - it all.
A mum of three, Kristy understands the irresistible pull of technology whenever today’s digital kids get together. She sees it first-hand, every day. But as a child development specialist, she also knows that leaving them to their own devices - literally - can lead to dark places.
“I’ve had parents share that their Year 6 daughters saw a live-streaming video of a suicide attempt on a social media feed when a smartphone was pulled out at midnight on a sleepover. I’ve had children who’ve had nightmares for months on end because they played violent video games at playdates.”
Cyberbullying, adult content, chat with strangers … Kids don’t need to go looking for trouble online. Thanks to autoplay and other algorithmic features, it will look for them. All this can happen whenever limit-free screen-time is on offer. And the risk is greatest of all in the prime sleepover hours after 10 pm.
But what about the FUN?
But before we get carried away worrying, it’s important to remember it’s not just the risk of kids accessing scary or inappropriate content on your watch. There’s also the clear and present danger that they’ll miss out on fun.
Sleepovers and playdates are simply better - more memorable and more special - when screen-time is kept in check with firm boundaries. And if your child is sceptical about that (and of course they will be), it’s your challenge to prove otherwise.
Remember, by building in tech-free time, you are giving them the space to discover other ways to have fun - often more exhilarating and engaging than yet another round of TikToks or endless gaming battles.
With a little advance planning you can prevent their good times from dwindling to the size of an iPhone screen, and open up a whole new world of connection and creativity.
That’s not to say you need to ban devices. But do “set up activities and make playdates and sleepovers so much fun that kids aren’t asking for devices,” Dr. Kristy advises.
One mum who insisted on unplugged sleepovers for her three teens - yes, teens! - found kids were practically standing in line for an invitation once word got out that they could play “Spotlight” in the dark, bake cookies and stay up late playing Monopoly marathons.
Why not try ...
Journalist and mum-of-two Kelcey Kintner recommends food fun as a sure-fire way to lure kids away from screens. Her suggestions?
Ever seen that show where chefs compete to create the ultimate cupcake? No? Doesn’t matter. Simply grab some cake mix, frosting and a bunch of toppings - and make up your own rules. Depending on the age of the children, you may need to help with the actual baking. But when it comes to decorating, let ‘em do their thing.
“The whole process takes time (a good thing!),” says Kelcey, “and it’s a very creative endeavor.” (Hint: everyone can be a winner)
Sure you could call Dominos. But why order in when the kids can create their own? You can buy pre-made dough at any supermarket for them to stretch, pound, roll and pinch. Sauce, cheese and toppings are cheap and (relatively) nutritious. Bonus: There’s dinner done.
OK, I realise we’re going a little heavy on the sugar here, but feel free to make this spread as healthy as you dare (frozen yoghurt, berries, nuts and mangoes can be your starting point). And if you really want them to put their phones down fast, bring out the whipped cream in a can.
True story: My daughter’s best childhood friend, now in her 30s, still talks about the sleepover where the girls were allowed to squirt Redi Whip directly into their mouths.
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