Getting your kids off screen and on board
University of Canterbury Associate Professors Kathryn MacCallum & Cheryl Brown, Co-Directors of Te Puna Rangahau i-Ako | Digital Education Futures Lab discuss the pros and cons of our children’s increasing screen time, and how to deal with it this summer.
University of Canterbury Associate Professor Cheryl Brown and Associate Professor Kathryn MacCallum
Kathryn’s sons aged 7 and 9 are currently in a Minecraft craze. While this obsession is centred around an online game, Kathryn has seen the obsession trigger a wider set of interests and skills, many spilling into the real world. Her boys are now avid readers of the many books written about the fantasy world of Minecraft, and have a renewed interest in their blocks and Lego. These toys have been hauled out to recreate and create Minecraft worlds offline. This offline/online play has also led to new discussions and new vocabulary. She has had some interesting conversations with her youngest about what exactly is a biome and the components of glass, concrete and fire fuses, as well as how to create an automatic drawbridge and crop irrigators.
Since accepting the significant role this game now plays in her children’s lives, Kathryn has noticed other subtle positive influences. Her oldest, typically shy about engaging with others in a playground, now, with the simple mention of Minecraft, will spark great friendships with his peers and lead to new games around the swings and slides as they have their shared secret language and common interest. Wider gameplay has also taught her children wider social skills, like collaboration, problem-solving and creative play, but also how to handle losing and build resilience.
Cheryl’s kids are a bit older and her 13-year-old is currently immersed in Roblox. This involves a myriad of games she can’t keep up with, but she was pleasantly surprised when she discovered he decided to learn Japanese at school and was inspired to play volleyball as a result of playing his anime games. Clearly games connect to passions and can extend beyond the screen. Her oldest (like many teenagers) has friends distributed across the country and world so gaming and devices keep them connected – something that’s been especially valuable in 2020.
When Cheryl asked her 13-year-old son what he thought about the value of games for learning he immediately sent a link to a TikTok video on 7 reasons gaming is good. “But how do you achieve balance?” she asked. “That’s what parents are for,” was his response. Turns out he values the boundaries his parents set and even remembered when he had stricter time limits and how it taught him how to manage his time and maximise his gaming enjoyment.