Mario or Monopoly?

Dear Dave,

The other day in the swing park, a mum told me her son had got a new games console and asked, "How do I go about limiting his screen time?"

I replied, "Why would you want to do that?"

She'd been thinking of timers and rules and curfews and all kinds of other stuff. The thought that, 'Heck, maybe it doesn't matter,' had never really occurred. She visibly relaxed a little. As I pointed out, "He's busy and happy. You can get on with other things. Why mess with it? My kids learnt to count playing Mario Party and Lewis went up a reading group at school after spending the summer holidays playing Super Mario RPG. Fraser's main motivation for learning to read at all was so he could play Paper Mario 2."

My kids don't get to play computer games late in the evening because it stops them sleeping and I keep an eye out to make sure everything's age appropriate but, beyond that, if they want to play, I let them. Let's face it, if I had time to lie around for hours, I'd be playing videogames too.

I suppose I could throw them out the back door and then lock it, hoping they'd run around for a bit, but they'd just stand forlornly, staring through the window with sad, mournful eyes, waiting to be let back in. This would be disconcerting as I used the peace and quiet as an opportunity to lie around playing videogames. I'd have to close the curtains.

Nope. I can't be doing with screen time quotas.

And yet there is that nagging feeling of guilt... Surely if my kids weren't playing computer games, they could be doing something more useful or enriching. We could go on nature walks. We could learn to speak Hungarian. We could stand around a piano practising our four-part harmonies and then put on a concert for the neighbours. We could bake. We could talk. We could read. We could model Paris out of matchsticks. We could...

Oh, who am I kidding? None of that would happen. We live in a Scottish city - the closest thing to a nature walk involves stalking packs of American tourists as they try to figure out what the locals are saying, then watching them get lost... in the rain. (Amusing for a while but you can't make a hobby out of it.) The singing is a bad idea because I have no musical talent myself and neither do the boys, so if we put on a concert, we'd get landed with ASBOs. Baking will just lead to us all getting fat.

As for my other suggestions, Hungarian and matchsticks stink of desperation. Getting the kids to talk isn't a problem; getting them to be quiet is usually more of an issue. Oh and they probably shouldn't be encouraged to read more than they do. They know too much already. (Marie's book of spelling corrections from P4 last year only has seven words in it and one of those is 'asymmetrical'. This is oddly disturbing the more I think about it.)

Besides, I'm well aware of what actually happens when I ban videogames as a punishment or to encourage other activities. We end up playing Monopoly. On the face of it, this seems like relaxed, social family interaction. In reality, it's like playing a computer game except with bits you can lose down the sofa and me being the computer. I have to remind them to have their go, arbitrate rule disputes, keep track of scores and put up with a constant stream of petty bickering. Unlike the computer, I also have to pretend I'm having fun. The last half hour, where it's obvious who's going to win but the game won't quite end, is generally a rather trying experience that ends with us all tired and frazzled. Then one child brags about their Monopoly skillz while the other two describe at length the alternate reality where they rolled a nine at the crucial moment and they won instead.

We all have to slope off to different parts of the house and then lie around playing videogames to recover.

Sometimes you just can't fight the inevitable...

Yours in a woman's world,


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