Martine Rolls: Perils lurk in easy iPad access

By Martine Rolls

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There's an issue we are trying to deal with in my household at the moment.

My youngest son is hopelessly addicted to playing games on the iPad.

I know the problem is not uncommon, as I've read news stories about children as young as 2 who have been classified as iPad addicts.

The Daily Mail reported a few months ago that the parents of a 4-year-old girl in the UK enrolled their daughter in a compulsive behaviour therapy programme after she became increasingly "distressed and inconsolable" when the iPad was taken away from her.

I am embarrassed to say that I recognise that.

My little boy asks for the iPad as soon as he opens his eyes in the morning and it's the first thing he wants when he comes home from school.

If I let him, he'd be on it until bedtime, or later.

I've caught him sneaking out of bed a few times to get the iPad out of the lounge and take it into his room. I hide it in my own bedroom now.

His brother has a slight addiction to playing computer games as well, but at least he puts the damn thing away when I ask him to.

It's the youngest who kicks up a huge fuss when I say it is time to hand it over.

He's even figured out how to put a password on it, which means I can't use it when he's gone to bed to Facetime with family and friends in Europe - which is the reason I purchased the iPad in the first place.

We've solved that problem the next morning, but it still doesn't give me peace of mind.

I understand it's the way kids grow up nowadays but I do worry about the amount of time they spend using technology.

I am also well aware that I am fully to blame myself, as I'm the one who dragged the devices into the house.

Being an internet junkie myself, it has rubbed off on the kids.

I try to tackle it the best I can and most of the time I try to occupy the boys with something else, like a jigsaw puzzle or some outdoor play. It has come to a point that I avoid the house for a period of time and drive from playground to playground with them, just to keep them focused on something else for as long as it lasts.

But sometimes, especially on wet and cold days or when I have domestic chores to do, there's simply no escaping it.

Because my youngest is only 7, I wouldn't mind it so much if he plays educational games, or harmless ones like Cookie Maker or Oreo Dunking or whatever they're called.

It looks like he has outgrown those now.

There are two games that he likes to play in particular, for hours on end if I'd let him.

One is called Clash of Clans, the other Minecraft.

The latter is actually pretty cool. It's a bit like a digital version of Lego.

My boy builds complete worlds by selecting all sorts of textured cubes and he creates castles, villages, and boarding schools.

He's even made a pool complex complete with a hydro slide.

When he is happy with his constructions, he takes his time to give me or anyone else who will listen a guided tour through his virtual world and points out all the different aspects of what he has put together.

The first few times I was really proud and thought I might have an architect in the making.

Now I am just a little over it.

But Clash of Clans is more annoying, to me anyway, as it is about noisy battles.

It's a combat strategy game with strange looking characters. There is a town hall and archer ladies and you can be a farmer if you want to. That's about all I know. I simply don't get it.

It's also a community site, which means players from all over the world can communicate with each other.

That's where it gets tricky as I have no way of monitoring who they are talking to other than looking over their shoulders.

I have drilled the message about staying safe online into both of them, and it's often addressed at school as well.

So what can I do but stay calm, direct them away from the screens as much as I can, and keep my fingers crossed they will stay safe?

Martine Rolls is a Tauranga writer and digital strategist - www.sweetorange.co.nz.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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