My poor boy, he did it tough, but I'm proud of him. He made it through the World Vision 40 Hour Famine.

It was touch and go for a while on Saturday though when, eight hours in, he realised what he had got himself into. "I can't do this. It's too hard," he wailed. All the while being teased by his sister.

As parents, we were of course a lot more supportive and encouraging. Plenty of cuddles, offers to do things with him to take his mind off the challenge.

By Sunday afternoon he had made it. With great expectation he sat down on his favourite chair, put his head phones on and rested the iPad on his lap, to watch the latest clips from his favourite You Tubers. Not eating would have been an easier challenge.


Giving up technology, which meant no screens for 40 hours, was always going to be harder.

I couldn't help thinking of John Lennon's song Cold Turkey over the course of the weekend. The song is about Lennon's struggle to get off heroin, the most addictive of drugs. It says a lot that such a comparison, even if tongue-in-cheek, could be possible.

How have we got to the situation where our children (to say nothing of adults) are plainly developing addictions to screens?

Observing my own and other people's children, there's definitely a level of compulsion at times and difficulty being content doing things non-screen related that I find deeply concerning.

In our house, we've settled on rules that are working well enough. No screens before 3pm on weekends or holidays. None after dinner, except the TV, where we try to find programmes that at least three out of four family members want to watch together. It's funny how TV has become the lesser evil in my mind.

But rules do lapse, and I get frustrated that I should have to constantly police what my children do with their spare time. At what age can I stop?

Yet if I reflect on my own experience with these technologies, I know how addictive they can be. I know there's something that goes on in your mind that gets you to click on the headline about Taylor Swift dating Max Key, almost against your will.

So much of the online world is like opening the pantry door and seeing chocolate biscuits, lollies, potato chips and a bottle of Baileys. Those immediate gratification instincts kick in.

Knowing anything about Max Key, or watching that amazing goal from Iceland's second division under 12 soccer league, is like eating a Zombie Chew, you could have done without it.

The whole business model of app games and social media platforms (and increasingly news sites) is about converting our attention into advertising dollars or in-app purchases.
Companies are using the latest psychological insights about how our minds work to lure us in and keep us hooked.

As adults we can recognise it, make light of it, choose to switch off, but children simply haven't developed the same levels of self-control or ability to evaluate what's good for them in the longer run.

Therefore the online world should be treated in much the same way as a dairy stocked with sugary and salty treats - with a great deal of caution and restraint.

* Vaughan Gunson is a writer and poet interested in social justice and big issues facing the planet.