Screen Time

IMG_9784We have a lot of screens in our lives. Work computers, home computer, 4 iPads (one each!), 2 iPhones (plus an old one that works/doesn’t but Zoe considers her “phone”) – oh, and 5 TVs. Ridiculous, I know. It’s not that we don’t leave the house, as evidenced by the blog, we most certainly do, but very often there’s an active screen on somewhere.

In fact, we are technology NUTS. Thanks to Inspector Gadget Johnson, we control our lights through Alexa (we have 2 Echo dots and an Echo). Other than lighting, we use those Echos for music mostly, and weather, and random odd questions. We also have an August digital lock on our front door,  a Nest for our thermostat and 2 Dropcams for monitoring small children at bedtime.

I know what you’re thinking: Those Poor Kids (or no wonder Susie & Bart could stand to lose a few pounds). In either case you’re right, but I’m here to tell it like it is, and that’s just how it is for the Johnsons.

Given all the above, you may be surprised to hear that we are actually selective about WHAT goes on those screens. With a few exceptions of course: We just watched the Pitch Perfect movie last weekend because Zoe loves singing and Ella loves Poppy (Anna Kendrick) BUT I spent a chunk of that movie saying “B word is bad”, “A word is bad”, “S word is bad” – and I missed one (Zoe asked if Horsesh*t was bad… It is).

There are LOTS of educational games online and several studies that say interacting WITH your child about them helps them actually learn things. Recently, Zoe tried talking me into “Teach Your Monster to Read” app (don’t worry, Zoe Monster reads up a storm but it’s a GAME). I looked it up in the app store and it was $4.99 (there are so many free great apps it’s hard to pay for one), so I asked  Zoe if she had the money to pay for it. She did not. But she had an idea, all on her own (and instantly):

Mom. How about you pay me $1 for each thing I learn and can tell you about? Then after 5 new things I’ll have the money to pay for it.

How does one say no to that? I said yes, with a twist:

I’ll give you $1 for up to 4 things YOU learn and $1 for something you teach your sister.

(Yes, we now own Teach Your Monster to Read, and she actually delivered on her promise to “pay”. Ella learned to spell C-A-T. I’ll take it.)

So far we’ve been resisting Minecraft, though little did I know something less desirable was coming: Roblox. If you’re not familiar with Minecraft, it’s an online game where you build worlds and can interact with other players. My only concern is that kids who play it seem to get addicted to spending time in those worlds rather than interacting with people in this one. Thankfully, Zoe’s never even shown interest in Minecraft, but of course, a few months ago, she comes home from school with an even worse idea.

  • Zoe:Mom, can we put Roblox on your phone?
  • Me:What’s Roblox?” (hoping it’s a highly educational game that will ensure her entry into the Gifted program and college)
  • Zoe:It’s this game everyone at school is playing.
  • Me:Is everyone playing it AT school?” (they play other educational games like Prodigy, ST Math, etc on iPads in the classroom)
  • Zoe:No, but they all play it at home.

HMM. So I tell her I’ll ask Ms. Marshall (her teacher) about it and let her know. Ms. Marshall is very digital but she’s an educator, through and through. Guess what? Turns out she’s not a huge fan of Roblox. She doesn’t judge it but says it doesn’t teach things of value and that there are other games that might be better – like ones that teach coding. Plus, apparently when the kids “interact” on the platform, they can say unmoderated not-so-nice things to one another (which will make more sense in a few paragraphs given the topics of these games).

Next, I checked out the Roblox website, and if you just look at the home page, you’d think this game was awesome. Their tagline: “Powering Imagination”. Who doesn’t want to do that for their children? Sounds a lot like Minecraft, which is a hugely successful game that’s even made the leap to mainstream stores offline with fake “swords” and characters.

Read the Roblox signup form, and you may begin to get skeptical:

Username (don’t use your real name)

Anyway, what you will NOT find on their site is what we found out in real life – what the “imagination” worlds and games ARE. When we went glamping with our friends, their slightly older son had just started to try out Roblox, and so, Zoe got to see it in action (and apparently she knew a lot even before that from the kid talk at school).

Here are three popular Roblox games:

  • Adopt Me. I saw this in action. You’re a baby (an ORPHAN, specifically) wandering around a weird world hitching rides from strangers trying to find someone who will adopt you.
  • Jail Break. Um, you break out of prison. Need I say more?
  • Crazy Grandma. Your grandmother has gone crazy. What do you do?!

Zoe played a few Roblox games while we were glamping then wanted to install it on our phones for the ride home, so I told her what Ms. Marshall (who she respects A LOT and sometimes accidentally calls me Ms. Marshall) had told me: Roblox doesn’t teach anything of value, so there are BETTER really fun games.

She paused, but peer pressure is alive and well, and she had tasted the fruit…

And so, the following is Zoe’s unprompted take on why Roblox IS good for you:


So, just in case you end up in prison, your parents get run over by a car or your grandmother becomes “dangerous” and attacks you, you would be glad you had played Roblox… If you’re in any of those situations now, this game may be for you. You heard it here first (and it’s hard to believe this game is “free”, right?!)

Even though I’m certain our brilliant  child has a future in sales and leadership (hopefully not cult leadership), we do NOT have Roblox on my phone. We DID accidentally have it on Bart’s phone (that happened while glamping before we had a high level discussion about it), but our Zoe has not played Roblox since our camping trip :)

Anyway, screens aren’t all bad (though yes, we are still bad parents for not limiting them more). But SOME screens are less good than others. One day, when we all live in the Minority Report movie, maybe our children will be more marketable with all this “experience” we’re allowing them. Who knows?!

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