All of us at TimeTokens HQ are extremely grateful to GQ Dads and Holly von Bock for road-testing and loving TimeTokens and writing such a brilliantly fun and engaging piece. Hope all you dads out there follow Holly's advice!
The 21st century parents' pacifier isn't a pacifier at all - it's an iPad. It'll buy you a whole meal out that's (relatively) uninterrupted. You'll be able to watch a film in full. You may even be able to sneak in an actual conversation with another adult. Sweet, sweet mercy.
But relying on screens has its problems - Generation iPad is completely addicted to screens. The moment they wake up, they want a hit. If you take it away from them, they become hostile, aggressive and can’t focus on anything but the prospect of an episode of Peppa Pig or that new level on Minecraft. Us parents have made rods for our own backs.
Prospective solutions are easier said than done. Cold turkey? Good luck. Also, we all have smart phones, so you can’t take theirs then indulge in front of them because it sends mixed signals and, more annoyingly, causes your darling offspring to moan ceaselessly.
The other, more difficult solution is allocating screen time slots. That said, structuring them is tough, especially if you, like me, have manipulative kids who can talk most people into pretty much anything they want. So I sought help. Namely, Time Tokens, a new product that makes sure you don't lose track of how much 'pad time they've had.
I unpacked a neat little orange parcel, read the theory and prepared myself for the reaction it would receive from my two children. It comes with instructions; a timer, a contract for you and your five to ten-year-old child to co-sign and then the tokens, which look a little bit like monopoly money. After that, I sat with them both and explained the concept.
You both agree on how many minutes of screen time they can have in a day, and on which days then you sign the contract together. The child also has to sign a part of the contract that commits them to not whining when they've used up said allocated time (this will be interesting). So far, so good - we all left our "meeting" with a very clear idea of what was happening (no, you can't save them up and have a marathon day on your Nintendo DS, yes the beeper on the timer is absolutely final).
The novelty factor was great; they immediately wanted to trade in that day token. It was wonderful, they skipped off, my son, Oscar (eight), with his DS, my daughter, Aurora (six), with my iPhone (she loves playing on a particular app, but I suspect that she's reading my texts). I sat back, enjoyed a cup of tea and actually watched Catastrophe uninterrupted.
My daughter is much more eager to please and loved being part of the process (she is a bit of a control freak) but realistically doesn’t actually watch screens that much. So after a couple of days lost interest and rather allocated her tokens to her teddy and played Mummy (as I said, control freak.)
But Oscar responded brilliantly. He traded them in, especially during long car journeys and was quite easy to monitor (though I did discover that he'd sneaked his DS into bed, but like I said before, it’s a learning curve). The set rules were his calling, and the tokens gave him a sense of responsibility and trust. He tried a few times to ask for extra time, but gave up quickly and there was minimal fuss.
Oscar's behaviour has definitely changed. He’s less irritable and hyperactive now that the time's closely monitored. Also, there haven’t been any "oh God, he’s been on that for two hours and I’ve only just noticed" moments.
I found there were some ways to make using Time Tokens easier - encouraging outdoor play and activities like sketching or reading before they can trade in their tokens so it doesn’t become the first thing they ask when they get in from school. But beyond that, it'll make dad life a lot less irritating. The only difficulty I had was monitoring my own screen time so I set a good example.