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Lockdown is giving my kids a crash course in screen and tween culture | Emma Brockes | Opinion


“There’s a ghost fish called Hank in Bora Bora,” said my daughter, finding me in the kitchen after a morning spent on screens.

“Fiction or non-fiction?” I said. We bring this question, previously raised by the librarian at my girls’ kindergarten, to every hideous video they watch. It makes me feel slightly better about the whole school of YouTube.

“Non-fiction?” she said, and after a long pause, “what’s Bora Bora?”

Over five weeks of lockdown, my kids’ daily screen time has crept up, along with the age bracket of the stuff that they’re watching. Gone are the days of endless slime videos and Ryan’s Toys. Now it’s hours of Minecraft and Roblox. YouTube is largely out. TikTok is in. I try to filter the content as much as I can, but at five years old, they’re definitely getting a crash course in tween culture. “You’re the worst,” yelled one the other day – it was like a rehearsal of the slammed doors to come.

There are various tricks I perform to make myself feel better about all this – chiefly persuading myself that there’s no other way to occupy two five-year-olds and get any work done. I tell myself that, as kids, we all watched uninterrupted hours of TV and still managed to read books and go to college. I remind myself of those parents who severely limit their kids’ screen time and are, invariably, the same fusspot parents who make their kids go to bed early in the holidays and are one step away from making them wear school uniforms at the weekend.

And not all of the screen stuff is as bad as it seems. Minecraft, along with Block Craft and its other versions, is less passive than the baby video stuff. You can build and explore. You can get killed by a zombie, or run away from a wolf. In Roblox, a seemingly infinite series of digital worlds, my kids can be in the same game at once, and when I hear them chatting and strategising I breathe a sigh of relief.

Would it be better if they were cutting out bits of paper and sticking them to other bits of paper, as they did in the endless arts and crafts of their after-school club? I guess so. But I’m not 100% sure.

I’m trying to hold various lines. I won’t pay for in-game accessories, no matter how hard they beg. And after we’ve done a long day at the coalface, there are no screens in the evening. Being inside and online all day has also changed the way we experience the material world. At the weekend, after spending the best part of the week in our apartment, we go out for a walk and the effect is amazing.

The sky is insanely blue. The world, as Louis MacNeice put it, is “suddener than we fancy it”. You’d think my kids had never seen colour before. All of us stand, rapt, before a bank of red tulips, while I take a stab at remembering how pollination works. The online world looks suddenly very shallow and dim, and I’m reminded that misinformation exists IRL, too. Later, my daughter looks at me expectantly after the question about Bora Bora. “It’s in a country called Afghanistan,” I say with confidence.

Emma Brockes is a Guardian columnist

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