We know how passionate many people are in the app industry about making good quality, fun, educational games for children, but once we’ve convinced ourselves this is a worthy cause, how much time do we take to worry about the dangers of excessive screen time?
The dangers for children of spending too long staring at a screen are very real. Too much screen time takes children away from other important play time activities. It also typically means they are sedentary and staring at a fixed, close screen, often with poor posture, for long periods. Such activity has been proven to affect the brain’s long term development. And, there is no doubt it is on the rise – it’s the next ‘child obesity’ crisis.
As members of the digital industry genuinely trying to provide good quality apps and games to the children of today, surely it is our responsibility to take any steps we can to steer children away from excessive usage.
Here are some ways I believe will help, particularly for younger children:
Provide Advice to Parents
At the very young, pre-school stage, parents often take a bigger role in what their children use than as they grow older. So it’s at this stage you will have most chance of a parent going into the ‘Parents’ area of your app. We encourage you to provide advice on screen time and recommended play lengths there in an easy to skim-read format. This is also a great opportunity to provide information on how to optimise the learning potential of the app and, ideally, ways to extend the play and learning off screen.
Encourage fun but not addictive play
We all want to make games that are popular and it can often seem like a huge success when you get feedback to say a child was so engaged with the game they wouldn’t put it down – but is this really the play behaviour we should be encouraging? Of course apps should be fun to play but we recommend:
Aim for Short Play Sessions:
Plan your game so that each chunk of play is short. This is particularly important given the short attention span of children. This was a key aim for the Happy Studio app we were involved with – short, snackable, fun experiences – and it works well.
Allow children to save their progress, if appropriate, so they lose nothing if they return to the game later.
Building in natural end points:
Making sure your app has natural breaking points. Avoid games where you have to accumulate ‘wins’ over a single play session or follow a long path to succeed. Aim for games that have a short period of play then return the child to the main screen so that they have to choose to play again.
Avoid Addictive Games:
Avoid games which are addictive by natural such as those that constantly challenge a child to repeat the same thing but get better and better – these are hard for even an adult to put down.
Get them moving, social, offline etc:
Think of ways to incorporate features into your games which counter the common issues with screen time. For example, include games that get children active, support social play or play with others, help them incorporate physical and digital play or encourage educational, offline play activities after they’ve put the tablet away. Apps like Charlie and Lola I’ve Won have done this well for the pre-school age group.
Make the educational aspects obvious (and effective):
Help savvy parents choose the right apps for the limited screen time their children have, by making the educational aspects of your app obvious before purchase or download and effective at achieving those educational goals once they have purchased/downloaded.