Five minute fun activities for busy people to do with little kids

Advice + Tips

Screens and a guest blog from Nicholas Carlisle

What a huge topic! It’s one I haven’t addressed before because, well quite frankly, WTF do I know? The answer is, not much. But then I think that’s how many of us feel. We are part of the first wave of parents raising our children in a world where screens and online electronic devices are dominant in society. They are part of our day to day lives, hell I even make a living out of my phone - a career option that didn’t exist when I left university 20 years ago. My children have watched their parents with a phone since the day they were born, and we are now navigating how we manage screens and devices at home with them, as a family, with limited knowledge. The studies are starting to be published on the effects of screen time but there is little definitive, science-backed advice just yet, so what do we do in the meantime? Well, wing it of course, like we do with most of parenting 😉 but I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts and include a guest blog from Nicholas Carlisle, CEO of Power of Zero.

I spoke on my Instagram stories recently about screens and I have saved it to my highlights as it raised a lot of interesting discussions in my DMs. My friend Katina shared her screen time routine which included iPads limited for educational purposes only and 1 hour of TV on a Saturday for her family. She has perfectly good reasons for choosing this set up for her family and she tagged me, and many other online friends, in her post to gather our thoughts. Our approach is very different to Katrina’s but then I’m sure there are many different approaches depending on what is best for your family. But I was so glad she shared and asked me the question, as it made me reflect on our family screen time policies.

As it currently stands here is our set up and routine. My children are 9 and 7. My children both have iPads. The have second hand iPad minis and wireless headphones. They also have a charger each and it is their responsibility to charge their iPads if they want to use them. If they don’t do this they know they run out of power (a frequent occurrence), but we just allow them to feel the disappointment of that which teaches them in the future to take responsibility. They are now much better at routinely charging and checking on the charge and responding accordingly. One of the pros - a little lesson in responsibility.

The kids are allowed on their iPad from 6am. If they wake up before this (which Ewan frequently does) they can play or read in their room until 6am. They are not allowed to go on games in the morning, and before they are allowed on You Tube Kids or anything else they must spend at least ten minutes on an educational app. We have tried a few. In my experience the ones you pay for are actually the best.

The ones we’ve tried and I would recommend are:

These are the ones they access through school:

Here is a good list of more -

Netmums also shared some

This article is also very good I think

They switch off iPads around breakfast time (7/7:30ish) and then we get ready for the day.

After school our routine is we walk home from school, then spend 1/2 hour - 45 minutes having a cup of tea with a snack and doing homework together around the kitchen table. They are then free to do whatever they like while I finish work/cook dinner. Often this means they will go on their iPads to play games like Minecraft or Roblox, but not always. Quite frequently they will choose to play instead - with each other, outside with friends or with their toys. Sometimes we are flitting in and out to clubs. After dinner, (no screen at the dining table if we eat as a family, but occasionally if it’s just the kids eating I let them watch something) we often watch TV as a family before bath/shower, then PJ’s, stories and bed.

Our favourite family TV shows at the moment include:

  • The Great Pottery Throw Down
  • Striclty Come Dancing
  • Richard Osman’s House of Games
  • Inside the Factory
  • old You’ve Been Framed episodes on You Tube
  • Disney Trip vlogs on You Tube
  • Gladiators
  • The Masked Singer
  • Michael McIntyre’s Big Show &The Wheel
  • Anything with Ant and Dec
  • Anything with David Attenborough

Ewan also has a Nintendo switch so sometimes we all play a family game on that after dinner. Our favourite family games include MarioKart, Sports and Gang Beasts.

Weekends are similar although we go slower in the mornings so they get longer and we tend to have screens off from around 9/10am until 4pm-ish as we are often out and about - but we are more relaxed with it. Likewise when we were all poorly over half term screens were a free-for-all - sometimes it’s just about survival! When we eat out as a family we don’t take screens. We use all the tips and tricks from my On The Go book including TAT bags or I just take a good card game with us.

Pros and Cons


In her post Katrina referred to this study from the Canadian Medical Association Journal which you can read HERE. She also kindly sent me a link to this video from from the National Summit on Education 2023 which she had used to inform her choices.

Now I am aware there many cons to devices and excessive screen time for children. I don’t know enough about it and I would like to understand more, starting with reading and watching the above. However my approach at the moment is to do as Nicholas advises below and take it SLOW - which we are. My children play Roblox and I know there has been discussion about the safety of this. I am very careful to monitor which parts of it they are engaging with and we often play together or I watch them play or they show me what they’ve been doing on it. Our school issued this incredibly helpful poster from National Online Safety recently to keep parents informed.

This poster is one of many they have and if you follow the hashtag #nationalonlinesafety on Instagram you can see them all.

I also know that if my kids have been on their iPads for too long their behaviour reflects this. Sometimes they don’t want to come off, or they get angry or they are lethargic and don’t want to do anything else. None of this is good - but it’s also interesting for them to experience these feelings and discuss them because I often feel the same way when I’ve been on my phone doom scrolling for hours or just mindlessly watching TV and achieving very little for far too long in a day.

I am starting to discover where we can find out more including this website, and by following Ash @thegamereducator (they also have a website full of information). These are good places to start online but don’t forget lots of local authorities, libraries, community hubs and schools have started offering workshops on devices, screens and smartphones too, so if you see one near you, attend if you can.

As Sandi Toksvig once said: “saying ‘I don’t know’ is the first step to new knowledge.”


The pros for us are multiple. Of course they love it and it means there are times the kids are fully occupied with something that is quiet and still and not creating more mess in the house. But that isn’t the only reason.

Ewan plays Minecraft and he uses it to create things. He will often say to me ‘what shall I build?’ in the same way he does with his LEGO. It’s just a virtual version. I’ll give him something to build and he does it then shares it with me. An example of this in on my Instagram story highlights when he built me the most magnificent garden. In Minecraft Flo and Ewan collaborate together to build and they will often share tips and tricks. I love it when Ewan builds a section for Flo on her iPad - I get to see kindness in action for a change!

They also play Roblox together. I monitor this closely due to it’s safety issues but they love playing on the games where they build and run a theme park and go to visit each others. I get to ‘ride’ all their rides and they show me how they’ve problem solved in it. It’s absolutely astounding sometimes. There was also a game Flo was playing on Roblox the other day that was to write the longest word for certain topics like ‘something you do when you get home from school’. She was typing in her answers and we were spelling them out together. Literacy win!

They do also watch You Tube Kids although we try to limit this a little. Ewan enjoys mostly just watching gamers play and passing on their tips for MarioKart or Minecraft. He also watches science and environment documentary style videos quite a bit. Flo watches people playing with Barbies. I listen carefully, but it’s just one channel she enjoys with a women doing all these incredibly irritating voices for all the dolls! They both love ‘prank’ videos. Again, I often watch these with them to check up on if they are appropriate. My husband and I have considered deleting You Tube and tbh we still are. It’s one to consider. But this week Florence told me she wanted to perfect her cartwheels and rather than forcing my 39 year old body upside down I showed her how to search for it on You Tube and we found a brilliant step by step video by a gymnast which helped her perfect her technique. It can be such a superb learning tool and I am glad to help them use it as such.

Further thoughts

The final thing I wanted to add before I hand over to Nicholas is that I know there is a movement and campaigning at the moment for parents to come together and encourage a smart phone free childhood. I can totally understand this and have watched many of their videos on Instagram with interest. I think it’s a really interesting idea but the approach I am currently planning to take is slightly different. I think for me, I would prefer to introduce my children to smartphones when they want them but take it very slowly, step by step - introducing apps when I feel they are ready (this might be different for each child). I want to monitor it closely with them and discuss every bit of it, and let them learn for themselves how to manage it. Like everything in life, the world is out there and I feel it is my job to guide them into it, so in the same way that I say to my kids ‘is your tummy nice and full?’ when they ask me if they’ve had enough dinner, I often ask them to check in with themselves before, during and after screen time.

I’ve started asking them things like ‘how do you feel?’ After they’ve spent time watching screens. I then repeat the question after they’ve been out playing with friends on their bikes and see if they can compare the two feelings. I also often ask them how long they think is enough. I’ve shown them how to set timers and how to manage screen time completely independently. They often say to me now ‘I’ve had enough’. I want to know that when they have full access to social media and the whole internet in the palm of their hands they will be fully aware about how a lot of it isn’t real, how dangerous it can be, how it can make us feel, the addictive qualities of it, and how to use it effectively to help us as human beings, not just as something to get sucked in to. I don’t want to wait to do this. I want to drip feed it into them constantly while they experience it for themselves. I want the conversations about it to be open, as a family, where we collaborate, discuss and agree or disagree on how we can manage it together. So when the times comes for complete freedom, they will have the tools to deal with it. Because I would have held their hand every step of the way.

I don’t know if this is the right or wrong approach and this may change with time, as with everything parenting-wise, learning and flexibility is key. Ewan is heading into his final year of primary school. My plan right now is for Apple Airtags to keep track of him rather than smartwatches, but perhaps that will swiftly change. If he asks for a phone in secondary school I think it will be a family discussion, based on him specifically and whether I think he is ready. I will certainly be asking lots of my friends who have older children their thoughts and what they have tried or done. We are our greatest resource. Sharing without judgement is the best thing we can do for all our children I believe. Let’s help each other out and bear in mind everyone’s family is different - some of my followers who have neurodivergent children often tell me what a huge lifeline screens are for them and it’s incredibly important we don’t forget this. And with sharing in mind, here is what child therapist Nicholas suggests, with some links to some excellent animated videos for you to watch together with your child.

When you introduce your child to the online world take it SLOW

By Nicholas Carlisle

It’s a milestone moment when you give your child their first phone or tablet. For many children it’s as exciting and memorable as when we were given our first bike when we were kids. As a parent it’s really important to get this right. When and how you introduce your child to their first device will make a real difference to their health and wellbeing throughout their lives.

Is your child ready?

Your child may be begging you to have their own phone or tablet. But it may be too soon. Consider your child’s maturity, responsibility, and understanding of online safety. Are they ready to navigate the digital world responsibly? Evaluate their awareness of online risks, such as sharing personal information, connecting with strangers and their ability to be kind and respectful to others online. If they are not ready, explain to them what they need to learn in order to take on the responsibility of having their own device. This is the beginning of an important conversation.

Choose the right device

If you decide to get your child a mobile device, their first one could be a tablet, a smartphone, a simple “flip” phone or even a smartwatch. A phone can be used for calls, texts, and knowing the child’s location, all of which can be reassuring and enhance their safety - or be potentially dangerous if misused. A simple “feature phone” allows for calls and texts but doesn’t run apps. For many young children, a tablet might be a good choice if you want your child to access entertainment and educational content, but they don’t need to bring a device with them all day.

Another option is a handed-down smartphone that isn’t connected to a cellular network.

Take it slow

If you decide your child is ready for their first smartphone or tablet, we recommend you take it SLOW.

Safety first. Prioritise safety by setting up the parental controls on the device and discussing online risks with your child

Life skills. Ensure your child is learning the key skills of resilience, critical thinking and kindness before they start online

Open dialogue. Encourage your child to tell you if anything they see online makes them feel uncomfortable

Watch together. Stay engaged in your child’s online life as their ‘cyber coach’ by co-watching, co-playing, co-celebrating online discoveries together.

At Power of Zero we’ve created an animated video series for you to watch with your child and teach them resilience, kindness, critical thinking and how to deal with cyberbullying. You can watch that here and download the free Digital Parenting Toolkit and Children’s Pledge. Take it SLOW. Your child will thank you for it later.

Nicholas Carlisle is a child therapist and the CEO of Power of Zero, a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the wellbeing of children in an increasingly online world.

Our Trip to The Highlands of Scotland (and outdoor holiday tips)

Last autumn we took our first trip as a family of four up to the Highlands and Islands of…

Read More

Christmas in London with the Kids

As someone who was born in London, and has lived at all points of the compass within its 10 mile…

Read More

Water Safety with the RLSS

Top tips on keeping children safe around water for Drowning Prevention Week (17th June - 24th…

Read More