When Sydney mum Larissa Chan takes her young son to the local shopping centre, she steers clear of the kids’ play area.
The play area, in Chatswood Chase, features six iPads and an interactive TV screen. The area was recently upgraded, but the iPads weren’t removed – even though parents, including Chan, had asked for them to be.
“We now try to avoid going up to Level 2 when I have my almost four-year-old with me as he doesn’t need any additional exposure to screens,” Chan tells Mamamia.
“If I need to go to any of the stores up there I will go when I don’t have him with me.”
Chan says she restricts her son’s screentime to one hour in the evenings while she’s bathing his younger sister and putting her to bed. Because he sees screentime as the “forbidden fruit”, he will make a beeline for any screen he sees.
“If it’s in use by someone else, he will happily just sit or stand behind them and watch rather than play with anything else,” she explains. “In a lot of the parents’ rooms there are TVs and those puzzle wall units. My son would always pick the TV and happily watch it while I nursed my daughter.”
She says she doesn’t expect kids’ play areas to be fancy. Even simple foam blocks can provide entertainment for toddlers.
“Having a few things for them to climb, slide down, crawl through or ride on is great,” she adds.
Chan has contacted Chatswood Chase about her concerns, but just received a “standard response”. She says other parents feel the same way she does.
“There is overwhelming agreement with other parents on various local Facebook groups that the iPads need to go.”
Mamamia contacted Chatswood Chase for comment. A spokesperson said that the play area was “a popular destination for parents looking at ways to entertain their children when they visit our centre”.
“The play pod was designed with children of this generation in mind and we know that everyone uses this space differently,” the spokesperson added.
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My kids are beyond the toddler stage now. But when they were little, they loved the play areas at shopping centres, especially the big padded ones where they would happily climb, crawl and slide for ages. For them, it was the highlight of a shopping trip. For me, it was also a highlight, because I got a bit of a break.
A few years ago, I saw screens starting to creep into play areas. It’s a sad and disappointing trend, because it’s not necessary. Kids will play with what they’re given, and they should be given things that will encourage them to be active. No one can deny that it’s better for kids to climb, crawl and slide than stand in front of a screen and swipe, or just stare.
We don’t need screens in play areas. We have our own screens already. We can hand kids an iPad or our phone if we want to keep them occupied. That’s too easy. We want shopping centres to offer something different.
There was a country town RSL I used to visit with my kids when we went on road trips across NSW. It had a kids’ play area, with staff employed to play with the kids. There were plastic animals and cars, and colouring-in sheets and lots of pencils and crayons – that kind of thing.
A few years ago, a row of Xboxes were installed in the play area. Now, when we go there, all the kids are sitting in front of the Xboxes. The staff just stand around, saying, “Yeah, that one’s broken. No, I don’t know how to fix it.”
Because that’s the thing. Xboxes and iPads break, and then you have frustrated kids standing around watching other kids having screentime.
It’s not really my idea of how kids should play. Can’t we do better for them?
What do you think of screens in play areas? Tell us in the comments below.