The mums who’ve copied Kirstie and SMASHED their children’s gadgets and like the TV star, they say it’s made their families so much happier
Wedding planner Alice Gill stood on the edge of the loch near her home and felt the relief wash over her.
The remains of her son’s beloved video game console were sinking slowly into the water. She had smashed it to pieces on a rock, so enraged was she by the hold it had on her only child.
For the previous 18 months, Alice had felt she’d lost Luke, 14, to a virtual world of online gaming. Gone was the boy who used to play outside all day, climbing trees, riding his bike and walking his beloved collie dog, Sky, in the grounds of their home at 15th-century Carrick Castle in Argyll.
Since he had become hooked on competitive online ‘shoot ’em up’ games, even his beloved fishing boat, once a prized and much-used possession, had lain untouched.
Alice had been deeply unhappy about the change in her son’s behaviour — and things came to a head when, one day last month, she received a text from the bank saying her mortgage payment was about to bounce.
Kirstie Allsopp sparked controversy after it was revealed that she destroyed her children’s gadgets for breaking screen time rules. Mothers such as Carrie-Ann Robbins (pictured with her son Kane) and Anna Clark, 50, shared why they’ve copied Kristie’s actions
Petrified that she had been scammed, Alice checked online and discovered, to her horror, that Luke had spent almost £700 buying ‘add-ons’ for the game Fortnite on his PlayStation.
The game, played by 125 million people around the world, involves a ‘fight to the death’ in a virtual universe. Players can buy extra weapons and gadgets to give them an advantage.
Alice’s son had been so desperate to do well in the game, he had used his mother’s bank card without her permission to make the purchases.
Taking a deep breath, Alice told Luke to go and walk the dog, before putting his console, headset and controls in a black bin-liner and heading to Loch Goil to throw them into its depths.
Drastic action indeed — but Alice, 52, who runs her business with husband Iain, 53, is not alone in feeling a tough stance is needed when it comes to children and technology.
Kirstie Allsopp recently sparked controversy after revealing she had smashed her two sons’ iPads when they broke her rules on screen time playing their favourite online battle games.
The Location, Location, Location presenter, 47, said she had smashed the tablet devices against a table leg in front of Bay, 12, and Oscar, ten.
She received heavy criticism on social media from some, who called it decadence to destroy such expensive items (iPads cost around £300). Others said it was setting a bad example to suggest that smashing things when you’re annoyed is acceptable behaviour.
Yet with an increasing number of children spending much of their lives ‘plugged-in’ to electronic devices, there are plenty of parents who admit they have been driven to tech-smashing violence.
Figures published by the Office for National Statistics this year revealed that British children spend just 16 minutes a day playing outside.
Kirstie Allsopp (pictured with her sons Bay, 12, and Oscar, ten) was accused of setting a bad example for smashing her children’s gadgets against a table leg in front of them
And last month, Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield said that such is the scale of the problem, children should be ‘prescribed’ outside play to free them from the ‘battery hen existence’ that is ruining their physical and mental health.
Alice has no regrets over what she did — because she now has her son back.
‘His dad bought him the PlayStation for Christmas three years ago,’ she says. ‘I was against it, but it was just a few hours here and there. However, over the past 18 months things got really bad.
‘He wasn’t playing outside or doing his homework. The PlayStation wasn’t kept in his bedroom, but I would find him playing it in the lounge in the early morning with his headphones on. He became cheeky, rude and would answer back. He wouldn’t want his dinner. It wasn’t like him at all; he was like a different boy.
‘He used to love his dog, but he hardly looked at him for a year and a half.’
After Alice received the text from her bank, she knew things had to change.
‘I knew there was enough to pay the mortgage so I checked online and there had been 27 payments to PlayStation since the end of June, which totalled £657. Five of these payments were for almost £60. I was incredulous.
‘I spoke to the bank, who said there was nothing they could do and I needed to speak to PlayStation. I couldn’t find any contact number, so I sent an email. I haven’t heard anything back.
‘Luckily, we could move some money around to cover the mortgage payment.’
Anna Clark (pictured with her son Joseph) says she felt undermined when her son’s father gave him her work iPad at only two years old
She adds: ‘I didn’t get angry with Luke. The look on his face showed he knew what he’d done. All I could think was how I wanted my son back. He’s an amazing young man and I thought: “I refuse to lose him to this.” ’
On Luke’s return from walking the dog, Alice told him what she had done with his console. ‘He actually said he was relieved because he’d felt trapped. How sad is that?’
In the week since, Alice feels as though her son has returned to his old self.
‘He’s so much happier now,’ she says. ‘He spent the weekend stripping down his boat and fixing the engine. He’s been out on his bike, he’s walking the dog and seeing his friends.’
Since it was launched, free of charge, eight months ago, Fortnite has become one of the biggest computer games in online history.
It has proved to be extremely addictive to children, in part because they play with their friends online — and if they stop, they feel they are ‘letting down’ their team-mates.
However, as Alice learned to her horror, it is shockingly easy for children to rack up debts for ‘extras’.
Carrie-Ann restricts her son to two hours of computer games per day but sometimes has had to physically fight him to get him to stop
Luke admits: ‘It was an addiction. I’d spend hours on it each day. I felt trapped. When you lose a game, it makes you really angry. I know of one boy at school who tried to strangle his mother he was so angry.’
So how did Luke, who wants to be an architect when he grows up, feel about what his mother did?
‘It was a relief, like there had been a genie trapped in a bottle and it had got out. I’m finally free from this prison. I’m glad it’s gone.
‘I feel terrible about the money. It started off with just little purchases of £4, but it got out of hand. Mum’s card details were on there and I used them.’
Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman, a member of the All-Party Parliament Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood, says parents need to have screen time rules in place for their children.
‘Gaming disorder is an official disease as decreed by the World Health Organisation,’ he says. ‘The solution is controlling screen time, as children are not getting enough sleep, sunlight and exercise.’
Like Alice, Carrie-Ann Robbins — a 36-year-old mother of two from Retford, Nottinghamshire — says she tries to regulate her 14-year-old son Kane’s online gaming habit, but it’s not always easy. He is restricted to playing for ‘only’ two hours a day.
Carrie-Ann threw her son’s phone down the toilet after he lied about using it to play games
Carrie-Ann, who lives with her husband Steven, 38, a landscape gardener, says: ‘He has a PlayStation, a laptop and phone and would be on them all day, every day, if I let him. When he’s playing, he’s vacant and uncommunicative. It’s horrible.
‘Sometimes I have to physically fight him when his time is up and resort to removing the battery or the charger. He pleads with me to let him play a bit longer, and I’m ashamed to admit that sometimes I give in.’
Carrie-Ann says: ‘Six months ago, he was on his phone when he wasn’t supposed to be. I asked him if he was playing a game and he said no. I checked and saw he was. I felt so angry he had lied to me that I flipped. I took it off him and threw it down the toilet.
‘He was devastated. It was like the worst thing that had happened to him. This annoyed me further, because I could see how much it meant to him.
‘I did regret it because it was a Samsung Galaxy that had cost £100, and we don’t have a lot of money. I also know he uses it as a way to communicate with his friends and I don’t want him to feel isolated, so I did buy him another phone, although I’m aware that this doesn’t send a good message to him.’
Kane, who is currently banned from online games after exceeding his allotted time quota, says he feels ‘upset and angry’ when his parents stop him.
‘It’s what I like to do,’ he says. ‘I just want to play Call Of Duty with my friends. That’s it.’
Technology addiction consultant Dr Richard Graham says that as well as having a detrimental physical impact, computer games are so engrossing that an increasing number of children struggle to engage with real life.
Anna Clark claims arguments with her son’s father over his use of gadgets contributed to the breakdown of their relationship
‘Gaming now involves virtual communities and the ability to adopt different personas,’ he says. ‘Players tend to develop a sense of achievement in these worlds, and fear this success will diminish if they are not online.
‘When electronic devices start to have more influence over behaviour than anyone or anything else, you need to change things.’
He says some children even become violent when parents intervene in their online activity.
‘When a young person perceives that online is the only place they feel good, it’s not surprising they feel upset and aggressive when they are suddenly forced to cut all ties with their digital self, in which they have invested so much.’
Mum Anna Clark, 50, certainly wishes she had destroyed the iPad that was given to her son, Joseph, six years ago. Joseph was only two years old when his father gave him Anna’s work iPad, which she had never used.
Anna, who lives in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, says: ‘I didn’t agree with it at all. It made me realise we were fundamentally and morally opposed on this, and things got worse.
‘Our son became obsessed with the game Angry Birds. I was really upset about it but my husband would undermine me, and the rows grew worse. It ended up with the breakdown of our relationship.’
Anna Clark says she allows her son Joseph to play games as a way of getting him to do what she wants including eating vegetables
Anna says if she came down too hard on Joseph, it made him want to be with his father Neil, 56, a stonemason, more, because he let him play online games.
She adds: ‘Joseph had been pestering for the game Grand Theft Auto, which has an age rating of 18. I said no, but his dad, with whom he spends three nights a week, bought it for him last week.
‘Neither of us realised how bad it was. I walked into Joseph’s bedroom while he was playing it, and heard a character speaking about extreme sexual violence in the most explicit terms. I could not believe my eight-year-old son was being exposed to this.’
However, Anna says that despite her deep-rooted distrust of computer games, she knows she has lost the battle: ‘Running a business and being a single mum, I just don’t have the energy for the fights needed to stop Joseph playing games so much. I know I need to deal with it because it’s got out of hand.
‘If I ever try to stop him, he has a meltdown, screams and throws himself on the floor. I just don’t feel able to deal with that.
‘Yet I use it as a way to get him to do what I want — he’ll eat his broccoli if it means he can play.
‘I also fear that if I come down too hard, he will want to be with his dad more than me. I don’t want to lose him like that. And so, here we are. He has two iPads and an Xbox console in his room.’
Joseph explains that he likes the game Minecraft and one featuring WWE wrestlers. The one he plays the most is — unsurprisingly — Fortnite, but what is most worrying is how he says he feels when he is made to stop playing.
‘I feel bored. What else is there to do?’ he says.
Ultimately, Anna says everything she feared has come true.
‘Each morning he cries because he doesn’t want to go to school. He just wants to play his games.
‘What I dreaded when his dad first gave him that iPad to play with has come to pass — he is addicted to computer games and it’s all he wants to do. I feel as though I’ve failed as a parent.’