Little Kids, Screen Time and Cybersafety

A photo by Ben White.

It’s never too soon to start training children to manage screen time. Picture book The Fabulous Friend Machine is the perfect opener for a discussion with your young kids about screen time and cybersafety. Australian author/illustrator Nick Bland tackles these serious topics with lots of humour and adorable illustrations.

The Fabulous Friend Machine Nick Bland

The Fabulous Friend Machine By Nick Bland

Popcorn is a highly social chook with friends all over the farm and a vibrant social life. Everyone loves Popcorn. Then, one day in the chook house, she discovers a strange, glowing screen. It says, “Hello!” and she pecks “Hello!” right back. It’s a fabulous friend machine!

Before long, Popcorn is spending all her time chatting on the screen with her new best mates and no time playing with her old farmyard friends…

The Fabulous Friend Machine is a sweet cautionary tale about what can happen when you spend too much time online and aren’t careful about who you befriend.

Train Them Young

We teach our kids from a very young age how to stay safe and healthy when they are playing outside.

  • Look both ways before you cross the street.
  • Be careful walking near people swinging on the swings.
  • Limit your time in the sun, wear sunscreen and put on a hat.
  • Don’t eat the sand in the sandpit.
  • Don’t talk to strangers.

Similarly, we have to train kids how use play and use technology in a safe and healthy manner.

  • Make sure you balance screen time with other fun activities.
  • Stay on sites that Mum and Dad approve.
  • Limit the time you spend on devices.
  • Don’t believe everything you see.
  • Don’t talk to strangers.

Talking Points (without spoilers)

Bland’s story can launch a light-hearted but meaningful talk between parents and kids about safe, healthy use of devices. As you read the story together, ask your children some questions about the story:

  • What are some of the friendly things that Popcorn the chicken does?
  • Why do the farm animals like her?
  • Does Popcorn mean to ignore her friends? What is distracting her?
  • Popcorn uses her Fabulous Friend Machine all night. How would she feel the next day? How might she behave if she’s over-tired?
  • Why did Popcorn nearly get run over by a tractor?

There are lots of possibilities for more questions about screen time and cybersafety, but I’ll stop to avoid spoilers. You can make your own or find more in the teacher’s notes.

The Fabulous Friend Machine Nick Bland

The Fabulous Friend Machine

By Nick Bland

ISBN: 978-1-76027-765-9

Scholastic Australia, 2016

Highly recommended for families with young children who use electronic devices. You can buy it here.




Image Credit:, CC0