Connecting Devices

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You know that meme that was going around challenging people to place all phones, iPods etc on the table when eating out at a restaurant, and the first one to pick up the phone had to pay the bill? Well, we roll differently in our family! If someone is texting a friend, it is because they have something to say! Sure, we may have a bit of a joke about it, and humorously suggest that they talk to us instead, but for the most part we don’t see phones or other devices as the enemy.

In fact, we like to have a bit of fun with them! Instead of these devices being a source of tension, judgment or division, they are more likely to be a source of fun, laughter and connection. The image above is from a recent family meal at a restaurant. My oldest son in the furthest part of the image is looking for a funny video he wanted to share with us. My husband and one of my other sons are sharing a laugh about something on my iPad. My other two children and I were eagerly waiting to have a look as well.

The phones and iPad became tools of connection, not disconnection.

Life is what you make it. 🙂

Gaming Helps Bullied Kid

Bullying is never, never, never okay.

But neither is it black and white. It is not a simple case of “bullies are bad, victims are good”. Bullies are usually people who are hurting badly, themselves, and looking for an easy target as an outlet for their own pain. I think the saying “Hurting people hurt people” is an insightful observation. I don’t want to bully bullies, because that would be ridiculous! Yes, they need boundaries, but they also need love and understanding.

I truly believe that putting 98% of society’s children in mass childcare for twelve to fifteen years, with 2% of society’s adults in control, is a recipe for disaster, but that’s not the purpose of this post.

I simply wanted to point out that in the above video about bullying, the boy talks about how gaming helps him to process and cope with some of the impacts of the bullying. I thought it was interesting to hear it straight from his mouth, because it helps to debunk the myth that gaming increases violence. In case you couldn’t be bothered watching the video clip, here is the relevant bit:

Gaming actually helps me a lot,
to calm down and get out of the troubling parts of my life,
and to clear my mind of things that happened.
It’s like you go into a different universe….
I wish to fly without anything to hold me up…..
I like Harry Potter and I wish I could do magic! 
I’d zip everybody’s lips, all the rude people’s lips.

Video gaming can help people to handle stress better, reduce their hostile feelings and reduce the likelihood of depression, which I imagine would be a factor for the boy in the above video. There are many other benefits, too.

It’s time to radically rethink our assumptions about things like gaming!

A Gamer Self-Limits

My 13yo son is passionate (and I mean VERY passionate) about computers. Initially we thought he would follow a path towards the practical side, building his own computer, etc, and so we got a couple of old broken computers off Freecycle for him to pull apart and play with. He enjoyed doing that, and learned a lot, but a little while later when I suggested getting some work experience at a computer repair shop, he said that the experience with the old computers had helped him come to a place of clarity in terms of what he did and didn’t like doing. He realised that he isn’t really interested in the hardware side of computers, fixing them etc.

He is more interested in using them, creating computer graphics, gaming, making videos for Youtube, creating a website and Facebook page, researching, following incredibly interesting Youtube channels such as Vsauce, ChampChong and Mythbusters. (He recently got to have a chat and a photo with ChampChong at the EB Games Expo. I was so amazed at his decorum and confidence when stumbling upon one of his Youtube heroes. He didn’t go all ga-ga like I would have if I’d known who he was, but he also didn’t shy away. He was full of absolute confidence when walking up to him for a chat, to the point that I thought he was talking to someone he already knew!)

To support him in this interest, we managed to scrape together some funds to purchase an entry level gaming computer, headset etc, which he is making VERY good use of, let me tell you! He really enjoyed the process of researching different suppliers, different brands and infrastructure (probably not the right word) and then selecting the components he wanted and kind of building it virtually in a way.

gamer_self_limits_unshackledThen for his birthday this year, we got him a USB recording microphone. And a ukelele, just for something randomly different (his request).

ukelele_unshackled

He spends a major part of his life sitting at that computer, which brings me much joy. Truly! I know he is doing what he loves, pursuing his interest, and learning ever so much along the way. And he has also made some new friends and even met some face to face (I hesitate to say “in real life” because his life and their relationship is just as real whether it is via a computer or face to face).

gaming_with_friend_unshackled

(P.S. They didn't "just do gaming" when they met face to face, either. It's amazing how long they attempted to throw those tennis balls through that little tiny hole, and how much fun they had doing it!)
(P.S. They didn’t “just do gaming” when they met face to face, either. It’s amazing how long they attempted to throw those tennis balls through that little tiny hole, and how much fun they had doing it!)

I am more interested in supporting him in his passions, than I am in trying to somehow construct my own version of “balance” for him. We have talked occasionally about eye strain, and ways to combat it (he wants a pair of computer gaming glasses to help reduce strain when looking at computers etc. I think I want a pair too! Don’t tell him, but whenever I get the chance, I “borrow” them!). We also talk about needing to get up and move about every so often. It isn’t a demand or a forced thing, but rather a natural conversation, and the giving and receiving of information.

Just now, he surprised me (and hence the impetus for this post) by announcing that he’s set up a system for himself whereby while he is gaming he listens to a music playlist by Monstercat that goes for about an hour. When the playlist finishes, he stops what he’s doing on the computer (unless he’s in the middle of something that can’t easily be paused) and gets up to do something different for awhile, stretch his legs and so on.

I am quite confident that if I had instigated and insisted upon such a thing, and was trying to enforce it, his involvement in the process might be unhappy compliance, but with the idea being his own initiative, there is nothing for him to resent, or resist. He is learning to listen to his body, to find a solution that is fun and helpful, and he hasn’t had to endure any coercion (however subtle) from me at all.

I am actually feeling inspired by his decision, and think I might just go and stretch my own legs now. Bye! 🙂

Do “Violent” Games Make People Violent?

I am a pacifist, yet my children have all played with toy guns, swords, and now “violent video games”.

Yes, the two things can go together! My children are not me! They have their own interests and values, and I have mine, and that is okay. In fact, it’s awesome! Not always easy, but definitely good. I did not give birth to clones of the wonderful me. I gave birth to children who are unique individuals, with their own ideas and preferences.

I still don’t love the sounds of (fake) war when they play “violent” video games, but I focus on delighting in their enjoyment, interest and passion. And for what it’s worth, they don’t go around doing any of it in real life.

What My Kids Think

My children all say the same thing: It’s just a game!

I recently had a great chat to one of my boys (aged 16) whilst sitting on his bed watching him play what most people would call a”violent” game. He was relaxed, leaning back on a soft comfortable lounge, chatting casually with me whilst simultaneously pressing buttons that caused pixellated digitalised “people” to be artificially obliterated before our eyes. I was wondering what he thought of the fears some people have about first-person shooter games and how they can tend to blame violent crimes on “violent” video games. At the time we were chatting, we observed that there were hundreds of thousands of people all around the world playing Call of Duty Black Ops 2 at the same time as him. We wondered whether any of them had ever, would ever, or were at that time actually hurting (or desiring to hurt) anyone.

Dec and Brady Gaming_unshackled

Tonight I asked my youngest son (12) what he thinks of these kinds of games. Here is his response:

It stimulates your brain. You think about the strategy. For instance, you might see someone on top of a building; you can’t get out of where you are and you don’t have the right weapon for longer range shooting, so you use your brain to work around the problem. Does it make you want to go out and kill people? No. The whole fact that you’re shooting guns is irrelevant. It’s a strategy game where you want to win the match and it’s intense, fast paced. You can ignore the fact that you’re killing people. You don’t think about that. You just think about getting extra scores. It’s irrelevant that it’s supposedly ‘shooting someone’.

I asked him, “When you play a game like that, do you find that it’s a release of energy? Or do you feel MORE stressed after playing?”

It depends what happens. If you lose by a lot or something unfair happens, it can be stressful I suppose, but otherwise it can be a good challenge and really fun. You feel like you’ve achieved something.

Being non-sexist and all, I decided to also ask my daughter (10) what she thinks. She doesn’t play “violent” video games as much as her brothers, but she does occasionally enjoy playing Halo. I asked her, “How do you feel when you play a game like Halo?”

I feel like I am the person and I’m in a big adventure. I feel free and I don’t think that it could make me violent in real life. Because I could never actually shoot someone.

She has also played Skyrim a little bit, which has awesome graphics, and would be considered more violent than Halo.

Yeah I think Skyrim is a little violent but it’s not like I would get a real life sword and stab someone! Sometimes I do find it a little freaky, but it’s just so much fun because well, it’s just fun!

I tried asking my 19 year old son, but he said his brain isn’t functioning well enough to formulate his thoughts into words tonight. He got up at the crack of dawn today, travelled three hours to go to TAFE college, and then another three hours to come home late today after a full day at his course. So it seems all his game playing hasn’t turn him into a “delinquent” after all! Nor did “shooting zombies” turn him into a zombie!

What Other People Think

Many, many people make the assumption that “violent” games cause violent behaviour.

If you consider the huge number of people playing these games, why aren’t all of those people being violent?

If you consider the huge number of people playing these games, isn’t it statistically quite likely that, if a violent crime is committed, the offender will be a gamer ?

Does this mean that “violent” video games cause violence? I think that is a fairly large leap to make, and it is certainly not in keeping with my real life observations of people who play these games. Nor is it in keeping with the many, many other radical unschooling families around the world whose children have been raised in loving, connected homes with no arbitrary limits placed on game playing. Nor is it backed up by a recent study conducted by Texas A&M International University associate professor, Dr. Christopher J. Ferguson. The results of the study suggest that “Violent games may help people work through their frustrations with real life and calm down without increasing aggressive behaviors in real life”. If a gamer (or anyone!) does commit a crime, it is pretty much guaranteed that there are some other pretty big factors involved; perhaps a dysfunctional family, bullying at school or a maladaptive personality. Rather than blaming the games, perhaps people could start using them!

There is a reason why I keep putting “violent” in quotation marks when referring to video games. There are some key differences between depictions of violence, and actual violence.

If you look at a person playing a first person shooter game, what do you see? A person, usually sitting on a soft, comfortable lounge, holding a plastic game controller in their hands, often chatting with friends, sometimes laughing, looking at pixelated images on a televisions screen, and certainly not hurting anybody.

If you look at a parent walking into the room where their child or teen is playing a “violent” video game, you may see the parent roll their eyes, you may hear an angry, frustrated tirade, you may observe a subtle or not so subtle judgment of the game and the person playing the game.

Which is more damaging to the gamer? The game itself, or the judgment of their choice to play it?

What would happen if parents could

  •   accept their child/teen’s choice to play a particular game
  •   delight in the fact that they are enjoying their chosen activity,
  •   trust that they will be okay, and perhaps even
  •   play the game alongside them!!

A child/teen playing games with the support, interest and involvement of a loving parent is much better off than a child who feels judged, shamed and guilty for playing. It’s certainly been true in our experience and I have discovered that I care much more about connecting with my child and respecting their preferences, than I do about connecting with the idea that “violent” video games cause violence. Because, to be honest, I just don’t think it’s true!

Recommended Reading:

Gaming in Schools?

My daughter loves a show on TV called “Good Game Spawn Point”. It’s a super fun, interesting talk show about all things gaming. She was watching it tonight when one of the hosts suddenly declared:

Sometimes I think I learn more from video games than I ever did in school. Maths, science, problem solving, reading, history, geography, how to work as a team…

© Cherrymerry | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos
© Cherrymerry | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

It was an intro to the next segment of a show: an interview with a teacher who has begun to integrate commercial video games (such as Formula 1 Racing, Sonic Racing etc) into the classroom, mostly into science lessons, “to make it more interesting for the students”.

When asked what inspired her to begin using commercial video games as a teaching tool, she answered: “I play a lot of games myself, and when I play them I realise that with a lot of games, you actually need to apply a lot of skills like maths, logic, problem solving, team work in multiplayer mode… When I watch the kids playing games, they’re really motivated and they like it, so I investigated different types of games that I could put into the classroom.”

Bajo, the host of the show and interviewer for this segment, observed some children in the classroom, who were trying to find out if talking on a phone, or holding it on your shoulder, distracts you when you’re driving. The conclusion? “So far we’ve learned that driving without a phone is much safer than driving with a phone.”

Well, that doesn’t sound like rocket science, but I’m sure the kids absorbed the lesson more effectively, and had more fun doing it, than if they’d just been told the information or had statistics presented to them.

Bajo asked the teacher if she had seen many improvements in how they learn, to which she replied, “Yes, because they are having fun so they understand it a lot better. When we introduce concepts that are not familiar to them and we actually put a game into it, they connect with the game and they’ll be less fearful of the topic. They’re more likely to actually want to learn it. The kids who are normally really shy won’t be shy when they play the game because the games do encourage you to have a go. It’s okay to fail in the game.”

At one stage the children were all asked to sit around the edge of the classroom, while two were selected to play a game on the Kinect (Xbox) console. I’m not sure if this is standard procedure (two children playing while the others look on), but it seemed to be so based on other footage they showed. One of the “children” was Bajo, the presenter.

After they had played the game, the teacher gave her assessment:

“You displayed some really good teamwork skills. When Daniel gave instructions, you followed them. But I think you got a little bit distracted sometimes, waving your hands, and Daniel was trying to get you back on track.”

Okaaaaay well, again, not rocket science. But at least they were having fun, right? Even if they were somewhat “distracted”.

Some of the children were asked what they like about being able to play video games in the classroom:

“Well, the games are fun and they help you learn better.”

“Everyone gets to participate and it’s really fair.”

“People don’t usually think video games can be educational, but we’ve found a way to make it educational, because it’s, like, more interesting than getting a paper and pen and just writing down stuff or copying down stuff or just getting a book.”

Kudos to the teacher for trying to modernise the classroom, but I question whether simply making it more fun by the inclusion of video games is really enough. I’m sure it is better than without the games, but the use of the games in the classroom seemed …. Dumbed down. Scripted.

The games were being used as a tool to try to get the children more engaged in the teacher-driven curriculum. Using what the students love to “teach” the lessons the teacher wants them to learn, to complete the tasks set down by the teacher. It seemed to simply be a more creative, modern way to “put information into children’s heads”.

Having short turns of a game (accompanied by expected outcomes and lessons to be learned) and sharing it around thirty children is very different to the natural learning that occurs when children are thoroughly engrossed in and captivated by a game. It is very different to a child at home getting deeply into the levels and complexities of the game, solving puzzles, exploring complex worlds, completing levels and challenges that sometimes take hours or more.

How wonderful it would be if the teacher was able to trust in the intrinsic nature of children to learn through play. If the learning flowed more naturally, as an unscripted side effect of playing the games; if the games were more central rather than just serving the teacher-driven goal. Who knows where it might lead!! Imagine groups of children engrossed in gaming, with the adult interacting naturally, playing alongside, chatting to the kids while they play.

Funnily enough, that is actually what does happen in an unschooling household!! 

Whilst the teacher began her journey by recognising the learning that was naturally happening when she played video games at home (without anyone expecting her to learn, or feeling the need to “teach” her by using the games to draw out “lessons”), she ended up failing to transfer to the children in her care that same trust in natural learning as a byproduct of gaming.

As Steven Johnson says in Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter video games are not “rotting our brains” but are in fact becoming more and more sophisticated tools for learning, posing new cognitive challenges that are actually making our minds measurably sharper. There really is no need to dumb them down and turn them in to “lessons”.

In the words of the final girl interviewed for the show, video games in the classroom “make everything seem fun, even though it’s really boring.”

Kids are smart! They would obviously prefer to be able to do gaming and other fun things in the classroom, but they’re quite able to learn from the games without having to have that learning scripted for them. And in fact, they are more likely to intrinsically learn something new and “cutting edge” if they are able to really delve into the complexities of the game, rather than focus on completing set tasks that supposedly help them learn what the teacher wants to teach them!

I am so very glad that my unschooled children are privileged to live in an environment where there is absolute trust that learning happens. All the time. Every day. Even while gaming. ESPECIALLY while gaming. And without a lesson needing to be taught.

Gaining from Gaming

gainingfromgaming

I recently wrote about “Scary Screens” and my journey towards trusting rather than fearing THE SCREEN!

One form of “screens” seems to cause many parents so much angst, and can often have journalists racing to their editors with an alarmist article ready for release upon the easily-scared, anti-screens public. It is commonly known as gaming, and includes Xbox, Playstation, Wii, Nintendo DS, Computer games and probably other mediums I can’t even think of right now.

Gaming (also known as video gaming, or digital gaming) has come a long, long way since the Parker brothers created Monopoly. And it’s also progressed in cyber leaps and bounds since the first ever “video game” was developed way back in 1947 (bet you didn’t know they’ve been around that long!). And there is certainly very little resemblance to the games my brothers and I used to play on our Atari. Gosh, the excitement of the various line drawing designs of basketball, hockey, table tennis and soccer were almost as exciting back then as Xbox Kinect is today! The sound of the ping and the pong of the little cyber “ball”, and the race to stop that little dot from getting between the gaps in the lines kept us glued to our big old chunky TV set for hours! 🙂

The parents of this current generation (that includes me) grew up in a VERY different reality to the children of today. Marc Prensky first coined the term “digital native” to describe the children who have grown up in the age of digital technologies. Some digital native children will be lucky enough to have “digital immigrants” for parents (those who were born before the existence of digital technology but have adapted to it to some extent later in life). However, it is still common for us to struggle with the degree to which our children seek to embrace and interact with their digital world. It is something we never really experienced as children. The attraction of the screen, and its saturation in our culture, is something we don’t really understand, in spite of the fact that we use computers etc. Our experience with digital technologies is something we’ve adapted to. In contrast, it has been part of our children’s worlds for their entire life.

According to the Interactive Australia 2009 report on the state of gaming in Australian culture, the average age of gamers is now 30. Are these, perhaps, adults who were forbidden or limited as kids, and who are now able to play when and for how long they choose, and so they are reveling in their new freedom?  Or does it simply speak of the fact that gaming is, dare I say it, fascinating and enjoyable? Yes, I can hear the naysayers crying out, “But what about the South Korean couple who got so obsessed by their gaming that they neglected their real baby?” And I will say, there is something more going on there! There was something seriously wrong with this picture, and with the people themselves, to be able to make a choice such as that. It is not the game designers neglecting to feed and care for the baby. It is the parents. Out of the multitude of people who play video games, when there is one case of something going wrong, everyone blames the game. When David Staniforth recently died after a blood clot in the lung, apparently caused by sitting still for too long, it was the video gaming that was the featured issue in the media. The father was actually quoted as saying, “He had probably been on all night, on the computer at his desk, on Facebook or gaming — one or the other.” After that, his son’s friend said Chris felt a pounding in his chest but eventually fell asleep. The next morning, Chris and his friend were going to apply for jobs and Chris collapsed outside the job center.” So it was assumed he spent all night gaming, then fell asleep, then woke “the next morning” (after staying up all night?) and then collapsed and died. If he’d been sitting down for that length of time reading a book, I can’t imagine anyone blaming books for his death! But once they would have. It was once the humble novel that was the target of suspicion and fear mongering. It was said that people who read novels would be day dreamers, and unable to fit in to society. Reading books was not revered in the same way that it is today.

When tennis ace Serena Williams underwent emergency surgery for a blood clot, no one suggested that people should stop playing tennis. When people suffer from the same condition after a long plane flight, no one suggests that plane flights are bad and should be severely limited. Instead, it is recognised that getting up and moving around occasionally, and keeping the blood flowing, will help to prevent this problem.

If gaming is the cause of neglected babies, or deep vein thrombosis, then why aren’t more gamers suffering from these problems? The reality is that many, many people play video games, and they often play for many hours in one session. And the vast majority of them lead happy, productive lives! If they don’t, then instead of blaming the game, perhaps it would be more pertinent to ponder the big picture of their life, and contemplate the possible causes behind why the person is drawn to games, or screens of some kind, to that degree, and to the detriment of their own happiness. Are they unhappy because they’re gaming? Or are they gaming because they’re unhappy?  The people I know who enjoy video games play them simply because they… enjoy them! And they do not neglect other areas of their lives.

Researchers are beginning to realise some of the benefits of video games. Research carried out at Bristol University on 700 children aged from 7-16, showed that children learn a range of strategic thinking and planning skills as well as other valuable learning outcomes, through playing video games. An article in The Wall Street Journal suggests that gaming increases creativity and the ability to pay attention to more than six things at once (coimpared to four with non-gamers). Research Professor, Peter Gray, Ph.D., outlines the many benefits of playing video games in his recent article. The supposed “link” between video games that depict violence, and violence in real life, is now being questioned. And Science Daily reported in September last year that gamers had solved a science problem that had stumped scientists for over a decade. It took the gamers three weeks.

I could write more, but realistically people will usually be able to find evidence to supposedly support almost any theory anyway, so I will simply finish by sharing our family’s experience; what we’ve found to be GREAT about gaming, the ways in which I have seen my children benefit from playing video games.

  • Joy!
  • Social connection (the pleasure of gaming with friends or family IRL or via Xbox Live or Skype)
  • Teamwork
  • Opportunities to practise conflict resolution skills when aforesaid teamwork is lacking! 🙂
  • Problem solving skills
  • Strategic thinking
  • Spatial reasoning (Have you ever tried to navigate a virtual race track at high speed?!)
  • Memorisation (I get so lost when watching them navigate their way around complex worlds)
  • Reading skills (no, it’s not “reading the classics”, but it is culturally relevant contemporary language)
  • Mathematical thinking and calculations
  • Computer programming skills
  • An all-round good time! 🙂

There would be more, if I stopped to think about it. What about you? Have you discovered benefits in addition to the ones I have listed?

Please note that for unschooled kids and teens, gaming usually plays a very different role when compared to school kids. It is one option of many on offer throughout the days and nights of “free time”, whereas school children often use gaming to detox from the hours spent in the school environment. So the two scenarios will tend to look and be very different. I highly recommend this page, if you’d like to learn more about gaming within an unschooling context.

I promise that my next post will not be about screens! But it will certainly be written on one. And read on one too.

Image credit: lhfgraphics / 123RF Stock Photo

“Scary” Screens?

scaryscreensI am constantly surprised by the number of people who are prejudiced against electronic screens (gaming consoles, TV, computer  etc).

Mind you, I probably shouldn’t be surprised, because I used to be one of them.

I used to see it as “less than”; as in, a less desirable use of my children’s time in comparison to, say, reading a book, or playing outside, or doing art & craft (the golden choices of childhood).

I used to fear that it would spin out of control if I let go of control.

I used to strictly limit my children’s “screen time” (often whilst using a computer myself), and it required an awful lot of negotiation (“If I use 5 minutes of my hour today, can I add 5 minutes to tomorrow’s time?” etc) and then I read the wonderful article on Sandra Dodd’s site, about the economics of restricting screen time and I started to think…..

And gradually, ever so gradually, I began to let go of my fears.

To trust that my children would be ok.

And to actually support them in their interests (yes, even if that interest is TV, or computer, or gaming), rather than trying to entice them to do something…. DIFFERENT.

Why is it that so many people worship books but fear screens?  Many of us use screens a lot in our own lives, but fear our children using them “too much”. Why are people so judgemental of children who are on screens “a lot”? Why do so many people put strict limits on screen time, but never think of limiting other activities such as book reading or playing outside? Why are people so quick to use words like “addictive” when talking about screens, but wouldn’t use it if speaking of a child who whiles away endless days reading novels? Why is it so rare to hear words such as  “wonderful” or “enjoyable” or “fascinating” in the same sentence as screens or gaming? Why is it that so many parents would be proud to announce that their child spent the whole morning reading a book, but would feel shame if someone found out their child spent the same amount of time “staring at a screen”? Why are we so afraid of screens when it comes to our children?

What are we afraid of?

I think I may have some clues to this strange phenomenon, because I’ve been in that place myself. I too used to be one of those parents who was prejudiced against and fearful of screens, although I didn’t tangibly recognise it as this. I remember having lots of strong feelings around the issue. I remember wishing they’d do something else. Anything else. I remember fearing that their lives were becoming unbalanced. I even remember (in all seriousness) wishing we could live on a desert island somewhere, with close friends and families, but no electronic media at all! Yes, seriously. I thought I wanted that.

I knew I felt tense about the screens issue. I was conscious of how much my children enjoyed their screen time (TV, Xbox, Computer etc)! But I also knew what most others thought of that. I also knew I felt somewhat embarrassed and self-conscious if people walked into our home and saw them having screen time “again”. (Actually, I still struggle with that sometimes!)

I used to be a “No TV for Kids” type of Mum and I was proud of it! When our first son was a toddler, I decided that he should be TV-free, and this lasted for a couple of years (I can hear all the anti-TV people cheering in the grandstands!). I did like some aspects of that lifestyle; however, my husband and I still used to watch TV in the evenings after our son was in bed, because we found it an enjoyable thing to do. In spite of this, I continued to see TV as a big scary NO for my son. Is that hypocritical? I know I felt somewhat guilty about it. I had a niggling feeling that I kept burying deep down inside, that we were living a double standard, waiting for our screen-free son to go to bed, so that we could kick back and enjoy some TV watching. I would sometimes allow myself to wonder what he thought of it as he was lying in his bed, or hopping up to go to the toilet, and seeing the TV on. Did he think it must be something that only adults “get to do”? Did this increase his desire to watch it, too, so he could be “grown up” like us?

I think there was an element of pride in me, too. “MY child doesn’t watch television. WE provide a stimulating environment. WE don’t rely on television as a babysitter.”

It is said that pride goes before the fall. I still remember the telling moment when my husband commented on the stress in the house on a particular day when we were trying to get ready to go somewhere, with a toddler or two under our feet, saying something like, “You know what? This tension and stress is probably more damaging that the TV would be!” And I realised he was right! I mean, I knew there were obviously more options than just putting the TV on to keep kids away, but his point was that we were getting upset with kids underfoot, while the TV sat in the other room like a silent unopened gift! I had been so against our child/ren watching the TV because I’d deemed it ”bad”, but I suddenly realised it could have a place after all! Of course, I limited it to “nice videos” and ABC TV only in the early days…. 🙂 I remember intentionally putting Playschool on, WANTING my son to watch it because I’d decided it was a good program!

Fast track a few years… I had 2 children in school, one very wild 3 year old, and a baby. Our  aerial had blown off the roof and we’d not bothered getting another one. We did have a TV though, and we used it for watching videos (yes, we actually let the kids watch videos too this time!). I used to restrict any morning viewing, and then at lunchtime I’d put a video on for my wild child, to try to keep him out of trouble so I could have a rest time with the baby. That seemed to work well. (I think this routine began the day that I came out from the bedroom after settling my baby to sleep, only to discover my 3yo sitting on a beanbag with his feet in the electric foot soaker, which he’d filled with water and plugged into the power point himself!!! We also got a safety switch on the electrical circuit that day!)

When we moved into a house that happened to have a TV aerial, we didn’t mind. We had finally begun to move past our previous judgemental attitudes towards screen time. We did enforce “Screen Free Sundays” for awhile, and we still had some residual, usually silent, negative thoughts towards screens, but for the most part, TV and other forms of “screens” (Xbox and computers) had become one of the resources in our house, amongst many other things. It has been quite a long journey to get to a place where screens are neither elevated or denigrated, and the decision to unschool our children has been instrumental in helping us get to this place. Screens are now just a tool for us to use as we see fit. I no longer fear their mutinous power. I now trust that my children (and I) are more powerful than any supposedly magnetic pull of electronic gadgetry. Yes, we are even more powerful than the advertising companies. We are quite capable of interpreting advertising, and critiquing its message, and we often have conversations about this kind of thing.

For those of you who are experiencing fears and judgements (or perhaps self-righteous pride like I did) regarding screens, I invite you to consider the possibility that your children are picking up the anti-screen vibe (or very clear message), and that it is possibly having a negative effect on them in one of these ways:

  • It could be causing them to view their own desire to engage with screen time as “bad”.  And if their desire is bad, then maybe THEY are bad too.
  • It may be causing your children to resent those who are allowed to use screens more than they are.
  • Another option (and one that my own children have been on the receiving end of) is that your anti-screen judgement may be causing your children to pass that same judgement on to others who use screens more than is considered ideal in your family.

What would happen if the TV or computer or gaming console wasn’t held out as a carrot on a stick, as a reward for having done something less desirable first? If it wasn’t given that much power by its “reward” status?

What would happen if screens weren’t seen as “less than”, but rather as simply another resource in the home?

What would happen if we could find another word to use instead of “watching”, which implies passivity?  When you watch TV, is your mind ever totally switched off? Perhaps you are engaging with the characters or plot, immersing yourself in the storyline; perhaps it’s connecting with something in your own life; perhaps you’re imagining yourself in the movie, or relating at some level to one of the characters or experiences ; perhaps you’re noticing something about the cinematography, or the characterisation or acting, or the costuming, or the way a scene is depicted. Or perhaps you’re just enjoying the experience of “losing yourself”; full immersion relaxation.

Perhaps it’s a documentary, and you’re being transported to a time or place you will never get to experience in “real life”.

Perhaps we’re better off referring to ourselves as “enjoying some TV time”. Because truly, it’s not just “watching”, it’s audio visual at the very least. And if we’re talking about computers or gaming consoles, it’s far from passive.

If you’re still finding yourself judging your child’s use of screens, or fearing that it’s “all they’ll ever do”, or just resenting it somehow, consider this.

There is a solution. But it requires something from you.

Instead of pointing the finger at your child, or at those “nasty screens”, have the courage to look within.

When our children are switched on to a screen, it can become easy for us to switch off to our children. This isn’t to say that we need to always watch every show with them, or sit beside them every time they’re engaged in some screen time. We do have our own interests to pursue. And we do have other things that beg our attention. But we can still do those things whilst staying connected in some way with our children’s screen experience. Hopefully we’ll be in the same room as them, enabling us to keep one eye on our child and the screen that has their attention, and another on what we’re wanting to do. It might mean occasionally commenting or asking a question. It might mean bringing them something nutritious to eat or drink. It might mean stopping for a brief snuggle. Or better yet, a long, lingering one. It might mean seeking out opportunities or products or books or games that support their interest. And it will, hopefully, sometimes involve watching and engaging with our children!

It’s not screens versus outdoor play, or screens versus art and craft, or screens versus anything else.

It’s screens with my presence versus screens in my absence, and with my judgement (even the covert type).

It’s connection that makes the difference.

I think it’s also really important to ensure that life is more exciting than TV; that the children aren’t engaging in screen time simply out of habit or boredom, because there’s nothing more interesting calling out to them. Screens are a totally valid resource, as one among many. But if the other options are static, never changing, hidden in cupboards, covered in dust, or simply not accessible due to us not helping our children engage with them (maybe they need us to drive them somewhere, or invite someone over, or play a game with them, or help them fix something that’s broken so they can use it again…..), then it’s understandable that our children will gravitate to the ever changing screen, rather than the never changing alternatives. Rather than feeding feelings of judgement towards our children’s choice of screens over other options, it is more helpful to engage with them in their screen activity, or invite them to do something else with us (the magic “let’s” word); to be truly present with them, and to have plenty of exciting options for them to engage with, in addition to screens. It is really important, however, that it doesn’t come across as “Why don’t you stop watching so much TV and do something INTERESTING for once!” We might not say those words, but it can come across that way to our children whether we intend it to or not. I think the secret here is not to always suggest something different, but to sometimes sit and watch with them, supporting them in their screen interests, and to sometimes offer alternative ideas, and invite them to explore the non-screen world with you.

In summary, the lessons I’ve learned (and keep on learning!) are:

Stop judging the box! It’s just a thing. An object.

Limits increase desire

Instead of disconnecting, consider… connecting (with your children)!

Be more interesting than the screen!

Just in case this blog post wasn’t long enough for you, and you’d like to read more, you could check out What Video Games have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy, by James Paul Gee. There are other books also, although I haven’t read any myself, because I usually find that they’re more relevant to parents of school children.

In view of the fact that the use of screens is very different for a school child (and it’s helpful to remember that all the anti-TV studies are based on children like this) and an unschooled child, I thoroughly recommend reading these web pages, because they are written from an unschooling perspective. In fact, I probably needn’t have written this blog post at all!

Sandra Dodd’s TV webpage

Arguments Against Arguments Against TV

TV and Other Addictions

If I Let Them, They’d Watch TV All Day Long

No Child Can Benefit from Watching all the TV They Want

How can TV in any Amount be OK?

There are Much Better Things they could do than Watch TV

My Values versus TV’s Values

Letting Go of the TV Controls

Other Comments About TV

Disclaimer: I still sometimes feel embarrassed if I think someone might be judging the children’s (or my) screen time, and in moments like that I don’t do my best parenting, because I am reacting to my fear and shame, rather than delighting in my children, and the choices we can freely make regarding how we spend our time. I know that in moments like this, the best results come when I am mindful of my own issues, aware of the child’s environment and whether I’ve been successfully strewing a path of wonderland before them, and choosing to delight in who my child is. Then I am free to consciously and joyfully engage in the screen time with my child, or delight in them choosing it for themselves, or suggest something different out of a place of joy rather than fear.