I don’t know. Honestly, I’m just going to start with that. Maybe let out a hearty bewildered sigh. Shake my head. Shrug my shoulders.
I’ve seen all the philosophies. I’ve read all the articles; the blog posts; the studies (ok no I haven’t. I’ve read articles about studies though. So); I’ve discussed with other parents, got their two cents. Everybody’s got a point; every choice is understandable. But I genuinely believe everyone else is guessing just as much as I am.
I was chatting with another mom at the library the other day. She said in their home they very strictly restrict screens, “But,” she said, “it’s different for you. My kids use tech at school all day. Yours aren’t in school, and this stuff is important to learn how to use!” And that’s certainly a good point. I have also thought that if my kids were made to sit and focus for the majority of their waking hours, I, too, would be very remiss to let them sit and focus on a screen for the few precious hours of freedom over their activities they have in a day. I’d want them to run, you know?
But I want to be clear here. I have no idea what to think about any of this, certainly, but I do have a very strong inclination toward one truth: there is nothing inherently “evil” about screens. I just don’t buy that it rots the brain. I think every study I’ve ever heard of on the subject at best demonstrates correlation, not causation, and I’m certain there are other factors at play that have a greater impact on a child’s development/success. I’m just not buying it. Interestingly, and kind of life changingly to be honest, I learned that people used to view the reading of novels in much the same way. What is now touted as such a moral and educational activity was once viewed as dumbing oneself down–allowing literary garbage to degrade the brain to absolute mush. Now some say that for many reasons tech is inherently different, and I understand what they’re getting at. But I cannot be convinced that I should worry.
So here’s where I find myself regularly stuck: between all the amazing benefits of screen-oriented tech; my children’s autonomy and freedom to make their own choices; the desire not to give them a complex about the perceived “moral virtues” of screen use; the allure of screen-tech drawing them away from all the other cool things they could engage in; and the sense that boredom, lack of stimulation, and physical activity are of paramount use to a child–more so than for adults even. Where’s the balance?????????????
Was that enough question marks?
No. No you know what, it wasn’t. Here’s some more:
Actually…actually, nevermind. There can never be enough question marks. Let’s move on.
With all those thoughts in mind, I will now share with you precisely how screen time is managed in our unschooling family right this very second. It may change tomorrow. Idk. I DON’T KNOW! Anyway.
First off, there never has been, nor ever will be, any sort of restriction on non-“entertainment” (games/shows) activities. These include: using Paint; animation; coding; writing stories; straightforward practicing of skills (literacy; typing; etc); tutorials (art; yoga; etc); powerpoint; research; you get the idea. There is also never any restriction on listening to music or stories. Skyping also used to be included on that list, but then E got older, and “being available to engage with the people who are actually physically here in front of you” became important. So yes, I restrict.
Sorry, I’ve just got to disclaim for a second. A personal philosophy of mine is that young children need a certain degree of structure and guidance. I try to be very thoughtful and respectful about it, and I anticipate that as my children age their autonomy will increase. As you will see, E already has experienced some loosening of the ropes. I hope that I will achieve being fully in “support” mode by the time my kids have gotten past puberty. But for now, I do, to some degree, structure and guide.
Back to it: in regards to games, we long have had a sizeable chunk of time each day wherein the children are allowed to game. A long time ago I received a series of CD’s containing a seminar run by Rachel and Oliver DeMille, cofounders of “Thomas Jefferson Education“, and one of their ideas really stuck with me: structuring time, not content. They recommended allotting broad chunks of time for broad types of activities, and I kind of love it. So for the past year or so our “game time” has been directly following lunch, until about 3 or 4, when I make a snack (let’s not have any pretense: sometimes it’s homemade rice pudding; sometimes it’s graham crackers and milk) to lure them away. I feel this gives them enough time to really delve into something if so desired. I’m not big on random nonsense internet games, although they do play on FRIV (unfortunately…), Roblox, and Minecraft (basically a homeschooling essential) on the computer. We also have a Wii, tablets, Super NES…lots of options. The toddler is super into Paw Patrol right now, so hard as I’ve tried to keep him on more engaged apps, I’ve given up. He of course very deftly navigates a tablet, and I can’t very well remove Netflix altogether. It’s useful. But that’s alright–I find that very young children naturally tire of screens after about an hour, so I’m not worried about it.
Shows are different altogether. We generally only watch shows when myself or (more likely) my husband decides to put one on. There’s lots of great stuff out there, but I’d just rather them spend most of their screen time more actively involved (see: I don’t know, above). Because of this, it’s random. They know that if there is inclement weather outside there’s a good chance of watching a movie together (unfortunately for them, we live in Alberta, the sunniest province in Canada. Mouahahaha. When we lived in lower mainland BC, that wasn’t a thing. Just didn’t seem right to watch TV for six months straight). Oh, and first thing in the morning before Mother awakes (Father rises daily at o’dark thirty I’m pretty sure. Incidentally evening is my blogging time) they can watch learn-y shows (like Magic School Bus. I highly recommend the newest incarnation. Kate McKinnon wut), although they lately have tended toward games. Also, just a month ago, in an effort to allow them to explore their own interests, and as a recognition of the value of good story, we instituted what we call “Saturday morning cartoons” where they can watch whatever they please.
All that being said, for the past three months we’ve tried the experiment of allowing E to have no restrictions on any screen-tech except for shows. We’re still working it out. She recently has begun complaining of a sore back, which is for sure related to her copious Minecrafting and Terreria-ing. Skype with her cousins was getting out of hand so she and I compromised on one hour of talking outside of afternoon game time.
And that’s the routine. Sounds more convoluted all written out like that than it really is. Everyone’s used to how it all runs. I don’t know if it’s right. And I recently had the experience of E being without a computer for a few days when she dropped it on the floor and broke the screen. She was all kinds of engaging with her brothers, coming up with games, doing crafts, baking. It was fun! So I decided to try out having one day a week as “screen free day”. Last “screen free day” E kept checking the time and proclaiming that she couldn’t wait for the day to be over…it’s a work in progress.
Honestly, I don’t know. But I try to step back and take a lot of breaths. As fictional Queen Elizabeth said in season 2 of The Crown, “to do nothing is often the best course of action”. I try to discuss with E and involve her reasonably in decisions–outline my concerns, point out issues, ask for her input, remind myself that I don’t believe screens are evil. We’ll see.