Thoreau Quote

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."
Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Letting go of screen time issues - mine!

Since it's been months since my last post, it's perhaps not surprising that our home ed approach has shifted. Again. Well, a family isn't a static thing, is it? We're growing and changing all the time, in many ways. And that's why home ed is great, since we have the freedom to respond to those changes whenever we need to.

One big thing that happened to our family recently was that I set the house alight. Seriously! Cooking chips. Just a couple of minutes with my eye off the ball and the kitchen was ablaze. No-one was hurt and the insurance covered everything, but the kitchen was so bad that we couldn't live in the house and the speed at which insurance companies work, or lack of it, meant that we lived a somewhat nomadic lifestyle for over 4 months, during which all rules were suspended!! Total autonomy was the order of the day and that included screens.

Prior to that I had been imposing screen limits with the view that it would encourage other interests, necessity being the mother of invention and all that. I was wrong, particularly where J was concerned. Instead of finding other ways to fill his time, he became obsessed with that part of the day when he could fire up the Xbox. If I'd said 4pm, then he would clock watch all day. If I said weekends only, he would calendar watch. For the rest of the time he developed an uncanny ability to wander from room to room for hours! Preventing him from doing the one thing he wanted most did not enable him to come up with other constructive ways to fill his time at all, it actively prevented it. He literally could not think of anything else to do.

And when he was in 'screens permitted time', that's all he would do, not wanting to waste a moment of it.

I had created an obsession!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Also, I found myself faced with an increasing number occasions when I would relax the rules 'just this once'.....

'Mum, my friend has texted me to ask me to play online with him now. He has to go out with his family in an hour. Can I start my screentime early?'

'Mum, I just need to go on Facebook to find out what time drama is starting this week.'

Or times when I realised that my screen rules were subscribing to a specific set of values about what is and is not 'educational' and that this made no sense.....

'So, I'm allowed to check YouTube for a science clip, but not catch up with PewDiePie's'* new uploads?'

(* PewDiePie - 23 year old prolific YouTuber from Sweden with 10 million subscribers, modelling a fantastic work ethic and self motivated way to earn money and who has, at the very least, inspired one of my children to learn some Swedish) 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

I began to see that my controlling of 'screen time' was false and was cutting them off from the ways they access the world. It was also preventing those myriad connections that make self directed learning so effective. With the high tech lives we lead, the lines between 'constructive' and 'non-constructive' screen based activities are so blurred as to be unrecognisable. 

And by even thinking about it in those terms, I realised, I was judging their activities based on my own personal view of what is and is not 'constructive'. I remembered Matt Groening, creator of The Simpons, saying how his mother had despaired at the amount of time he spent watching cartoons. I thought again of PewDiePie and the other YouTubers my children follow. I realised that you really cannot tell what learning is happening and what connections are being made. Only last week they were talking about the 1950s nuclear bomb tests in the USA, information they had apparently gleaned largely from the scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull', a new 'Nuketown Map' they'd bought for one of their games and goodness knows where else. We certainly haven't had any 'lessons' about it. I don't doubt that to some extent they're also weighing up the probability of surviving such a blast by hiding in a refrigerator and have an appreciation of artistic licence! I look forward to future conversations :)

I was insulting my children to place my own value judgements on the way they spend their time.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

So, we now have no limits to screens at all. It's clearly the right thing for our family at this time. To be honest, it's not such a big step for me really. I have always taken an interest in their gaming and other online activities, we share all kinds of things with each other. I'm a gamer myself, on the PC. I've just let go of the need I felt to limit certain activities and the fear that they'd be stuck in a darkened room shooting pixelled images for ever.

I needn't have worried. Lots of gaming goes on, with all the learning and socialising that entails. Xboxes are moved from bedrooms to the living room and back. Sometimes they play alone, sometimes with each other, sometimes online with others. The TV goes on and off. Phones are checked constantly, then forgotten. There's almost always a laptop in use somewhere.

Other activities at the moment include researching and creating comics, digital photography, learning the guitar, creating Minecraft maps, discovering more about the International Space Station and life in space, developing drawing techniques, investigating vegan recipes and more....all using screens.

Coincidentally, not long after making this change I came across Sandra Dodd's writings on screen time, which includes the comment:

I think the problem is the idea of "screen time". Have you considered putting limits on paper time? Cloth time? Other-human time? 

This mirrored my recent thoughts exactly. As did this, in reply to someone who was asking for some advice about what would happen if she stopped limiting her son's iPod time:

Maybe he would play it all day for days. If he did, it would probably be partly because he loves it, and partly because you created a high value by limiting it. At the moment, you're training him to think about it all the time even when he's not playing it.

Hmmm, sounded a lot like my experience with J and the Xbox!! And he recently confirmed my feelings, saying that he had felt obsessed when it was limited and that now he doesn't. Oh, and can he please learn to play the bass guitar?

Guess we'll be turning to YouTube for some tutorials then!