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!

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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.

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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!


  1. Such a valuable and helpful post Jane - so relevant and insightful. x

    1. Thanks Ross. We're all going to deal with these things differently, but it always helps me to read how others have handled things so I feel it's only right to pass my experiences on too!

  2. I was once taught by a lady in her 80s who said that her mother used to limit her time reading books because they would rot her brain and stop her doing other creative things :)

    I remember being nagged as a child because I 'always had my nose in a book'. I also remember a friend of my sister was always obsessed with watching tv when she came around to play because she was banned from watching it at home. It's funny what each generation chooses to sanction. I wonder what gadget or form of entertainment our children will be limiting when they are parents.

    I'm all for boundaries and limits (appropriate to the child), but I find it's rather like dieting: as soon as something is off limits it becomes *so* much more attractive lol!

    1. That is so true! It's fear of the new a lot of the time isn't it?

  3. Thanks for this post! I don't have these issues right now (my children are all small) but I can see it all needs careful handling!

  4. Thank you Lynn. I don't know how I would have handled it when mine were younger. Back then we only had a TV and a family PC - laptops, smart phones, tablets, consoles etc didn't feature. I like to *think* I'd have come to the same conclusion ...... eventually....!

  5. I totally agree...however DS1 aged 11 turns minecraft on when he can't sleep and so he often feels unwell through lack of sleep as he has stayed up all night on I can't do any exciting trips out! Also he gets furious when laptop is on a seems there is an element of addiction there. I can't afford a lot of gaming equipment but he can't understand. The moods etc have a negative impact on the whole family. I would like to be able to manage it whilst respecting his wish to impose his own limits...personally I love reading and I have been told that my shortsightedness is caused by it and computer use!! What is deemed acceptable is interesting. I had a old lady friend when I was a child, born early 1900s, and she used to crochet...her mother used to tell her she would ruin her eyesight doing delicate work but her eyes were fine in her eighties! You never know! :-)

  6. This blog post worries me. I don't agree with unlimited screen time for children of all ages. I know too many children who are addicted to computer gaming, I know one 35 year old Bsc lady who cannot go out because she worries about what her team will get up to on world of warcraft. Total autonomy for children would have been a reasonable approach when we lived a continuum life style with few unhealthy choices. bed time at sundown, no unhealthy food etc, but todays society is bristling with unhealthy distractions and children don't necessarily have the overview to realise that eating loads of junk food or relentlessly playing on games could negatively impact later. Letting go of screen times in your household may be working really well, but I think it is irresponsible to recommend no limits as a general rule. For many kids computer games are highly addictive, and all that sitting down combined with autonomously eating junk food is resulting in the likelyhood that for the first time in history parents will outlive their children.

  7. Thank you for raising this. The addictive qualities of video games can't be overlooked.

    But what my post was saying is that firstly, we can't view 'screentime' as a blanket phrase and deal with it all in the same way. Screens aren't just for entertainment anymore, our children of all ages will be using screens for many reasons, including communication, fact finding, news gathering and so on. It's very complex.

    With regards to possible addiction, that used to worry me too, when I saw my son clock watching, waiting for the second he was allowed to play. But for us, removing the limits has removed the issue. Perhaps surprisingly, they are not playing video games 24/7. Partly because we home educate, I work to create a rich and varied environment for them. There are always a lot of other activities they can choose, and they do. And perhaps this is the's not video gaming per se that's a problem, but an environment in which gaming is the only attractive option.

    And just because I have removed limits, does not mean that I am paying no attention. I remain aware of this issue, as I am aware of all potential issues in my family. Should gaming look as if it might become a problem, we will deal with it as we would any other problem - by discussing it together. My children are all over 12, so it's not too long before they are living independently from me (in fact one already is). They won't then have me around to regulate their gaming, eating and anything else.

    I don't recommend any one approach over another as it's a very personal decision, but for me, instead of imposing arbitrary limits (as they would perceive them) and thereby raising the desirability, I would rather work with my teens to help them acquire the tools to deal with the aspects of our modern day life.

  8. This is such a tricky issue, I kind of agree with your theory but also the views of Mr orMs anonoymous. My 14 year old has no gaming devices but does have his own laptop. He does do creative stuff on it, such as editing and making films but he also just facebooks and film/tv watches for hours and hours. Iexperiment with letting him set his own limits (he has none) or coming down heavy and restricting use.....very very exhausting and difficult. My problem is that he is a physical energetic boy who gains nothing by sitting motionless for hours...does him no good.. It's definitely addictive and appealing, especially for boys, and I really feel their huge energies would be better spent largely on more tangible hands on activities....if only we could get a balance.
    Thanks for tackling this issue!

  9. Thank you for taking the time to comment :)

    I do agree with you, for some people the addictive qualities are very strong. My son is much more like that than either of my daughters.

    When you experimented with letting him set his own limits, how long did you do that for? I'm interested because it seemed to me that mine couldn't set their own limits either. But I don't think I gave it long enough. If something has been rationed so strictly, it's only natural to want to have it all the time if you suddenly can. Especially if you don't know if/when it will be taken away again! It's going to take time and patience.

    I think also that it's hard to set one's own limits. It's difficult to know exactly how to do that or why it's important. But that doesn't mean that we should just do it for them. To me, it's like everything else - if I always clean their clothes for them, I shouldn't be surprised if they can't use a washing machine. If I always set their limits for them, I shouldn't be surprised if they don't know how to do it themselves.

    Mine have been on screens A LOT. Really. But I decided that to panic and set limits again wasn't going to help. I'm using this time to observe and see where the issues lie (they're different for each child).

    Then we talk about them and work out some solutions together. We've started this already. So far so good.

    Also, I'm not passively leaving them to their own devices (no pun intended!!). I'm getting involved in what they are doing, suggesting other activities, planning trips out and so on.

    Removing the screen limits isn't a magical quick fix. It still takes work. But I just feel that working with them on this is going to have much better long term benefits than simply removing the problem.....

    I'll try and do a follow up post soon on how it's going!

  10. oh gosh we still haven't resolved this. at the moment we have a 'recreational screen use after 3.00pm) rule, with screens still being used for maths, documentaries, research etc before then.

    Eldest has a laptop and watches lots of tv/films on it... if this leads to bad behaviour (and with him it often does) then we step in and set a turn off time, or it's removed for a short time.

    Not sure this is the ideal situation, but I really like the Sandra Dodd quote and other comments about things that were restricted in different generations....


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