We get the “my kids are doing nothing but play video games/watch tv/look at a screen and I can’t stand it, what should I do?” question about once every week or so on our (now huge) Christian unschooling Facebook group. It has become the norm. We are all kind of tired of it. Really. For many reasons. Mostly because we hear the fear, we know the paradigm shift hasn’t occurred yet, and we know it will be a fight to get there, and that part is exhausting. The following is a recent response that I wrote while super-short on sleep but which ended up covering all the basics in one place.
To pull from something my dear friend Pam often points out; how much time is “nothing other than game on their PC/ds/Wii”. Do they get up to get a drink? Go to the bathroom? Eat something? Sleep? If they are doing those things then clarify. They are doing something other than just playing games. They are probably getting up. They may even jump around, do other things. They may spend a few minutes getting something, look something up, they may even go play with something else for a while, go outside, play together beside the tv, they are very likely doing something else too. We need to see those things and recognize that no, the child is not spending “all their time”, they are spending more time than we feel comfortable with. When we start out with a generalization, it is really hard to get from the viewpoint of seeing it in a negative light to seeing “screens” as many different types of learning and internal things going on and the screen itself as just the media they are getting those things.
My husband spends the majority of his day in front of a screen. Working, playing, socializing. He does many different things and yes, he has always preferred doing things in front of a computer screen to elsewhere- there are just so many more things to do, it is a vast world full of many, many types of media in one place- no huge mess to clean up when he wants to play a game, he can write quickly and efficiently, read quickly and move between many different things to read, watch a movie, change the movie, and so on. It is an amazing, miraculous thing that allows us to communicate with our friends across the world (he collaborates with people all across the US weekly on huge projects), work anywhere (he works with people from all across the globe) and so on. It is amazing that this technology is available in our lifetimes and our children get to learn the language of it now, easily, without fear. Our kids are going to live in a world where much of their time is going to be in front of the computer. Some people won’t, but the vast majority will. They will use it for work, for play, for socialization, and as unschoolers we have the freedom to let them learn it right now, first hand, and be proficient at it. This is a huge boon compared to kids who are stuck in a classroom unable to look things up as they are interested. Our kids will be well prepared for the future, right now.
“Technology is here to stay. So why would I choose to keep my kids illiterate in the language that they may need for the future? A half an hour a day does not give kids time to explore the land scape.” ~Aza Donnelly
That said, if you are still really uncomfortable with how much time they are spending, then you get off the computer (you are here, reading this, communicating with others, online) and do really cool things out where they will see. Things that they will love. You make things available that go with what they love on their games (you will probably have to get online to research those things). You find things that associate with what they are doing so there is a connection- if they are into a game that has an associated tv show or other media then there are probably lots of products out there related to it- pick up a book connected with it, or some figurines, or whatever. If there is a website that has info about the game they are playing (hints, a walkthrough, a wiki- my kids learned to navigate the internet and read because they loved looking up info for their games) put it on your screen and show it to them. If the fact that they would be reading it on a screen bothers you, then you can often buy a gamers guide but they do get expensive. Offer to help them create a database of the characters and their skills, or print up ones you find online for quick reference. Pick up a gaming magazine for kids, or a book about the collectibles or whatever. Find ways you can connect with the kids where they are, ask them about the games, the shows, whatever. Bring them healthy finger foods if you are worried about what they are eating or that they aren’t eating enough. Ask them about the game, what they are playing, the plot, the people in the games. Let them know you are thinking about them and want to encourage their interests. Find some aspect you can understand and join them where they are.
This will help you connect with them and really get a feel for what they are getting out of all the things they do on that form of media, and maybe even why. And as they feel you are really trying and aren’t going to “take it away” and that you aren’t frowning about it at them, they will loosen their hold on it a bit and gradually they will start joining you in the cool things you are doing (not all), they will start looking at the books, playing with the associated toys or crafts, and so on. (Many of us have minecraft posters on the wall, or Pokemon, or Skylanders, or Terraria, and books, and action figures, stuffies, houses full of geek references.) Meeting them where they are will help you feel connection with them again (which is usually where the parents panic when they start feeling the kids are doing “nothing but screen things”.) It takes time for both sides, but it is like learning another language and our kids get to do it first-hand and be prepared for this changing world where screens are an everyday all the time part of our lives.