Watching TV, Playing on the Computer, Doing Nothing Much at All


Continuing our ‘transition from homeschooling to unschooling’ discussion…

So all of a sudden there are no homeschooling plans to follow. You aren’t saying, “This is what I want you to do today.” You’re hoping your children will be eager to follow their own noses when it comes to learning. You’ve imagined them using their new freedom to pursue impressive projects. Other unschoolers are doing wonderful things. You’re excited because soon your kids will be doing amazing things too.

But they don’t. They’re sitting on the sofa watching TV. When they’re not doing that, they’re playing computer games. Or they’re lounging around, doing nothing much at all. And you are worried because this isn’t what you had in mind when you said, “You’re free to do what you want.”

Of course, I’m just imagining another scenario to get us thinking and talking. But I’ve heard this situation is exactly what happens in some families. Have you been there and done that? Are you going through it at the moment? I wonder what would help.

Some people say kids need a deschooling period between schooling and homeschooling. Maybe kids also need such a period when they are transitioning to unschooling from more structured learning. There are times in our lives when we all need a break, especially when we’re experiencing a big life change. We need time to rest, think, do nothing in particular. A time to adjust. A time when nothing much is expected of us. I have had difficult periods in my life. Getting through each day was enough for me without doing anything additional. Then one day I woke up and felt ready to tackle new challenges, and I was off again, chasing new adventures. When we think about it, transitioning to unschooling isn’t a small event, particularly if homeschooling was stressful, which it probably was, because if all had been going okay, why change?


But just say, you’ve been patient and still your kids aren’t showing any signs of making a move towards self-directed learning. Could it be they are already doing this? The problem may be their learning doesn’t look anything like what you imagined.

The television and the computer are great learning tools. I can’t see how our kids could fail to learn while using them. Both present information. The computer is also interactive. I am constantly amazed at what we can do with computers and the Internet. There are so many wonderful opportunities to do so many unbelievable things, only a click of the mouse away. I made a list, not so long ago, of some of the things my girls are doing on their computers… animating, learning to code, editing movies, writing, designing blogs, watching videos, designing games…

All that sounds good, but what if a child only wants to use the computer for games? Games are good too. I’ve tried playing some of the computer games my girls like, and I am hopeless. I just can’t think or react quickly enough. My brain doesn’t make the right connections. I am absolutely sure that computer games are teaching my children to think creatively and to problem solve. We have a tendency to dismiss things we have survived without, or don’t understand. Perhaps sitting next to a child and asking them to explain a game will help us value what they are doing. I am always so delighted when someone wants to share my passions, when she takes an interest in what I‘m doing. Why should it be any different for our children?

We might be able to accept the computer is a valid tool for learning. We might even be happy to let our children play computer games. Maybe the problem isn’t actually the computer (or the TV).  It could just be the amount of time a child spends using them. We might worry when we see a child sitting in front of a screen hour after hour. We might feel like saying, “Go and do something else! Go outside and get some fresh air!” How do we get our kids to balance their screen time with other activities? Can we? And is it inevitable that every child will want to spend excessive time on their computers if we let them?

I can only tell you about my own family. All my children have their own computers and they use them whenever they like, for as long as they like, for whatever purpose. We have no computer (or any screen) rules. So do my girls spend all day on the computer? No. Not having rules doesn’t necessarily mean no regulation. My children moderate their usage for themselves. They have loads of other things they like doing. They play the piano, sing, run, sew, draw, read, talk… They lead balanced lives. They tell me there are so many interesting things to do, they don’t want to spend all their time in front of the computer.


Interesting things to do… Could we enrich our children’s worlds, show them other possibilities, give them new ideas, expand their horizons… by strewing? Could we invite them to share our own activities? If we are willing to share their computer worlds, they might be more inclined to share our interests too, or at least listen when we suggest alternate activities. Although my girls love using their computers, they also love spending time with me. If I say something like, “Let’s walk up to the village and buy ice cream… Shall we read together… I could help you with that sewing…” my girls will close their computers (unless they need time to return from their creative worlds. I’ll talk about this further on.) I wonder if all kids respond like this when we spend time nurturing our relationships. Or is it just a personality thing? 

Could it be some children might be overdosing on the computer because suddenly restrictions have been relaxed and they are hungrily catching up on what they feel they have missed out on? When they realise the computer won’t suddenly disappear, they might pull back and start to moderate their usage naturally. I’ve heard this is some people’s experience.

But I’ve also heard some parents say their children are addicted to the computer. Or they think addiction is a definite possibility and want to avoid it. I respect that point of view. I’m not saying addiction is impossible or that parents worry about such things for nothing because I don’t know what other families’ children are like. I only know my own. (Is there some research linking certain chemical reactions in the brain to computer usage? I don’t know much about this area.) All I can say is this: Having no computer rules doesn’t inevitably mean addiction because it hasn’t happened to us.

Then again, perhaps addictions do happen to everyone. It depends on how you look at it. We are all passionate about something. I love writing. You could say I’m addicted. Every opportunity I get, I open my computer and start composing. If my computer isn’t handy, I scribble in a notebook. I have lots of notebooks. I grab whichever one I find first. I write when I’m supposed to be doing housework. I forget to eat.  I write in my head while I’m lying in bed. I even dream about writing. It’s most inconvenient when I’m in need of some good sleep. But most people would say writing is good. We all want our children to like writing. (Mine do.) So my addiction is probably acceptable. It is true, I do other things besides write. I run most mornings with my girls. I make sure I spend time with my children before I start writing. But once I have entered my creative world, I have effectively disappeared.


If I want my children to be willing to put aside their ‘addictions’, I must be willing to put aside mine. This means pulling myself out of my creative world whenever I am needed. This is hard. But because we are all writers in our family, we understand each other and make allowances for this. I don’t often expect my children to interrupt their activities at a moment’s notice. They are gentle with me too. This is why I think a time limit rule for computers is not appropriate. (Computers are our main writing tool.) I wrote a bit about this in the post: Restricting Children’s Time on the Computer.

So I spend a lot of time writing and that might be acceptable. If I were practising the piano for hours or reading book after book that would be okay too. But what if I spent all that time playing on the computer instead? You’d probably tell me I have a problem. I suppose what we are talking about here is putting a value on different types of learning.


If we are unschoolers we accept certain unschooling principles (or we are working towards accepting them). We trust a child will learn what he needs to know when he needs to know it. But do we always believe this? Or are we only really at ease with unschooling when a child’s choices match our own expectations? This can be hard. How do we learn to let go and trust our children fully?

Would you like to talk about this next time?

In the meantime, please share your experiences, and if you have any relevant posts, please feel welcome to add the links to the comments!

You might also like to read Amy’s post, Letting Go: Our Journey to Unschooling. Read the comments too. They contain some interesting thoughts on screen time. 

And if you didn’t see Hwee’s and Shelly’s links to their transition posts, you’ll find them in the comments for the previous post: Encouraging Children So They Get Excited About Learning.



Images; I can’t remember what the girls were doing on the computer. I was more interested in taking my photos. But I know they were working together and enjoying themselves. No doubt they were also learning (even if it turns out they were ‘only’ playing a game).
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Comments

  1. Reply

    I don't have much to add, but this was a very interesting read, thank you 🙂 And yes, please do continue the conversation.

    1. Reply

      Kelly,

      Thank you. I wonder what I can say in the next post. I'll shall have to start writing and see what comes to mind!

  2. Reply

    There are some interesting points you have made. Especially when you compare computer time or video games with things that are acceptable like reading or writing. They are certainly things to consider.

    1. Reply

      Mumma Dragon,

      I wonder why we have such a hard time accepting computers. They don't encourage our children to be any more self-absorbed or stationary than reading or writing. Actually my mother used to say, "You haven't got your head in a book again, have you?" I used to feel guilty reading book after book. Now reading is encouraged, the more books the better. Maybe it's just a generational thing.

      Thank you for stopping by!

  3. Reply

    I'm starting to think that if, in fact, there was a problem with "addiction" type behavior, I believe it's better for them to come to it on their own. It may be better for them to come to everything on their own. I am learning to trust more. Great post.

    1. Reply

      Michelle,

      It is really hard to tell someone we think they have a problem, and not very effective either. I have nagged and nagged about things in the past, and come to the conclusion unless someone decides for themselves their behaviour is a problem, nothing changes. The decision and response have to come from within and not be imposed by me. I think we all deal with addiction type behaviour at various times. So many people say they need to get off FB for example, and do something else for a while. When I do have a problem it niggles away within me until I do something about it. I would resent someone telling me I have to change though! I wonder if it's the same with our children.

      Thanks for reading my post. I always enjoy reading your comments!

  4. Reply

    I really needed this. Right now we're going through a period where gaming is all my two oldest want to do. You've helped me realize that it could be the fact that they do have more time to do this now, and the fact that they just got their laptops last month. I've designated the hours between 1 and 4 as screen-free time, but I don't really like doing that because I'm telling them to pursue their passions, but then I'm taking them away for three hours a day. I'm really torn. I wrote about it here- http://redheadmom8.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/sorting-things-out-limiting-screen-time/.
    As for addictions, I agree 100%. Just the other day a woman was being very nasty to someone who posted that their children have unlimited screen time. I found myself sticking up for the blogger, despite the fact that I do set limits, albeit small ones. The subject of addiction came up, and the woman remarked that you don't ever hear of someone being addicted to playing the piano or writing poetry. I quickly remarked that that's because society recognizes those activities as having value, so they refer to those people as "dedicated," instead of addicted.

    1. Reply

      Shelly,

      I wonder if we restrict an activity we actually make it more attractive to our children. What do you think? That activity then becomes more precious because they aren't allowed to do it whenever they want. It's looked upon as extraordinary rather than just one of the many things they could be doing.

      Oh I like your story about the piano and poetry. Yes, we'd be delighted if our kids wanted to spend many hours practising the piano. What dedication! We might even boast about how good they are and what they are achieving. "My child is a champion gamer…" it doesn't sound the same, does it? But I am sure it wouldn't take much research to find very successful and intelligent people who have changed the world because they spent so much time 'addicted' to computers and games.

      I watched a TED talk about gaming. The presenter said the world needs more kids playing more hours of games. I didn't quite understand at the time. It sounded such a foreign idea. Maybe that's the problem: We don't understand things we've never experienced ourselves. Our kids are growing up and learning in a different way to us.

      I will read your post. Thank you for your link. Thank you also for adding to the conversation!

  5. Reply

    Sue,

    Thank you so much for this blog post. As we transition into unschooling after traditional school for several years, the use of technology is always up for debate in my brain. You have put my mind at ease. I feel relaxed and willing to change my perception on computer and TV usage. Just because I didn't grow up playing computer games doesn't mean they're wrong. Putting a moral compass on technology is silly when you stop and think about it.

    I just watched a talk from a woman who was unschooled. Ashra Taylor said that she always had her head in a book, so much so that her mother threw her book out of the car window after failing to gain her attention. Today, you could easily replace "book" with "iPad" (although a much more expensive loss if thrown out the window!).

    Today I Will sit down with my kids while they play Minecraft or any other game and gain some perspective. Thanks. Your blog is my lifeline right now as we settle into unschooling. Warmest Regards, Anne

  6. Reply

    Anne,

    Technology is such a hard issue. We want to do our best for our kids and so we need to make the right decisions. Maybe it's difficult to accept new ways of doing things especially when the old ones served us so well. I have found though that technology opens up so many possibilties. I am continually amazed at what we are able to learn and achieve because of them. For example, my girls wouldn't be making music videos if we didn't have access to computers. It just wouldn't be possible for them.

    I can also remember my mother complaining about me reading too many books. I was definitely addicted! But these days, most people have no trouble with kids reading. It's an acceptable activity. (I hope no one ever throws an iPad out the window!)

    I had an interesting conversation with my girls the other day about books and computers. If we use our computers to write, that's generally seen as better than using them to play computer games. If we close our computers and read a book, that's seen as best of all. But is that really the case? All three activities can be described as sedentary and even solitary. Games, however, can collaborative. And so can writing in some cases. Both writing and computer games involve building and exploring imaginary worlds. They present lots of opportunities for problem solving and creative thinking. When we read books, however, we're reading about someone else's imagined world. Reading is more of a passive activity. Not that reading doesn't lead to wonderful things. It can lead to creations of our own. So maybe all three activities are valuable in themselves. We can accept all of them. Anyway, just a few thoughts we were discussing!

    I hope you enjoyed sharing Minecraft with your children. My girls aren't big gamers, despite having unlimited access to their computers, and so aren't Minecraft players, but I've heard a lot of good things about this game.

    I am so glad you are finding my blog helpful. Thank you for letting me know. I appreciate your kind words, and I've enjoyed chatting to you. Warm regards to you too!

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