Why I Don’t Restrict My Children’s Time on the Computer

“How long have you been on your computer, Mum?” asks my daughter Imogen.
“You’ll be getting rectangular eyes if you’re not careful.”
“Not long,” I say hurriedly. “Oh, all right. I admit it. I’ve
been on here quite a while, but you should see what I’ve been doing.”
The girls gather round and I proudly show them an animation
I’m working on.
“Look! My sprite is moving across the screen and then it turns
around and comes back,” I say with a big grin on my face.
Yesterday, the girls and I discovered the website Scratch:
With Scratch, you can
program your own interactive stories, games, and animations — and share your
creations with others in the online community.

Scratch helps young
people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work
collaboratively — essential skills for life in the 21st century.

Scratch is a project
of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. It is provided free of
charge.

All evening Sophie, Gemma-Rose and I sat side-by-side trying
to work out the basics of using code to make an animation. It wasn’t long
before we had sprites moving across the screen, but they were gliding rather
than walking. We just couldn’t work out how to move their legs.
The girls went off to bed but I continued experimenting.
Suddenly I knew what to do. I got so excited. There was no way I was going to
be able to wait until the morning to share my cleverness with the girls. I ran
to their room: “Are you still awake? I’ve worked it out! I know how to make
a sprite walk!”
This morning I shared my new animating knowledge with my daughters. Soon fish and aliens and people were all swimming and marching and
strolling back and forth across the screen. Then we moved onto new problems.
Sophie wanted to add conversation to her animation, and I experimented with
music. Gemma-Rose has been modifying sprites, customising them to her taste. I
predict we will be spending lots of hours on the computer as we try to conquer
the skill of coding.
Lots of hours on the computer? That sounds rather
frightening, doesn’t it? Do we want our children spending so much time in front
of the screen? Perhaps we should limit them to half an hour or an hour of
computer time a day?
“Mum, your hour is up. I’m sorry but you’ve got to go and do
something else now,” orders Imogen.
“But… but… I’ve almost solved this problem. I can’t leave my
code right now.”
“No buts, Mum! I want to see you outside getting some fresh
air.”
I huff and I puff, and I glare at the girls.
Imogen bursts into giggles. “Oh okay! Just joking, Mum. If
you want to keep working you can.”
I giggle too. But I also think how frustrating it would have
been to interrupt my thought processes and stop work when I was right in the
middle of a challenge.
I spend a lot of time on the computer, not usually making
animations but writing. I enter my own creative world as I write and it is
often difficult to return to the real world at a moment’s notice. I
understand when my girls are also absorbed in their writing. Now I am wondering
if the same thing happens when kids get involved with computer games and animations
and other activities.
But do we consider animating and game playing and game design as
worthwhile activities for children to be involved with? Are we willing to let them work for as long as they want? Work? Or a waste of time? I guess that’s the big question. Kids would certainly
say they’re doing worthwhile work. I think I would too. It’s problem solving. It involves creative and
thinking skills. And like it or not, computer technology is part of our world, something our children need to know about. It also happens to be fun.
By the way, there’s an interesting TED talk about the value of children learning coding, Let’s Teach Kids to Code, on the parents’ page of the Scratch website.
If you’re not sure about all this and you’re worried about
how much time your kids are spending on the computer, I’d get on there with
them. Ask them to share their passion. See what’s absorbing their interest.
Join in and have some fun with them.
If we share our children’s interests, perhaps they’ll share
ours. Well, that’s how it seems to happen in our family. We’re always sharing
each other’s passions and learning from each other. We have loads of things we
like to do. And right at the moment we are enjoying animation. But not exclusively…
“I’m off to have a run,” I say, as I close my computer.
“I’ll finish that animation later.” I have decided, without any prompting from my bossy children, that it’s time to do something else.
“While you’re running, I’ll practise the piano,” says Sophie.
Gemma-Rose continues fiddling about with her sprite. That’s
okay. I understand: Animation is absorbing.  
Now I know my animation isn’t that impressive but I wish I
could share it with you. My cute little orange sprite marches across my fading pink background to the strains of the Tenebrous Brothers Carnival. I wonder if sharing an animation on a blog is even possible. I’m sure I’ll work out everything eventually. I’m
an ‘old’ mum learning new tricks. 
Why don’t you join me? If our children want to spend time on the computer, why should we miss out on all the fun?

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Comments

  1. Reply

    The computer can be a great tool for learning and for creativity, can't it? My problem is that I find it all too confusing. I use my iPad for simple things but I avoid the computer if I can. Instead, of worrying about using the computer too much, I worry about not using it enough.

    It's great how you balance your computer time with exercise. Your days sound very full and satisfying.

    Looking forward to seeing your animation!

    God bless, Sue:-)

    1. Reply

      Vicky,

      Children are very good at learning computer skills without our help. I bet if you direct yours towards an activity they'd soon be teaching you. Whenever I need help with technology I always go to one of my kids. They seem to enjoy knowing more than me, and helping me out!

      There are so many exciting and interesting things to learn using the computer. We were experimenting with a music synthesiser the other day, after watching a video about maths and musicians. Yes, our days do seem to be full.

      We manage to exercise because we 'peg' it as Leonie would say. In the summer, we exercise before breakfast. In the autumn and spring, we exercise before morning tea. And in the winter we all have our own time slots for using the treadmill. I guess it's just habit. Also I'm fortunate to be in good health so I make the most of it. It's not so easy for some people.

      I hope I find a way of sharing my animation. I'd better work on it a bit more though. I haven't worked out how to end it. It goes on and on and on… How do I stop that little sprite. I guess I will find out!

  2. Hello Sue 🙂 I've been enjoying all your posts lately as usual so I thought I'd come by and express my appreciation.
    Congratulations on your animation skills!
    I loved Lori Pickert's recent piece about screen time – http://project-based-homeschooling.com/camp-creek-blog/sliver-or-how-stop-fighting-about-screen-time
    Like you, Lori points out that sometimes we need larger stretches of screen time to meet our learning needs, and limiting screen time for the sake of it can create a frustrating scarcity situation.
    This is something I'm often thinking about in relation to my 8 year old who is a classic games-obsessed boy. I see him surrounded by devices and I try to have faith that one day he is going to have a fulfilling career which will depend on the ability to manipulate and process multiple information streams at speed – he can certainly process things way faster than me already!
    Lucinda
    ps the Norwegian's going very well 🙂

    1. Reply

      Hi Lucinda.

      Thank you for the link. I enjoyed Lori's post very much. It made a lot of sense. Sometimes I think we have to put ourselves in our children's shoes in order to assess a situation properly. Yes, it's almost impossible to do anything worthwhile on the computer if time is limited and we have one eye on the clock.

      It doesn't take long for kids to outdo their parents, does it? I can't keep up with any of mine either! Does your son like to design games as well as play them? My girls all like to use Gamestar Mechanic and have learnt a lot about game design from that site.

      I used to have two game obsessed teenage boys but they hardly ever play games any more. They're too busy with other things. Actually all that games experience has come in very handy for Duncan who is doing a Masters degree, in order to become a primary school teacher. He has to use animation, game design and other software skills to present his work and also create resources for students.

      It's good to hear you're doing well with the Norwegian. My Danish has sort of come to a halt. There are just too many wonderful things to do in one day!

  3. I love hearing about grown children for whom everything has worked out. I wish I could internalise the reassurance! Thank you for sharing about your sons.

    Gamestar Mechanic looks right up Jasper's street – thank you! He's been using Scratch and GameMaker but Gamestar is more more visually appealing.

    I'm trying to get in as much Norwegian as I can before our trip because I know from experience that as soon as I get back I will drop it in favour of the many other things I want to do (isn't it wonderful?). It's nice to have a strong incentive to learn!

    Have a lovely weekend. Lucinda

    1. Reply

      Lucinda,

      I really do have a big advantage over many homeschoolers. Because I already have four children that have moved from homeschooling to university and even work, I have confidence in our homeschooling and parenting methods, that wasn't possible years ago. It was so much more difficult then. I used to worry so much! Now all I worry about is getting old and our homeschooling days coming to an end!

      I had a go at Gamestar Mechanic when the girls first signed up. I was hopeless! I couldn't even make it through the first few levels of the very first quest. And I had no idea about game design. My first game wasn't very good at all. I was amazed at how much there is to learn. A computer game is actually very complicated in its design. I hope Jasper enjoys the website if he decides to open an account.

      If my trip to Denmark was all booked and paid for, I'm sure I'd be working furiously at my Danish, just like you are doing with your Norwegian. Need is a great incentive to learn!

      I hope you're enjoying the weekend too!

  4. Reply

    Monitoring the computer use is a toughy! My youngest is into Minecraft – he would spend hours and hours constructing if I'd allow him to. I have to say that he has learned a lot from it though.

    By the way, I love your header. Who is the sweet child with the multi colored hair? My daughter's hair is part blue right now – on the ends – She's my spunky child!

    1. Reply

      Dana,

      So lovely to see you here on this blog!

      I've heard others also say that Minecraft is a learning experience, though my girls haven't tried it. I have to admit I did and couldn't work it out! Perhaps I'm too old. I am getting to grips with Scratch though. I've made a few animations. So have the girls. Theirs are so much better than mine. Kids amaze me with their ability to work things out quickly on their own.

      Sophie drew my blog header. The girl with the multi coloured hair is my daughter Felicity. Spunky? That's a very positive way of describing children with very individual ways of doing things! Why be like the crowd? Hair doesn't worry me. It grows so quickly so if a style doesn't look good it doesn't last long. I can remember my own mother lamenting over my hair disasters when I was a teenager. Looking back I'm sure I didn't look as good as I imagined but I had fun!

  5. Reply

    I only allowed an hour or 2 for my kids to use the computer. They can only play nothing but educational games. Exposing kids online is very dangerous.

    1. Reply

      Laurena,

      You are quite right: there are lots of dangers online. That's why I always know what my children are doing online. I wonder what your favourite educational games are. There are some great games to choose from. I am amazed just how much children can learn using the computer.

      Of course, we all know our own children best and I respect your choices for your own children. I think if my children were constantly on their computers and not inclined to go outside or do other things, I might be worried and think about computer limits too. As it is, they are involved with so many different things, I don't see their computer time as a problem.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your comment!

  6. Reply

    Sue, we are heading towards unschooling, but this is the one area I really struggle with. I have so enjoyed reading about your family's adventures over the past month (having read your blog almost in its entirety!) and I see much of our family in yours (so to speak) but the whole computer issue is a biggie for me. My eldest son has just started playing minecraft and he too would spend hours on it, although he always chooses to do the work he has set himself before he plays and he always takes breaks, usually without me prompting him. I'm just scared he will one day be addicted and it would be something I could have prevented (possibly) by monitoring the situation. That said, I completely understand the importance of a child becoming self governing from as early age as they are ready. I think maybe because I didn't grow up with technology its potential power scares me. What is your experience with your boys and computer games? (I have little to no issue with the children researching on the computer it is just the unknown world of games)

    1. Reply

      Sorry, I missed Lucinda's first comment somehow. Did your boys play for hours on end or did you see them naturally balance out their day? I hope I'm not prying too much.

    2. Reply

      Angelicscalliwags,

      You've read most of my blog? Wow! Thank you for reading my stories.

      Computer usage seems to be the biggest concern of unschooling parents. Some people say that children learn to self regulate even though they might have an intense period of activity, if their usage used to be limited, while they adjust to their new freedom. Others say their children get addicted without any rules. I haven't experienced the latter case but I'm not saying it doesn't happen. Parents know their own children best.

      My sons were in a different situation to that of my girls. They grew up sharing one family computer. With lots of siblings waiting for their turn, they didn't get much computer time. I didn't have to make limits because it just wasn't possible to give everyone all the time they wanted on the computer. When they were teenagers, the boys bought themselves computers and regulated their own usage. I must say they enjoyed a lot of game time for a while. Then they got it out of their system. Life became too busy with other things and they didn't have time to spend very long playing games. These days they still enjoy a computer game every now and then but have other interests. I think Callum would much rather be working outside on his car rather than be inside on his computer.

      I chatted about this question with my 19 year old daughter Imogen as we were driving to the train station this morning. She feels the answer to the problem of too much time on the computer is to show kids all the other things they could be doing, expand their horizons. Sitting at the computer is easy. What shall I do? I'll turn on my computer. Maybe we need to provide other learning experiences to entice our children away from the computer, but not force them away. Show them some other possibilities perhaps. Arrange outings, watch DVDs, play sport… I spend too much time on the computer writing but I have been enticed away by my new camera. Learning how to use it and experimenting with it have kept me busy.

      But if kids do seem attached to their computers perhaps they could branch out further than games. There's lots of amazing things kids can do on the computer. I wrote a blog post list of activities fairly recently. The computer really is a wonderful tool. And I guess technology is just the way of the world these days. Technology could have a frightening hold on our children, but it also gives them the power to do amazing things.

      It sounds like your son is regulating himself well, taking breaks and doing other things before he starts playing. Whenever I find a new computer software program, I want to spend excessive time experimenting with it until I get the hang of it. Maybe this is what's happening with your son.

      I wonder if you could join in with the Minecraft games sometimes. Sharing our children's computer time is good. I have found kids like us to take an interest in their world and they like explaining what they're doing. If we are prepared to share their interests perhaps they are more willing to listen to our own suggestions and join in with our activities.

      We don't want our children to end up with problems that could have been prevented if only we'd done something about the situation earlier. I can understand your concern. I wouldn't want to tell you your son will certainly have no problems. I only know my own children. But they seem to be growing up well balanced as far as the computer goes.

      A final thought… could you discuss your concerns with your son and ask his opinion. He might be able to come up with a computer strategy that satisfies both of you. This might be better than laying out the rules. If kids have been consulted and have a say in the outcome, they feel happier about complying.

Join in the conversation!

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