Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"screen time" ~ in praise of

As a teenager and young adult, I never owned a television set.  I had roommates with one, or I did without.  It was never a priority.  No problem.

I still have never bought a television.  We have a couple of old hand-me-down ones that don't actually get television channels, but are perfectly adequate for our usage.  On one, we play Wii and stream shows and movies on Netflix.  The other is used to watch DVDs and videos from the library.  

We have two computers.   The main computer is used by Papa to work from home during the weekdays.  In the evenings, it also gets used for playing computer games on sites like PBS Kids, or the newest favorite, Animal Jam (a mulitplayer online game by National Geographic Kids). It can stream Netflix as well, or be used for typing up stories or poems, playing logic puzzle games, staying in touch with friends, researching any subject, editing pictures, creating digital art, watching YouTube videos, blogging, looking up recipes, etc.

The computer in Camille's room primarily gets used for listening to audio books and for playing Wizard101.  We also have a tablet computer with a few fun apps and internet access.  

painting Papa's purple office walls

When we finish Papa's office, we will have yet another computer available during the days.  

Why am I telling you all of this?

Among many conscientious parenting circles, there is a huge emphasis on limiting children's "screen time", as if anything one did with a screen may be just like any other. I find many of the things that one can do with a screen to be very valuable for unschooling. Many radical unschoolers have written about "screen time", including the Economics of Restricting TV Watching of Children.  

Screens can act as a portal to another world.  Camille has learned guitar chords by watching YouTube videos.  Sylvia has been enthralled by geological features and animals all over the world via nature documentaries.  Ayla has sung along and danced with entertaining children's television shows. In the evenings, I have sometimes found all three girls piled on Papa's lap, laughing at an episode of Phineas and Ferb.  We've had discussions about social and ethical issues because of the show 30 Days.  We've seen what life might have been like over 100 years ago in a small English hamlet in Larkrise to Candleford.  

Screens (or rather the things happening on those screens) can be exciting or relaxing.  They can be interactive.  They can be educational.  They can also be pleasant background to more social or energetic activity.

When heavily limited and controlled, they can be a source of stress and contention in the relationships between parents and children, instead of a shared resource.

As far as I know, all devices with screens have off buttons.  When children have a myriad of other interesting things to do both in and out of the home, they will utilize those off buttons.  I think the parental fear that motivates restrictive limits is that children will not make that choice.  Why wouldn't they?

 We have been through a week of illness being passed from one family member to another, and bitingly cold temperatures outside, and yet, I have been thankful for the relative peace within our cozy house.  A fair amount of that time has been spent snuggled under blankets, watching shows together and playing Zach and Wiki on the Wii.

Today, the television stayed off during almost all of the daylight hours.  We listened to albums, built with wooden blocks, worked on an embroidery project, read aloud Archers, Alchemists and 98 Other Medieval Jobs You Might Have Loved or Loathed, worked puzzles, painted, made split pea soup, played games, and generally enjoyed each others' company.

 embroidering a deer

 dozing, pink-cheeked, under her magazine

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Game

Without arbitrary limits, "screen time" doesn't have an inflated, mystical quality, it's just another option among many enticing options.

When I spend time with my children, engaged and attentive, I can see the learning happening, whether we are hiking in nature, contemplating fractals, or laughing at complex social interactions in a cartoon.  I also see the joy and the togetherness :).


  1. I agree with you. Balance is such a big thing when it comes to almost anything. We have screen time here too for movies and the internet. When it's not so much of an issue the children tend not to want too much of it anyway :)

  2. Exactly! Right now, we're enjoying the Ken Burn's documentary on World War II (which my oldest is really into right now). It's about engagement and also, critical thinking. Thanks for sharing :)

  3. I have yet to find my balance with screens yet. We have no TV but can watch DVDs, which we do two or three times a week. It is the computer I struggle with I have tried to not limit but my eldest stays on for hours and hours, so I am back to limiting which he seems ok with at the moment but I wish he could self limit.

  4. Great post Nikole! Kai just bought Zack and Wiki for the Wii too, with Christmas money! He's enjoying it - but mostly playing LOTR Lego atm! I'm SO glad we've never limited, because I think it'd be hard to let go of limits once you'd had them. For Kai, it's never been an issue - we have friends who are not allowed computer games at all, or who have limits, and it is a totally foreign concept for him. I'm so glad of that :)

  5. Lovely post Nikole, I have learnt from my children that arbitrary limits just do no work, they just cause stress and disconnection. We have so much fun with the internet and dvds now, just one moment ago our Horrible Histories Dvd arrived in the post, so that will be watched at some point today!

    Tarka and Mia love Wizard 101, we had never heard of it until we read your post, thank you :)

    Gina x x

  6. Thanks for sharing this slice of your "life with screens." It's true that screens are just tools that can be used for SO many different activities. Here's a post I wrote on screens as tools in our society, and kids' desires to imitate and practice behavior that they observe in adults - which increasingly involves screens! :)


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