These systems worked ok, but as we got into unschooling and I read more about it both from the academic/schooling side as well as some radical unschooling ideas, I started questioning our restriction of media time. For the first time I was finding out about studies that suggested that playing video games might actually be beneficial, rather than just rotting their brains as popular opinion believes. Huh.
So a few months ago I lifted restrictions. The boys were now able to watch as much tv and play as many games as they wanted. Soon after we got our hand-me-down xbox from my brother-in-law, and the xbox gaming began.
It was easy to feel good about the boys watching shows like Wild Kratts, How It's Made, and MythBusters. It was fun to sit with them as they watched TV and be part of their running commentaries about what was going on, and for D how he would make his version of that show differently. I played their lego star wars games with them on the xbox, and quickly realized how difficult those games were, how much patience and creativity and problem-solving was required in figuring out how to beat each level, as well as the cooperation and communication skills it requires for a 6yo to play the games with his 3.5yr old brother.
But I also had my reservations, my doubts. It's tough to sit by and watch them play for hours upon hours every day, often only stopping when it was time to eat, go to bed, or if we had plans outside the house to go on. I read that often kids "binge" for a while when restrictions are lifted and then they settle down and "self-regulate" but after 3 months or so they were still going strong with round-the-clock gaming. I will also sheepishly admit that part of the doubting voices come from my worry of what others will think about my kids playing games all day...which has nothing to do with them and everything to do with my own insecurities.
I'm still struggling with it, honestly. I really do believe in the benefits of playing games and these stories they watch unfold. I think they are learning and gaining a lot from that. I want them to have plenty of time for this active activity they love. But I also want time for other things. I want time for reading, and playing board games, and going to parks. I want them to have time to be a little bored, because that's when they seem to come up with really fun and creative things to do. I want time for building with legos. And I realize many unschooling parents will find huge fault in all this "I want" coming from me, the parent, but I do feel it is important to find some sort of balance.
The nice thing is, that when I do ask them to take a break from the game 90% of the time they are fine with this and happily turn it off. I'm trying to help them be mindful about how and why they watch tv or play games-- most of the time they love it for the love of it, but I remember one day when D and I were playing xbox and he couldn't decide what level he wanted to play and just seemed restless... like he was bored and didn't know what to do. SoI suggested we take a break and do something else, and he agreed. Sometimes they will get really frustrated with the game, and I try to help them notice how their bodies feel and their voices rise when they're upset, and notice that they may want to take a short break (perhaps we all only just then noticed that they went all afternoon without a snack and desperately need to eat something).
So, anyway, yeah, I'm still struggling a little with it all. I don't want to impose arbitrary limits again, but I do want to allow for non-game time during the day. I can plan park days and errands and other outings, but I also like having time at home where playing xbox isn't the default activity. Right now we're trying a few new things, like that we don't turn the xbox on in the morning before we take Q to preschool. That just seems to work best, as we then have plenty of time in the morning for eating breakfast, getting dressed, and maybe some lego or reading books together, without being rushed bc they spent most of that time playing games. And on weekends (when my husband is around, who is having a harder time with the gaming free-for-all) we're working out deals with the boys about when they want to play and for how long, before we move on to another activity to do together. Most of the time they are happy to compromise with us and we find something that works for all of us, without much fighting or stomping of feet.
So we're trying this out, and I will continue reading, researching, and observing, watching them for cues on how we are doing with it, and finding our way. It's a balance, and one I'm sure will shift and sway all sorts of ways as time goes on.
Lastly, here are a few links I've found useful/informative as I think all this over:
- Why Some Learning Isn't Better Than Other Learning: Television and Books Through An Unschooling Lens
- Unschooling and Access to Media
- Why I Don't Worry About My Kids' Screen Time
- The Many Benefits, For Kids, of Playing Video Games
- 9 Ways Video Games Can Actually be Good for You
EDIT 12/7/2014: Of course, I wrote this and all of a sudden in the past couple of weeks a change has happened... I realized one day that the boys had gone a whole weekend without even asking to turn on the xbox at all. They still have days where they'll spend the whole afternoon playing video games, but overall their game playing has calmed down in intensity. I'm sure that when they get new games they'll ramp back up again for a while, but it's nice to finally see the natural balancing out happening after all.