Why I Don’t Limit Screen Time

posted in: homeschool, unschooling | 0

A-teenage-boy-listens-to-music-360x250I’ve been meaning to write about this for a long time, but it was a blog post by someone else on the same topic that inspired me to do it. I hear parents and “experts” talking all the time about limiting screen time for kids. There are all sorts of reasons given for this: kids need more exercise, more social interaction, they should read more “books,” and so on.  And then there’s, “because the experts say we should limit screen time.”  Really?

My son gets plenty of physical activity and he’s not overweight. We work on social interaction all the time, and he reads a lot as it is.  As for the “experts” – I’ll come back to them later.

We intentionally don’t limit screen time.That doesn’t mean that I won’t pull him away from the computer to do chores, run errands, or participate in another type of activity, but it means that we have no predetermined limits in terms of time.  Here are the reasons why:

  1. Not all screen time is equal. Watching cartoons, doing online research, playing a video game, and watching YouTube videos are not all the same thing. Most of my son’s screen time is a valuable part of his learning. Much of his learning happens through exploration, too, and there’s no way I want to limit that. Also, in our home, we don’t have broadcast television. Instead, we have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video and other online sources of content for viewing, so hours aren’t wasted just hanging out in front of the TV because of boredom. That was an intentional decision. My son has to actively look for something he wants to watch. This has dramatically increased the quality of what he does see.
  2. This is a technological world. If we want our children to be able to compete in the economy of the next century, they absolutely must be expertly proficient in the use of technology for a wide variety of purposes. Limiting screen time works against this goal. For example, how much of a foreign language do you think you’ll learn in an hour a day? Not too much, and it will take you forever to become fluent, if you become fluent at all.  Most never do. Remember your high school language courses?  Did they lead you to fluency? To get to technological fluency, our children need lots of exposure and lots of time for exploration.
  3. Limiting screen time is not compatible with our homeschooling approach. We are unschoolers. Another way to say that is that we believe in “delight-directed learning” or “child-directed learning.” That means that we take our son’s lead when it comes to learning. He learns what he wants to learn and we provide support, resources, experiences, and encouragement to help him.  Yes, we provide guidance, but we don’t prescribe what and how he learns. If we were to limit screen time, we’d be telling him,”We think you should be responsible for your own learning, but we are going to limit access to one of your most important learning tools.”  We choose not to do that.

I get all sorts of questions about this from parents and relatives who just assume that screen time is bad. Here are some of them, along with my answers.

Aren’t you afraid that he’ll be exposed to things that are dangerous? Only to the extent that all parents are concerned about their kids. Not putting limits on screen time doesn’t mean unfettered access to anything on the web. We teach him what is appropriate and what is inappropriate.  More importantly, we pay attention to what he’s doing online. His computer is in the dining room so there’s no secret about what he’s doing.  I sit down with him every single day to look at videos he likes, play online games with him, or help with his research. We don’t turn him loose out on the internet unsupervised.  This is a very important part of how we do things.

Doesn’t he spend all of his time online? No. However, he does spend more time in front of a screen that most of his friends, mainly because they all have limits.

Doesn’t all that screen time keep him from reading?  What do you think he’s doing with much of his screen time?  Reading! Also, we read aloud from a novel together every single day.

Aren’t you afraid that he’ll just play games all day? No. This question demonstrates a misunderstanding about how children learn. Children learn best through play. They learn best when they are having fun. Many video games are great for learning. In fact, I’ve got a book coming out later this month called The Quick Guide to Learning through Video Games. When my son finds a video game he likes (and that is appropriate, as defined by our family), it’s my job to take a look at it and tease out the learning topics and skills that are embedded within the game so I can provide additional resources. His interest in World War I was sparked by playing Valiant Hearts. He became interested in World War II through Hearts of Iron 3 and in the Civil War through Victoria 2. When he’s playing games that teach him about history, language arts, math, and other content areas, I’m all for it. The book will help you learn how to use our method with your children, if you’d like.

And now, about the “experts.” For decades, the experts have been changing what they think is best for kids, except for those who have research supporting the fact that kids learn best when they are having fun, when they are fully engaged in what they are trying to learn. Furthermore, most of these experts do not understand homeschooling, and certainly not unschooling, and they don’t know my son.

It’s my job to be the expert in educating my child.


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