Last week, Campaign for a Commercial -Free Childhood promoted its annual Screen-Free Week. Many parents turned off the screens in their homes. Libraries and bookstores offered up alternatives; board games sellers and family attractions hopes for a few of your dollars, in lieu of viewing.
We did not participate. Everyone here had freedom, all week, to use television, computers, videogames, and Kindles exactly as they pleased, without limits or even gentle hints that they might want to turn off or disconnect – just the same as every other week.
We don’t have a problem with how televisions and other screen delivery systems are used in our home – not by us, and not by our children, either.
On a recent evening, we were gathered in my room, me writing on my laptop, and Annalise and Jeremiah playing Minecraft Pocket Edition on their Kindles. It was time forThe Big Bang Theory, a family favorite, so I changed the TV fromM*A*S*H.
Discovering it pre-empted by March Madness, I wandered up the channels toPBS – where we found scientist David Pogue shopping for the elements his body was composed of – $189 dollars worth of chemicals.
Jeremiah settled in on my cedar chest, his favorite spot for intensely focused viewing, and scarcely moved until Nova’s Hunting the Elements was over. He learned more about what we are made of, the chemical reactions behind fission, about rare earths and radioactive isotopes, and how elements are related to the Big Bang (which he may remember later, as he watches TBBT (coming full circle).
Annalise was more interested, at that time, in learning how to shear a sheep in Minecraft, so that she could use its wool to “Make your bed better, Mommy!”
Sometime after this, while we were on a walk – another favorite activity – the children were noticing the building materials our neighbors were using, and discussing how they have used those items in Minecraft.
Other recent viewing has included documentaries on water shortages, a Dakota woman, harpy eagles, Lippizaner Stallions, evolution in Australia, and the Dust Bowl, in addition to a lot of My Little Pony, Powerpuff Girls, and a smattering of The Simpsons, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Good Luck Charlie, and Squid Girl.
We talk often about what people here are watching, and frequently watch all or part of a show together, often while snuggling and chatting. It is as far from disconnected as I can imagine. And because we talk, and share, I know that they watch nothing mindlessly, and take learning from all of it.
We outgrew adversarial parenting…and adversarial living.
One of our fundamental parenting principles to look to our children for guidance in how best to support their growth and passions. Jeremiah is a visual learner, with a strongly scientific, technology-leaning mind. Screen delivery systems are second nature to him. He loves physics,chemistry, technology, anime, animation, gaming, and engineering activities, and sometimes performs virtual surgeries.
Annalise enjoys nature shows, sites, and apps that feed her passions for fashion, music, art, and performing.
Screen media provide them fingertip access to their passions and faraway friends, and the means to discover more. They provide tools for research of diverse types – and these are kids who, at 8 and 11, do considerable amounts of independent online research.
We don’t believe that everything in life is an either/or proposition.
One reason often cited for limiting viewing and playing time for kids is that “screen tine” takes them from other things, like outside play, reading, or other things often thought to hold higher value.
I have not noticed that here. While there are times when there is a lot of viewing, there are also times when all electronics are set aside for a rousing game of tag, a walk, a day at the beach, a good book or three, chatting, or many other things. Often, screens and other things happen together.Without controls on how they use “screens”, my children have developed a natural ease in the way they fit them into their rich and varied lives.
Our children do not attend school, or activities that they did not choose to participate in. Therefore, the vast majority of their time is unscheduled.
A child who spends 6 or more hours a day in a classroom, has homework, and maybe has commuting time, extracurriculars, enrichment classes, and chores assigned by Mom and Dad, might appear to be watching “mindless television” – but is that so different from an adult who just needs to “veg out” to recover from a hard day at the office?
Television might not so much be the problem as a child with adult-sized obligations.
My children have never attended school; never had homework. We participate in the outside activities they choose to do. Sometimes weeks go by without them, other times we pursue several in the space of only a few days, until we simply can’t do any more.
Sometimes, they spend lots of time with television, games, and other screen entertainment, and others very little, as they delve into physical or creative pursuits with similar intensity. I’ve noticed the same is true for me – I have surges of needing input in vast quantities, and others where I pour forth creative efforts.
We don’t see screens as the enemy. They offer so much diversity, so much of the world. They have become a vital part of our society, and our children are learning for themselves how they fit into their own lives, moment by moment.
And, for us, there is great value in that.
Do you participate in Screen-Free Week? Why or why not? I would love to know – leave your comment in the receptacle below!
- Kids enjoy Sands Point Preserve during ‘Screen Free Week’ in Port Washington (newsday.com)
- Reddit on The Big Bang Theory (brandsandfilms.com)
- Ladies and gentlemen Bose headphones are floating in space (brandsandfilms.com)