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Worried about children playing computer/video games all day...

By Gnat Atherden

Gnat kindly gave permission for her response to a question about limiting screen time on The Educating Parent Homeschooling and Unschooling group to be reproduced here.

My advice to concerned parents is chillax. Don't fret about the gaming. Gaming is so awesome and so misunderstood by most parents.

I'm a gamer. I play online games and iPhone games and table top games. Sometimes for hours. If I'm into a new game and trying to figure out how to achieve success I want to get back and play that game as soon as possible.

As a parent of a gamer, I want to know:

  • What game or games is he playing?
  • Are they first person games or omnipotent games (like does he walk round with a bow and arrow in his hand or does he control an army or team of builders) or indeed are they neither of these?
  • What level is he at?
  • How many levels are there?
  • How quickly did he get to the level he's at?
  • Are there other versions of the game?
  • Does he just play alone or are other people playing the game with or against him online?
  • Does it have a two player version?
  • Can I play with or against him?
  • Has he watched any YouTube clips about the game?
  • If yes are any of them especially witty or funny?
  • Is there a board game version or spin-off of the game that the whole family could play?
  • Could we all learn it and play some kind of tournament?
  • What kind of tournament would work best? Three try's each to get our highest score maybe or a round robin where we play off against each other or something else, how does he think we should run it?
  • What other games does he like?

Ponder what it is you'd like to do with your kids. Do other things with them as well. Imagine you want some help with cooking dinner: don't say 'get off that device', say 'hey darling, can you pause that game?' Some games you can some you can't. You may get a very hasty 'no', and this might mean the game is in progress and at the particular time is tricky and he needs to concentrate. Wait a moment and then say, 'when you get to the stage you can pause can you please pause?' Then when he does pause it just ask for that help making dinner. You're not asking him to give up what he loves and is passionate about you're asking him for help and I'm sure he'll gladly give it because he loves you too.

My 14 year old daughter is right into a phone game app at the moment. I don't know what it's called but it's about trajectories and angles. It's awesome. There are a number of blocks randomly arranged on an invisible grid. The rest of the grid is blank. The blocks each have a number on them. This is the number of times that block must be bounced by 'the balls' to disappear. These blocks and the upper and side edges of the game field are the solid walls off which the balls bounce, but the balls can't touch the bottom line from whence they are initially launched. You fire the balls all in one go from a cannon at the bottom line of the field. To get a high score you must visualise the best trajectory to start with; one that will trap the balls above the lowest boxes for the longest time possible as they rebound back and forth; each time a ball hits a box the number on it goes down by 1.

People often ask me, 'but how does your daughter learn maths': I know for sure that playing this particular app on her phone she is immersing herself in learning about angles and trajectories. I would not be surprised if it didn't help to make her a better pool player, tennis player and squash player, amongst other sports I'm sure. And she feels a real sense of pride when she gets a new high score which she always comes and tells me about it. I, too, feel genuinely proud.

Lately we've been discussing research on sleep needs of teenagers, including the impact of screens on sleep patterns due to the blue light emitted by them. We found out interesting stuff such as how growth as a teen relates to how much sleep you get, and that not getting enough will literally stunt your growth. Now she often reads before she goes to sleep rather than use the iPhone she got for her last birthday. And, just as she's always done since maybe age 7, if there is something on early the next day she plans to go to bed and sleep earlier than she otherwise would to meet that need.

When I was a younger parent and thought my son and a young friend were watching too much television I would simply quietly go sit with them and watch the show and start doing some craft activity while they watched. Eventually they would notice and want to join in and pay less and less attention to the show. I'd then ask, "can you turn the TV off", and they would, or I'd reach over and do it myself. I might then ask if they'd like to go for a walk and perhaps we'd walk in the garden and maybe pick flowers and make a flower wreath. Or I'd drive them to the park or a beach or read them a story. With older kids you can kind of do the same but they might want to go window shopping or get a lift to a friends place or go play laser tag.

I think that there are other, better ways than taking things off kids to limit or restrict their engagement if we have the interest, time, creativity and inclination to think of them and implement them.


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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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