Where the boogey-man lives:

Response to this question:
Wondering how other parents feel about putting limits on screen time.

I think the problem is the idea of "screen time."

Have you considered putting limits on paper time?
           Cloth time?
                     Other-human time?

—Sandra Dodd

I objected to someone refering to "electronic media" and she wrote:
What do you call it when you reference computer technology? ... I am still trying to understand our relationship with it

Joyce responded:

Sandra's point is it isn't an "it". A computer, a hand held game, an iPod are doors that lead to a vast world of experiences. Just as your front door leads to a vast world of many different things you can do. Would you refer to all the things your family does by going through your front door—walks, shopping, visiting friends. mowing the lawn, vacations—as "door stuff"?

I am still trying to understand our relationship with it.

Do you need to understand your relationship with "door stuff"?

Stop looking at the door. See the richness that exists beyond the door.

Joyce Fetteroll
Always Learning, January 2012

Always Learning, 2007, Sandra:

Should books, magazines and reading cereal boxes be referred to as "paper time"? Would looking at photos on paper be "paper time" but looking at photos online "screen time"? (I was looking today for the National Geographic photo of the snow monkey in the hot spring with the snow around him, but didn't find it.)

I think "screen time" is a term used (with "seat time" and "school hours" and "homework" to divide and control, to limit children). It might be worth avoiding.


Brie Jontry, in June 2013 wrote:
I snapped this photo yesterday of my daughter Noor Skyping and Minecrafting with her dad, who is over 3000 miles away. I'm sure such images are common for many of us here, but thought it might be a useful illustration for some newer folks. I've heard a lot of concern lately, both here on Facebook and in my day-to-day life from parents worried that their children would rather be online than playing outside, or interacting with others in the "real world." To me, this photo shows the real world: my daughter and her dad are connecting with each other in spite of the 1000s of physical miles between them; they're playing together with a group of other people (from all over the world) on a public Hunger Games Minecraft server. They're talking about literature and film and gaming, dystopian stories - the whys and hows of genre conventions. They're mulling over Huge questions about how to live (and die) ethically. They're laughing! And Noor is sitting in the warm sun, out-of-doors, in the woods. When they logged off, she went and worked on her newest shelter. Very few parenting concerns are hinged on "either/or" solutions. When we stretch beyond seeing more than only one or two possibilities (either playing outside Or on the computer, in this case) our children's worlds become exponentially larger, with more potential for laughter and learning and wonderful warm feelings of connection.
—Brie Jontry

Spouses Communicate

Today my husband left his phone home by accident.....I think this might be the first time he ever did that. It was pretty much the first thing I saw this morning when I walked out of the bedroom - his phone on the table....and it made me sad because it means I won't hear from him til he gets home from work tonight. It made me stop and remember how life used to be before cell phones.....so strange to think how much life has changed even just in the last 10 years because of technology.

—Robyn van den Bemd
November 2015

How google saved a calf's life

Alex Polikowsky, mother of two, wife of a dairy farmer, wrote:

A lot of people value books over computers and TV.
A lot of parents worry that their children are spending too much time at the computer or watching TV and videos.

Those parents are not really looking at their children and they are not seeing all they are learning. They are focused on fear that, in my experience, has not solid basis.

Both my kids have learned so much from TV and being in their computers. My son comes up with amazing things he learns every day! He is 11 years old and has learned to read playing video games online (mainly Roblox) and he is a pretty good writer and speller. But that is just a tiny bit of how much he got from not ever having his TV or computer access limited.

More than that I have embraced it! Just this past week my son and I built his first gaming computer and it is a nice one! (pictures and specs)

It has even changed how dad views technology and last night it saved a cow's life, a calf's life and probably a huge vet bill.

One of our cows was due and we could tell she was going into labor but all day long the labor did not kick in. Brian, dad, mentioned that maybe it was a uterine torsion and that is why the labor was stuck. We waited to give her time. In the evening he went in and found out he was right. The uterus had rotated. He was in the pasture alone with his iPhone so he googled something called "rope squeeze" where you can get a cow laying down so we could flip her over and maybe get the uterus untwisted.

He checked and was 99% sure to which side it was rotated and got working on the rope squeeze. He called me and I walked there to tie the gator (vehicle) to the rope and help flip. The moment we flipped her, her water broke and her bladder also was emptied and we knew he got it right!

Not wanting to wait, we got the baby's feet out and the contractions kicked in instantly. He jacked the calf out and she was a beautiful and healthy baby girl.

My husband was so thrilled! Gosh I was so thrilled!

A few years ago he would not been so open and had the idea of just researching like that on his iPhone, which when I got it for him because we had an upgrade and it was just 99 cents-he complained and said he did not need and it was too complicated and now he uses all the time and it has not only brought him joy but lots of great things culminating in last night's save!!!

But my husband has seen how much the kids learn and he is also healing from his school years that played a number on him and left him feeling like he is not that smart.

When the parents are watching how their kids are learning, when they embrace all that is available, when they ask themselves "WHY do I fear this?" they will stop and really see unschooling working and their children learning.

Many parents do not even know why they are so fearful. It is just that they have heard TV was not good and computers should be limited, at the same time books are worshiped (Sandra has a great page on book worship).

A book last night would not have helped. A cow and a calf could have been dead and a vet bill would have been huge. Thank goodness for computers and internet and smart phones! Thank goodness my husband learned from my kids to google and research. Thank goodness he is open to it. It challenges him but he can see it.

If you embrace it all *with* your children you will learn with them—more than you think is possible.

You will trust unschooling and learning because you will be learning right along your children.

It is more than *letting them watch TV or be on the computer or playing video games*. You need to see the value by embracing and sharing the joy. At least seeing it and supporting wholeheartedly!

You do not need to be a gamer to support your child's gaming! You just need to be the parent that is on their team, someone they can come talk to and you will know what they are talking about. Someone who is excited as they are that they beat a level (even if you never played a game ever).

I love books, I love computer, I love TV, I love video games ( I rarely play), I love hiking, I love biking, I love Sponge Bob and Regular show, I love Anime, I love My Little Pony and Monster High, I love everything my kids love because I love the joy it brings to them and when they are happy and supported I can see they are learning and growing and unschooling is happening in my house.

Alex Polikowsky
August 2013 on Always Learning

Karen James, August 2013:
Sometimes the creativity happens right there on the computer or in the mind of the person watching tv. That makes it harder to appreciate the inspirations if, to the parent, it only looks like a passive activity.

My son likes to watch YouTube videos of Minecrafters playing. What I didn't even realize was that he was paying attention to the color and variation of the character font in the names above the heads of the players. Well, he recently found the coding that allows him to play with the font variables. He was so excited! Yesterday, he spent nearly half the day naming and renaming items using all of the colors, font styles, and symbols he could find the code for. My husband said that Ethan even compiled several lists to help make referencing the code easier. I'm really not even sure how Ethan is doing what he's doing. But, I did get several enthusiastic demonstrations, and his friend was really excited to see what Ethan had been creating as well.

If I wasn't paying attention, and if I was afraid of the time Ethan spends at the computer, I would miss all of the creativity and learning happening. Worse still, Ethan might too, because my worry would become his burden.

I'm going to quote from a blog by a dad named Tim, because of the comments (and because I like the blog post which is now gone, so I can't link it; sorry):
The question of "screen time" came up recently on the wonderful Radical Unschooling Info discussion group on Facebook, and this started me to wondering why it is such a persistent one, even (or especially?) among home educators.

[Cool picture by Tim of "screentime"]
Sandra Dodd has a wonderful page full of resources on the value and uses of TV and video, but here I would like to think of it from a slightly different angle. Let us accept, for a moment, that we are worried about three aspects of our children's screen use:
  • My son spends hours and hours obsessively playing one type of video game.
  • My daughter never answers my questions when she's on her iPod.
  • My son watches horror films which I feel are inappropriate. I'm not going to say how I think each of these should be dealt with, or even if it is a problem at all. What I would say is that I don't think the notion of "screen time" is in the least bit helpful in understanding what is happening, whether it is a problem and, if so, how it should be addressed.

    Maybe this is clearer if we tweak our scenarios:

  • My son spends hours and hours obsessively reading one type of book.
  • My daughter never answers my questions when she's reading her magazine.
  • My son reads horror stories which I feel are inappropriate. Again, it depends on our perspective whether or not each of these situations is a problem or not, but I think it should be pretty clear that the concept of "paper time" wouldn't be of much use in understanding what is going on, or in solving any problem which we may feel exists. In fact, even the very idea of it strikes us as ridiculous. Why? Because we instinctively know that it would be a covert expression of hostility to the very idea of reading and that, in our culture, would be simply absurd.

    The same is true of "screen time": it is a pseudoscientific phrase whose function is to disguise a vague and ill-considered hostility towards anything which is experienced through a screen. And this is incompatible with a healthy, respectful relationship with a child (or anyone else) who enjoys spending time watching TV, playing video games or using a computer.

  • Comment there, then, by someone unnamed:
    "It reminds of a billboard that has been up in our city for some time now that has two pictures, one is of a boy out in nature with a magnifying glass with the caption "more of this", the other is of a boy playing a handheld video game and the caption says "less of this". I always think "why not both", and "why the measurement in time spent doing either of those things". My boys like getting out for a hike and a stroll in nature, but they also like playing video games. Of course there is a myriad of other things they like to do as well. I never time them when they choose to do any activity and why would I. As you mentioned, it is incompatible with a healthy respectful relationship.

    When I stopped counting/focusing on the time my once 6 year old spent watching t.v. or playing on the computer (before I got to radical unschooling), our lives were not peaceful nor respectful. When I finally got to radical unschooling suddenly all that I envisioned and wanted for my family in regards to respect, peace & friendship magically appeared and the struggle ended."

    Comment by me (Sandra):
    When I was a kid, before there were video games, the boys in our neighborhood LOVED to get a magnifying glass outside so they could focus the sunlight to a tiny beam and... not really "look" at bugs, but they were certainly looking and hooting.

    No bugs are harmed in the playing of video games. 😊

    When I was interviewed in 2005 (give or take a year) for a study on media use, I responded:
    "...I do know the "Screen time' phrase, especially in schools' recommendations that parents limit it... Parents who think they're going to be all the cutting-edge sensitive type control their children in some ways they deny to be 'controlling.'

    Before I came in here, I was asking Holly whether she didn't know that another family we've known since before she was born had had anti-TV parents. She said she didn't know. We used to be in a babysitting co-op with that family, but Holly was too little for the exchange.

    When Kirby was four or five, they had a Nintendo and we didn't, but [they] kept it up in the closet. Once Kirby played it, he always wanted to play it when he went over. Our simple solution to that was to buy him a Nintendo. After that, when he went to their house, he played in the yard.

    They only used their TV for the Nintendo (when it was out, for a measured session) or for videos (sometimes, not much). When those kids came to our house, they only wanted to watch TV.... If TV has never been limited or demonized, it will never be so mesmerizing.

    There is another factor that will make it mesmerizing for children: depression and a need to escape. Kids who hate their lives are better off focusing on the TV so strongly that they don't even see the wall behind it. Sometimes it's their only way out of the room. ... But if the TV is just one of a myriad of interesting things, and the room is a happy place, and there are others watching TV and it will lead to conversations, singing, research, drawing, play-acting and dress-up, it's not so mesmerizing.

    Years back in a chatroom discussion, someone who was adamantly anti-TV said kids watch it like zombies, without moving. I said my kids didn't. Mine were up and singing and dancing, and rewinding to the good parts and watching the best songs again, as they had been the night before when "The Sound of Music" was on. In a great act of embarrassing circular reasoning, she said snootily that at HER house that would be unacceptable. At HER house, children were expected to sit quietly and not interrupt the program. She wasn't smart enough to see what she had just said. Her kids were zombies because if they weren't they got in trouble or were sent out.

    quoted in the study Unschooling media : participatory practices among progressive homeschoolers. (graduate thesis of Vanessa Bertozzi at MIT) The fourth chapter is about our family.

    I added paragraph breaks, above, for readability.

    From a public discussion on limiting game play:
    Wondering how other parents feel about putting limits on screen time. I have four year old who is in love with the iPod. He wants to play it all the time and when its time to put it down he melts down. Lately we have been letting him play it for a half hour each day and putting the timer on. When the timer goes off he is pretty good at putting it down so that solved the meltdowns. I am just wondering if this is the best approach. If I stopped limiting it would it have such a draw for him? Maybe he would start to get tired of it? Anyone have any experience with this?
    Sandra Dodd:
    Maybe he would play it all day for days. If he did, it would probably be partly because he loves it, and partly because you created a high value by limiting it. At the moment, you're training him to think about it all the time even when he's not playing it. :-)

    Economics of Restricting TV Watching of Children That's an article by Pam Sorooshian, an unschooling mom who teaches economics.

    The timer going off is what's causing the melt down. "It's time to put it down" is arbitrary, not a real "it's time." That's a problem in any situation, when parents are being arbitrary rather than mindful of the child directly.

    De Smith:
    I am on the computer a good deal of the day, myself - it is a fascinating thing! It connects us to so much information, so many pictures, so many friends and beautiful pictures and artwork...
    Tamara Needham:
    My daughter has had an iPad since she was 2.5 and we never put limits on it, she was on it a lot for a few months where she wouldn't put it down to do other things and already only uses it in moderation. And has no problem dropping it for other activities now. I think it's just something you have to wait out till the new exciting item has lost its luster.. Which is longer if you only allow it in increments
    Lyla Wolfenstein:
    or not wait out, but instead enjoy your child's enjoyment! 😊
    Bob Collier:
    I have a 16 year old son who's been a gamer since he was three and who has always played without restrictions, because that's his passion. If his passion had been for something else that equally features an absorbed state of mind, for example, playing chess for hours on end or reading books for hours on end, would it have occurred to me to put a timer on him? I don't hesitate to suggest that if you put a timer on me when I was playing FIFA12 on my PS3 I would "melt down" too.
    Alexandra Souza Lima Polikowsky:
    if he was reading a book would you put a time limit on him and only let him read for 30 minutes a day?
    [Original poster:]
    I think my hang up is that we are not a "gaming" family and I a hard time even understanding the draw of it. When we first got the iPod we would have friends over and he would completely ignore them and just keep playing. He was playing so much we felt we needed to put rules around it. With the rules came the meltdowns. Although using the timer seems to "work" for us I understand the arguments for not imposing limits and it resonates with me. I also understand the argument that if it was reading that he was doing I would not have a problem with it. It is all my own hangups but they are hard to get past!
    Alexandra Souza Lima Polikowsky:
    If you know all that why are you still limiting him and making his time on the Ipod even more valuable?
    Bob Collier:
    You could use the game itself as the measure rather than a timer, as in, for example, he could play to the end of a level or until he completes a particular task. That seemed to make sense to my son whenever it was necessary for us to do something else.
    Darcel Harmon:
    Why do you want him to put it down? We have computers, tv's, a tablet, and video game systems. We're all free to play them when we want for as long as we want. The girls got a Wii for Christmas from my brother. The first three days they played it for hours at a time, and then they would put it down and do something else. I'm not much of a gamer, but I enjoy watching them play, and will play Mario Kart with them sometimes(that was my favorite game as a child) He's learning from it just like he would from a book, being outside, or anything else. Maybe you could discover things to do together, or sit with him while he's on it. I bet he would like that.
    Sandra Dodd:
    I agree. I think sometimes we have our older female relatives voices in our heads saying things like "If you don't make him put that down, he'll play it forever." I know I have four or five relatives I could name, and none of them ever even SAW an iPad. 😊

    The predictions sound pretty funny when they're someone else's. I have a collection: If I let him...

    Tamara Needham:
    Have you really thought about what your afraid of with gaming? I come from a gamer family, we were 4 kids with unlimited access and we went to public school and in my experience those fears are unfounded.
    Bob Collier:
    My family is a gaming family too. My wife and I bought our first gaming console in 1991 for our then six year old daughter (but we'd both played before that - Space Invaders, Pac-Man, etc). I've played practically every day alongside my son until fairly recently (his skills are so far ahead of mine now I became an embarrassment) and he and his friends were all into 'gaming culture' from a young age and could happily play the games together all day. And a lot of the time these days he plays online. In my experience, it does make a positive difference to have some understanding of the culture rather than to just see it as 'screen time'.
    skipped a few for being repetitive
    Lyla Wolfenstein:
    i get there were other things you were wanting to do, but was he interested in a snack or going outside? i had a young boy who i was positive was "obsessed" with the DS, computer games, etc etc, and in retrospect (he's 13 now) i *know* i created that obsession out of what was just a passion/interest but being afraid and limiting and prioritizing other things. for the last 4 years, he's had free access to all things electronic in our house (as well as to books, games, food, etc.) and sometimes he plays a lot and other times not at all for a while, but most importantly, the relationship between us is lovely and healthy and his own sense of what he wants is not reactionary to my limits anymore. i promise you the limits backfire 😊

    i don't play video games, but i listen to him talk about the games he likes/is into, and that's worked for us. also, as for having people come over - are they his friends? gaming can be very social! on an ipod not so much, but *expanding* the gaming options will serve to expand what he can do with them and who he can include.

    Sandra Dodd:
    ‎-=- something else like going outside or having a snack or if someone came over...it wasn't just arbitrary.-=-

    Having a snack is arbitrary. Going outside is arbitrary (unless the house is on fire). If someone comes over they might like to see what's going on on the iPad too!

    Jaci Whitaker Cook:
    This is an article from psychology today that underlines why society is afraid of "screen time" and being "plugged in," and explains why those fears are unnecessary. It explains the benefits of gaming for kids; socially and cognitively. It also highlights the similarities in all new technology - from computers to paper.

    The Many Benefits of Kids Playing Video Games

    Pam Sorooshian:
    Try reading "Reality is Broken" by Jane McGonigal. It will put your mind at ease and REALLY help you understand the draw/value of video games of all different kinds.
    Sara McGrath:
    I just imagine how I'd feel if someone set a timer on my screen time and I know I'd never do that to one of my kids. My 3yo is currently fascinated with iPod and computer games. Her skills with the devices are growing which make the activities very appealing to her. She's also having a fair amount of struggle and frustration because it's new. I may offer help or suggest a break, but I'm not going to take control her efforts away from her. It's her business if she chooses to struggle or get upset or enjoy a single activity for hours.
    Deb Rossing:
    I'm with Lyla - I can't play most of the games my 13 yr old son likes, I get motion blurry sometimes just being in the same room. BUT I know the names of the games, the characters, what is a "good thing" and what is "not a good thing", I read Game Informer so I can keep an eye out for new games he might like. I found a cool Periodic Table of Minecraft t-shirt for him for Christmas. Etc. Consider it similar to when you are dating your true love - you learn about what they love and find ways to help them pursue it, even if rock climbing or sushi are not something you're all that fond of or even understand how anyone could eat raw squid tentacles LOL Set yourself to learning about what your dear child loves, even if you never do understand the attraction. He's probably just as baffled by your love of (whatever - gardening, knitting, yoga, etc).

    oh and it also helps that Rick, my hubby, has been a gamer since the NES days. So they can play together and all. My job is in a supporting rather than actively playing role. I can prep snacks, get beverages, remind them that a fav TV program is on in 20 minutes, and generally make the environment work for them to pursue what they love - whether I 'get' it or not

    Brie Jontry:
    ‎Pam Sorooshian's suggestion is great, and while you're waiting for the book, here is Jane McGonigal speaking at TED:


    The above video was recently posted on Always Learning along with this one:

    How Games Make Kids Smarter

    What others have written about this lack of fear, and richness of learning:
    Either/Or Thinking and "Screen Time" by Susan May on her blog in June 2013
    Unlimited Screen Time (by Jennifer, who once proudly limited it)
    Laureen has written two excellent articles on Life Without School:
    "Unschooling and the Digital Native"
    Digital Natives 2—Stalking the Cultural Referent

    This page became too long, and now there is another newer page: Screentime Index Page

    A blogpost by a mom who did Waldorf education for a while, but the family moved toward unschooling and is glad. Screentime

    Even more, on this site, about how parents belittle children with this term (← created after this page filled up)

    Video Games Movies Television

    Screentime and a Toddler

    The title was generated for free at this site: Cool Text: Logo and Graphics Generator