When I was at UC Berkeley for summer school a long time ago, I made a new friend, Annie. When her family went on vacation, Annie’s parents and 5 siblings would leave the room for the day, as families normally do on vacation. Annie, however, would stay behind by herself and watch movies all day. Everyone was happy that way.
Fast forward 30 years. Annie is now an Emmy award-winning writer for a popular daytime talk show. I think it was clear that the movies/entertainment industry was where she was headed from the time she was very young.
Last week I went to my pediatrician for my kids’ annual check up. “Screen time an issue?” he asked. I rolled my eyes and groaned. “Yes, my son loves screens. He wants to be a video game developer when he grows up,” I replied. “Some kids want to play in the NBA too,” he said. “You still have to watch the screen time. 2 hours a day or less!” Ok. My pediatrician is a Rockstar but I disagree that my eight-year-old son can’t grow up to be a Video Game Developer if he sets his mind to it.
Video Game Developing or computer programming is not at the same level of unattainably as playing for the NBA, NFL, NHL or PGA. As a recruiter, I have personally experienced the shortage of qualified programmers with expertise in languages like Python, Ruby on Rails and C++. The thing about good computer programmers is that the nature of their job requires them to be life long learners, internally motivated to learn new technology.
This is not to say that my son doesn’t spend waaay too much time in front of screens. He does. He even does this crazy double screen multi-tasking where he watches TV while playing a video game on the computer. In parenting with purpose, I would like to suggest that screen time is not necessarily bad. All things in moderation. As a parent, we can take our child’s interest — in this case gaming — and use it as a powerful motivating force that helps our kids begin their journey of self-discovery, creativity, and independent learning.
Pokémon: Art and Fantasy Worlds
From Pokémon, my son moved with nary a beat into the world of Ninjago, including the Legos, TV shows, and video games. It was really the first time he got into Legos. I posted earlier that Ninjago chapter books became my son’s D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) books in first grade. We read the graphic novels as well.
I loved that he finally wanted to play with legos. First, he would meticulously build the kit exactly as instructed. Eventually, the legos would come apart and then he’d build without a blueprint. Usually everything was a weapon, but in this case, he built a lion.
Skylanders: The Music Motivates
My son’s classical guitar teacher knows how to motivate little boys. Each week, he asks my son what song he wants to learn. Then, he transcribed it into music for my son. Hence my son has learned theme songs to Mario video games, the Madagascar penguins theme song, as well as pop tunes. The theme song for the video game Skylanders was tricky. His teacher spent two hours transposing it. It’s also a difficult song for my son to play. The first run through at his lesson took 45 minutes. But my son was extremely motivated to learn it. He happily practices it daily, not bothered by the struggle to master the piece. And now a few weeks later? He can play it in under 2 minutes.
MineCraft: From Gaming to Programming in 1 Easy Leap
If your kids are not playing MineCraft, it’s the one video game that the moms I know don’t mind. It’s like a video Lego game with Mods (modules) that do all kinds of things. There’s a Hunger Games module, for example. A Pokémon one too. You build with square virtual pieces. You can fight too. Some things like building a water cannon are tricky and require YouTube instructional videos made by twenty-somethings who sometimes swear. Still, if MineCraft can motivate my son to seek out answers in order to self-learn, isn’t this a valuable life skill? Isn’t this … self-motivated learning, not unlike what computer programmers need to stay relevant? Can MineCraft teach kids to program? I’ll find out soon. My son will be attending a computer camp for a week this summer at a local college that promises just that. If he discovers a love of creating video games from this camp, it’s just a few years before he’s old enough to learn Java programming.
Screen Time as a Career?
They say that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. And gaming for little boys is a tough act to beat. Screen time should still be allowed in moderation. 2 hours a day seems like a lot, but I struggle to keep my son’s screen time below that mark. But using gaming as a basis for art, computer programming and music is both a powerful motivator and a way to teach life long learning. It may inform his future career choices. Only time will tell. Game on!
p.s. I am the world’s worst video game player but when my son made me play Skylanders with him, I actually beat him once. Video gaming is also teaching him compassion, people skills and strategy because he clearly went easy on me to get me to play longer!
I think that Mia shared the various ways that Screen Time can help to get your child engaged into a variety of things that they might not have necessarily tried. Technology can be a great way to enrich whatever goal you’re working at home with your kids. The world is a pretty big world and dreams and hopes can change so we always have to make sure we balance out the focus as we’re raising well rounded children. Middle school and High school offer electives that can help children explore their interests, as well as summer camps. Can’t wait to see how he enjoys it this year!
I think the bottom line with screen time is also monitoring what your child is actually looking at and processing while they are using specific video and computer games, television shows, movies and online time. Don’t forget phones too. You should always know what your child is viewing and have the computer screen in an open place such as a living room or kitchen. These are simple steps to protect your child as well as keep you up to pace with what they’re up to.
We can only imagine what our children’s world will be like as adults when we think about screen time and technology. If we give them the proper foundations we can know they will have instilled in them healthy lifestyles and expectations and to know that there’s big world out there to explore in person and to find that balance of both.
Our family is almost polar opposite to Kim’s when it comes to screens; in that her family is very talented at computer programing and it is of high interest to them – those skills seemed to have skipped both my husband and I! As a result their probably spend more screen time in totality as a family than we do.
I do NOT have a television and we have not had one in our household for almost 10 years. Growing up, we had an old TV that required a pliers to turn it on and it was rarely watched. Although we do now own a small computer, the kids have been screen free until 3 and then only a few 20 minute videos a few times a week for educational purposes. I believe in LIMITING screen time as much as possible. I don’t feel that I am doing a disservice to my kids by limiting their exposure. We are just exploring other interests – gardening, painting, reading, building blocks, riding bikes and much, much more. I feel that by letting them experience the world, they will be better able to meet the demands of the growing technology later on in life. Admittedly, they pprobably won’t be computer programmers, but that is only because they haven’t shown any interest in that skill, yet. Props to Mia for getting to know her kids and what excite them and then using that enthusiasm to further other pursuits. It sounds like she is parenting with purpose!!!
What is your spin on using technology with kids???
Thanks for letting me guest post today and for your balanced take Kim and Amanda. It's If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em at our house. My son's older sisters were much less interested in screen time. We are trying to balance his screen obsession with sports. He plays a lot of soccer, basketball and will be trying Lacrosse this spring. We're also trying to play more board games and legos to get him off screens. It's funny, but action adventure books are the closest things to video games and he loves those too. We're almost done with the Percy Jackson series. Screens and boys — ugh! Such a struggle! I appreciate all your advice because it's exhausting to fight the good fight!
I watched A LOT of TV as a kid and grew up to be a pop-culture editor and TV blogger…I remember my mom yelling at me to go outside and play…but I seriously loved TV (and still do now, unfortunately). My preschoolers watch TV and play Kindle apps like Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, and Bag It–but I feel these games do teach some critical-thinking and planning skills. Their LEGO, playdough, pretend play, and drawing activities tend to focus on game characters, but I can see an infusion of their own imaginations in their play as well. I admire no-TV families and sometimes wish we were one of them, but I think we're still doing okay.
I'm sorry, I'm going to have to disagree about MineCraft. My kids, and especially my son, obsess about it. If they're not playing it, they're talking about it or watching YouTube videos of other people's MineCraft stuff. My son is taking a computer programming class, and he would rather play MineCraft than do his homework, and is currently failing the class. Unfortunately, he has to use his computer for most homework, and I have to sit where I can see his screen, and even then he sneaks in MineCraft whenever he thinks I'm not looking.
Great discussion. Thanks for bringing it up and sharing your perspectives. I think Mia did a great job in "going with the flow" and finding ways to channel the boy's energy and interest into other things. I review educational apps, so I know there are a lot good games out there, helping kids learn, with fun. Most of my son's learning materials are on iPAD now, dictionaries, math practices, books, … Yesterday, he was teaching me how to use the right keyword to search in YouTube (he is 10). No one taught him that, he learned on his own from experience. So not all screen time is bad, our job as parents is to make sure it is "good" screen time.
Melanie @ Raise A Boy says
I really enjoyed this post and love the different perspectives. We disagree within my household. If it were up to me I'd get rid of the TV but my husband grew up in a house where it was on 24/7. So we compromised – when I have the kids the TV is off but when daddy comes home the boys can watch TV with him. I'd rather he played with them but that's not for me to tell him how he can interact with his kids.
The Monko says
I really like this posts take on things. I think sometimes people forget what is behind the idea of screen free time. The idea that kids (and adults) need a certain amount of physical activity in their lives. The doctors suggestion that a child's screen time should be limited to 2 hours a day seems arbitrary and unnecessarily short to me. If my child was reading a book on their kindle or playing an educational computer game or watching a documentary why would I want to limit that to two hours. Rather than focusing on limiting screen time maybe it would be more productive to focus on ensuring along with screen time there is a measure of active time each day.