Growing up my mom was always telling me to, “Turn off the TV.” or “Go outside.” and refused to invest in battery operated toys. We did have a couple of handheld video games because we were in the car a lot, but we didn’t play them very much since she was so against constant screen time. She would always tell us that the TV was making us “dull.” At the time I didn’t think too much about what she said. In fact, I thought she was nuts and would have rather been pacified into filling time with the TV, but now, I see she was right. My sister and I didn’t need to “fill time.” We needed to do something constructive. So, Thank you Mom!
Twice recently I have been faced with questions from other parents with children, specifically boys, in the 10-12 range regarding media, boredom and inspiration.
In one case, the boy is homeschooled and the other he is in public schooled. The mom with the homeschooled boy stated that her son will do chores as asked but has no motivation to learn and even though he only gets 1 hour of video game time a day, he is difficult to inspire to learn anything. Anything she tries, he is interested in for a brief time and then wants to know if he can play his video game yet. The other mom said her kids are always bored unless they are watching TV or playing video games, especially her 12 year old. She wanted to know what to do with her kids and how to help them not be bored.
As I read these inquiries from moms, I reflected back on my nearly 11 years parenting a boy and thought about how seductive media is to some people. I pondered on the fact that in my home we don’t seem to have enough hours of the day to explore all the things we want to each day. We get to the end of the day and always have more we wanted to get to. We rarely have extra time to “fill.” With chores, learning time, and play time (which often for Tiger is more learning activities, board games, or more reading and for the girls the vast land of pretend), the kids are never bored (and if they were to ever come to me and tell me they were bored I would have a chore for them in the wings).
In the case of the mom with the son in public school, all the answers she received from friends on Facebook centered around enroll him in this class or that class to “fill time.” The mom wasn’t interested in more classes, she just didn’t want him to be bored anymore. I was not really part of the conversation, so I didn’t answer, but my answer would have been eliminate the media and get him some interactive toys and games. I know this boy to be very intelligent maybe some snap circuits or science experiment kits would inspire him.
In the case of the homeschooling mom, I and several others suggested removing media. I found it interesting that she became almost defensive- after all he ONLY got 1 hour a day and it wouldn’t be “fair” to remove the thing that he really enjoys to force him to do something he doesn’t love. I suppose that is one perspective. I have a different perspective.
Tiger loves media. He has always loved media. He loves video games, movies, anything with a screen draws him in. I have never allowed much media not only because I felt like it wasn’t necessary, but also because I noticed how seductive it was for him. Given even 20 minutes per day, he would begin to forget how much he liked to build, read, experiment, and play outside. He would complete tasks with the ever incessant question of, “Now can I play computer?” or “Now can I watch TV?” (Even choosing shows to watch that are the favorites of the three year old just so he could have screen on.) Even 20 minutes a day dulled him into boredom. He may have only had 20 minutes per day, but it still consumed most of the hours of the day in his mind. How sad! Now that he has had a steady diet of educational toys, high quality board games, and classics without frequent media, he is actually capable to spending some time computer programming and then move on to something else. Even so, I have to be ever watchful that the addictive tendencies of media don’t overtake him, because the detox is always painful.
It seems today that younger and younger children are getting cell phones- not just cell phones but smart phones, handheld video games, game consoles, and computer games. They are truly taking over many of our nation’s children. These kids don’t know how to play board games, read classics, construct a model airplane from Legos, or play constructively outsides. I believe that as parents we need to recognize this fact and pull back on the media. As Nicholeen Peck says, email, computer, etc. are adult tools to be used as tools not toys. Am I totally anti-video game? No. I have had my share of fun playing them. I am opposed to the mind-dulling incessant use of these tools as toys. I am opposed to bored kids who can’t be inspired to learn anything new because they are being pulled back towards a computer game. I am opposed to sacrificing the potential my child has in favor of pop culture. Like my mom, I am choosing to not go with the flow. I am choosing to be the “weird” mom. I am choosing for my children to have the choice rather than the addiction to rule them.