23.5.12

What do you do?

We don't raise our children in a vacuum.  Unless one lives in a  remote area, choosing to shun contact with the outside world, a certain amount of exposure to wide-spread, popular media and culture is inevitable. I don't live in the wilderness.  I am raising my children in Silicon Valley, birthplace of the silicon chip and the internet, home of Apple, Facebook and Google.

I am more restrictive than most parents locally regarding how much access my children have to media; and here, I'm really talking about my older son because my toddler has no access to any of the computers or other electronic devices in the house.  Although we don't own any dedicated gaming devices (DS, Wii, etc...) I do allow my older son some access to games on the computer via the internet.  Even the limited access I allow him sometimes makes me uncomfortable.  I have enforced breaks from his access to the computer for weeks and even months at a time, however, a total media ban in our milieu, in our world, in our culture creates a feeling of imbalance also. And so I strive towards helping him (and myself) find a balance we are both comfortable with regarding the presence of popular media in our home and in our lives.

The thing that grieves me is this -- today my son told me that he has a few friends at school who spend their playtime talking about their computer games.  Because my son is not current with the latest computer-game trends, he has nothing to add to the conversation and so has been feeling left out.  On the one hand, I am appalled that children would spend their recess sitting around talking about computer games instead of running around and playing, and on the other hand I feel sad that my son is in this position.

The dilemma now gnaws at me: do I relax my standards and allow my son more access so that he can "keep-up" socially, or do I hold to my feelings and beliefs about media access and children?  I know that there is a grey area of compromise someplace in the middle, but I find balancing these matters tenuous and tricky.  An "all-or-nothing" approach would be so much simpler, but an "all-or-nothing" tactic is not really an option.

How do you handle such things?  What do you do?  Do you know of a way to balance such matters?  Any thoughts, ideas or feelings would be most welcome...

23 comments:

  1. This is one we are still struggling with. We have chosen a Waldorf School for our daughter which asks us to enforce a no media policy, but there are times when no media doesn't work for us like when she is sick or we are. My mother-in-law also lets her watch television whenever she is visiting which is at least once a week (no matter how many times we ask her not to). There are times when I wonder if it is worth it, but then I read the studies that show it is. The one nice part for us is when she is in school, she will be surrounded by other kids who do not have the media influence. Good luck!!

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    1. Oh, Carrie -- I wish I could send my son to a Waldorf school but we don't have a Waldorf school nearby (and driving 45 minutes to get my son school is simply not an option!) I've considered home schooling but that is not an option for us right now. What's interesting is that I've talked to a number of friends who home-school -- One might think their children would be isolated from some of the media-influence, however they tell me that, somehow, their children still manage to tap into mainstream media...

      It scares me to see how pervasive (& invasive) it is. It's not going away, but I hope that by educating my children about media & advertising, limiting access to media, and exposing them to a wide range of other things (literature, art, music, outdoor activities) that the effects media exposure & influence will be tempered.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

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  2. Oh, this is such a tough question. I have no idea. I feel the same way about computer games, though my girls do watch some tv and movies from the library. In fact, I didn't think I would allow them to watch any tv at all, but in the end it was easier to sometimes turn tv on and so here we are. I don't think tv is evil, nor do I think computer games are terrible. I just don't love them. I have compromised on tv, so I wonder if I will on games (which is much less of an issue with girls, I'm afraid).

    This isn't making any sense and instead I'm just clogging up your comments. So here is what I mean to say: I have changed my mind, as a parent, about things I thought I was firm about. Sometimes I bend, sometimes I don't. I think that if you allowed your son access to games like his friends you could still put many restrictions on his playing time that would help keep everything in line with the kind of home you want.

    If you don't allow him the games, and he's left out of some conversations, that's ok, too. He has many, many other wonderful things in his world.

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    1. Yes Danielle -- I, too, changed my mind about many things once I actually became a parent. Flexibility is so important -- My son is going to get access to the game-in-question, however, he is going to have to do some artwork, writing & reading to gain access. I decided that this was going to be a trade-off & he doesn't seem to mind. Although he doesn't like the restrictions, he truly understands that I'm paying attention to him (which is, of course, at the core, what every child really wants -- attention from their parents...)

      As for clogging up my comments -- impossible! I always love to hear from you :-)
      xo

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  3. Delaying and restricting makes certain things even more appealing and attractive.... kids may seek out computers or junky fods later in life until they're done with it. They need to go through that journey for themselves of pleasure, discovery, over-indulgence, and eventually feeling satisfied with a happy balance. I think that learning to self-regulate is a different journey for different personalities. Balance on a grander scale may involve periods of things seeming out of balance for a while but when you stand back it all balances itself in the end. This is my own take on kids/computers....and everything else really!

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    1. Yes, definitely, point well taken. Delaying and restricting can make certain things more appealing & attractive, which is why I don't restrict the computer games altogether. As for learning to self regulate in this world, over-saturated with the seductions of media influence -- that can be a difficult lesson and a hard journey. Finding balance can be so tricky... But it's all part of the journey, isn't it?

      Thank you so much for commenting, as always!!

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  4. Wow such a good point, and one I have been thinking about lately. I too fear that my choices for my children will alienate them from their peers. It so hard when everything seems to be going digital. I can't even find books I had as a child except as ebooks; I don't want to snuggle up with an electronic device and my children to read a story. It really seems that tangible things are almost obsolete these days and it breaks my heart. Children no longer know how to play and interact with each other for fun; they rely on common experiences with electronics. Personally I am going to hold my ground, when they are older they can have their fill of media, for now I want to ensure my children know how to live without it.

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    1. Yes, snuggling up with children and an electronic device is not particularly appealing, is it?! I'm with you regarding the seeming obsolescence of "tangible things" -- and knowing how important it is for children to play and interact, not relying "on the common experience with electronics."

      Nice to hear from you again -- it's seems you'd been away for a while (possibly taking a break from electronic devices?)
      xo

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  5. ITA with what Cynthia Watkins said about holding her ground. I also want to ensure my children know how to live without technology, I want them to know how to entertain themselves and not be reliant on technology to entertain them.

    I think you're doing a great job is finding the balance between technology & face-time-with-parents, so I think the "problem," if there is one, is of perception. Maybe ask Little Mister what these kids are missing out on when they're playing their games. How many trips to the ocean have they not had? How many cookies have they not learned to bake? How much books have they not read to a baby brother? How much do they miss their mom or dad being at work so much that they even have time to play so many games?

    And finally, I'd talk with the school about getting those kids up & running around at recess. Check out Playworks.org, they are a non-profit that supports learning by providing safe, healthy and inclusive play and physical activity to low-income schools at recess and throughout the entire school day. Our school is no longer low-income-enough to qualify for Playworks, but we are going to be using the same concepts next year, just with a paid full-time person instead of a Playworks volunteer. Not only are the kids more active, but there's less opportunity for bullying, and the cooperative games they focus on really encourage the kids to cheer for one another instead of compete against one another. Perhaps you could talk to your prinicipal & PTA about getting a similar program at your school?

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  6. Ah, yes, I've heard of Playworks -- what a great idea to implement that (or something similar.)

    As always, so happy to hear from you!

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  7. Such an interesting question. My oldest isn't at school yet (and seems pretty immune to the media influence at her early childhood education centre). For me it comes down to WHY you're restricting their access. I let my girls watch movies occasionally, because the issue for us is the advertising and shortened attention span of TV. If you're thinking carefully about this issue, I seriously doubt you'd be depriving your kids of time or attention in favour of TV and games. Ultimately the decision you make will be right for your family.

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    1. Why? As you said, advertising, shortened attention span, and also for boys, the over-stimulation from exposure to "action" (as in fighting and violence.) Just the fact that my older son seems addicted to t.v. and the few computer games we allow him to play is of concern to me. He would prefer to play on the computer instead of reading or creating an art project, and I find this very disturbing.

      Our solution right now is to allot him a certain amount of time on the computer each day, however the time must be earned by getting his homework done and reading for at least 20 minutes. On the weekends he must also read for at least 20 minutes and complete a piece of artwork. So far this plan is working out well...

      thanks for your comment --
      MB

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  8. I'm a product of no TV, very healthy eating, and limited media and movie exposure. While there were some challenging times (between about 10-14 years) I'm so glad my parents did what they did. While I've owned a TV on and off as an adult, I'm now raising my 2 year old daughter without TV and extremely limited computer exposure (she talks to her grandparents in Australia on Skype). I still eat healthy and don't interact much with mainstream media. I feel like I live a very balanced life, in part because I'm not consumed by consumption. By contrast, my older sister, raised with exactly the same exposure as me, is totally addicted to TV, lets her kids watch pretty much everything, and has often said that her goal is to raise "mainstream" kids. So what are we supposed to conclude? Two kids raised in the same household with very different end results! Go with your gut, do what you feel is right, and your kids will do with it what they will!

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    1. Ha! I love the perspective you bring to this question of how to find balance in this world saturated with media-overload... Thank you so much, my friend!

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  9. This has always been a worry to me as well, as my soon to be 8 year old, oldest grandson has never had a game system of any type. He too told me that there is no one to talk to on the bus because they pull out their handheld games and play all the ride home. At this point, he is incredulous that anyone would rather handle a piece of plastic over being with someone real, but I wonder how long that will last. My three were raised with limited TV, and didn't have a video game until they bought one for themselves when they were 9 and 11. It was too late to go to the darkside. They really didn't care a thing about it. I was happy that they've all adopted those same policies as adults, but seriously, who will there be to talk to if you aren't using your smart phone. Sad.

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    1. Thanks for adding to the conversation. It's always interesting to hear how media limits play out from childhood into adulthood.

      Your comment made me laugh because I happened to pick up the comment-alert-email via my smart-phone! I can avoid the computer for days at a time by quickly picking up email on my phone, and by reading email on my phone I've reduced my time on the computer drastically over the last 6 months; emailing via my phone forces me to keep my emails brief or delay my response until I have time to go to the computer... and on the phone there is little temptation to browse and web-surf.

      Cheers!
      MB

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  10. Hi, a great questions and some great responses. We have an almost-two-year-old in our house and strictly restrict her time with the television. It's hard when we ourselves have emails to do and use the computer for Skyping family overseas and such, but I think we strike a good balance. We're considering going completely tv free at the moment as our balance may be getting a bit lopsided, but the issue of computer games isn't really a problem at this age.

    Despite agreeing with the lament of the loss of tactile and immersive traditional activities like reading and imaginative play and such, I feel I must put forward the flip-side of the coin a little. The right computer games can teach a lot of very useful skills to a child including hand-eye co-ordination, fine motor control, logical reasoning, problem solving, speed of thinking and many more. Obviously it does depend on which games are played; many of the more indulgent shoot-em-ups are less than useful, but many many adventure games are based on social interaction with other players, problem solving and team work. They learn to think outside of the box (as this is the way most games are written) and the exposure to flight simulators and similar can really enhance a child's dexterity and multi-tasking. In the last instance, I saw a TED talk the other day of a cutting edge researcher investigating the deepest depths of our oceans by remote robot and providing his findings for free to educational institutions. School children (through his program) can even control the robot themselves and do some amazing exploration. He said he trusts children more than adults, because even the finest adult minds don't have the gaming experience to control a remote robot via computers.

    I'd just like to re-itterate that this does not mean all computer games are good (as indeed all books are not good), nor am I suggesting you let your kids loose with any amount of computer time. But perhaps, as parents, we should take more of an interest in computer games, understand which ones benefit and in what ways, such as the problem solving of final fantasy, the balance and co-ordination of wii balance board games, the dexterity and motor control required in flight simulators. We understand and constantly allow our children to 'learn through play', these are merely different lessons through different play, but they do (I believe) need to be monitored and controlled so there is not too much time, and the games are not too 'mindless and violent' for example for the given age.

    I myself learned more about playing chess against a computer than I did playing against any of my peers or family members. Maybe, as with almost everything, active parental interest, control and understanding is more the method of the day?

    Thanks.

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  11. Dear Friend --

    Thank you so much for adding to the conversation with your thoughtful comment! Please do introduce yourself when you have a chance!

    MB

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    1. Apologies, I thought I had! :-/ Must've ticked the wrong box. My name is Andy, from Australia. I look forward to reading more of your blog :-)

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    2. Hello Andy from Australia! So nice to "meet" you. I'm glad you've found my blog and have been enjoying it. Thanks for coming back to say hi -- I look forward to hearing from you again!
      MB

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  12. Fun discussion! I was raised in a mostly unplugged environment, and feel strongly that creativity is birthed out of those wide, open brain spaces. Our kids do some TV, and some internet, partly due to required online homework, so they're not completely lost, but they *are* out of water when it comes to their classmates' tech-kid / cartoon culture. There is a difference between my girls and the majority of their peers, an innocence, sure, but mostly my girls have an originality and creative confidence that many of their peers miss. I think the benefits outweigh the negatives by miles! Relying less on screens helps my kids as readers, students and artistic thinkers.

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  13. Can't resist adding a comment so fascinating. We're struggling too..my 6 and 4 year old are at a steiner school and completely screen free. My 13 year old...also at a steiner school struggles with being the only boy in his class who doesn't like games.... feels left out etc. But realises shooting people on screen really isn't fun. BUT he has just bought himself a phone, with my reluctant approval and we're struggling with the time he spends fiddling on it. Notice when he comes off he finds it hard to get into anything else. He is definitely finding socialising easier since the phone and it makes me feel a bit sad, that things are this way. Creating a creative active house with other options..ie he cooked dinner tonight and is going canoeing tomorrow helps expand horizons away from screens. A balance....but it's a struggle....

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  14. I don't have any suggestions, and I struggle with the same feelings though my kids are still quite small. But I want to say I love this post. Really, as I see it, the thoughtfulness you have about the issue and the conversation around it with your son are the relevant points. Whether or not you decide to allow it, talking to him about your feelings and hearing his - seems to me - are the things that will impress themselves on him as a person. It's a confusing complicated world we humans have created for ourselves, and it's hard to think through all the issues - there are so many! So many parents simply don't think about them at all, because that's easier. Good for you.

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