Why I don’t worry about my kids’ screen time, Part 2

Published by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2011 at 08:02 PM

Yesterday, I wrote about one reason I don’t worry about my kids’ screen time — because reading, the outdoors, and video games are not mutually exclusive.

Another reason I don’t worry about my kids’ screen time:

What they consume, they produce.

Project-based homeschooling is about working actively with knowledge. When they were small, my boys dug into their interests and drew, painted, built, constructed, played, wrote, read. Now that they’re older, they still approach every interest with the same mind-set — a mind-set of ownership and control.

Their reaction to their favorite video games and movies? “I want to learn to program my own games.”

“I’m writing a story about these characters.” “I’m writing a comic book.” “I’m going to make a movie about this.”

They don’t just passively consume — they actively produce. They take ownership over ideas and work with them, build with them. They take what interests them, what they enjoy, what they love, and they make something new.

They treat the producer of the content as a partner and an equal, the same way they treat their learning mentors and their peers. “That’s interesting — now watch what I do with it.” They even get into a dialogue with some of those producers — writing and e-mailing some of their favorite writers and artists. They put their work out into the community and share it with other people. They actively participate; they make a contribution; they’re part of the big conversation.

My younger son used to watch the Star Wars movies on videotape on a tiny little TV set we had at our office. He would advance the tape a short distance then laboriously draw the scene. He filled reams of paper with drawings. He’s grown into an artist and cartoonist, a writer and filmmaker. He still loves Star Wars; he creates stop-motion LEGO films using his own Star Wars-inspired characters. He writes chapter books. He spends hours making stop-motion films.

My older son has always been a history nut. At age six, he stumped a friend with his spontaneous history quizzes — a friend who had a master’s degree in history. It was a deep interest, and he’s sustained it over many years. He loved the computer/video games Civilization and Age of Empires. After playing Civilization (which was too complex for me to figure out — I apologized for buying him a game beyond his years, and he waved me away and taught it to himself), he said he needed new history books that were specifically about the different countries and people in the game. He wasn’t just consuming the game; it was engaging him in a dialogue that sent him running to the library for more knowledge.

I know that not all children have this ability, this tendency to work with knowledge, think critically, and apply their own spin. But if it’s important to us, we can help all children develop it. There’s nothing a homeschooler can do at home that schools can’t replicate with their bigger budgets and long days. Schools can be havens of reading, writing, making, producing, and critical thinking; they can offer up natural playscapes and organic gardens and long-term projects. They can do everything I’m doing at home. If they don’t — if it’s just not an important enough priority for us as a community — then it’s a little hypocritical to expect the kids to make up for it during their very limited free time.

My kids’ ability to confront ideas actively rather than passively is what project-based homeschooling represents to me, and the way my children react to their ever-changing world is what reassures me that we’re on the right path. 

The technology is always going to be changing and evolving. If our children are active learners and creators, they’ll master it, they’ll control it, and they’ll make it their own.

Read part one here:

Why I Don’t Worry about My Kids’ Screen Time, Part I




Comment by Steph on November 8, 2011 at 10:22 PM

I agree! My kids have gotten into making RPG modules, and my son is beginning to show an interest in programming.

Comment by kirsten on November 8, 2011 at 10:47 PM

Oh my gosh, YES!!!
All the time. "Let's go outside and play Link and Zelda", or after playing LEGO Heroica, going outside to PLAY Heroica. Or watching a pirate movie, and ditching it halfway through to play playmobil pirates or design a treasure map or captain's log.

We need to hang out.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 9, 2011 at 12:47 AM

steph, excellent. :)

kirsten, yes, so familiar! :) and yes, we really do need to hang out. ;^)

Comment by estea on November 9, 2011 at 02:13 AM


" the way my children react to their ever-changing world is what reassures me that we’re on the right path"

yep. same here.

technology is so not the enemy and i tire of seeing that dead horse bashed by too many homeschoolers :(

Comment by Charmaine on November 9, 2011 at 03:03 AM

Yup, yup, yup. Picked up my oldest son's friend (age 7) from school yesterday and on the 30-minute walk home all the talk was about a specific computer game (Moshi Monsters). Got home, they played Moshi Monsters on the computer for about 30 minutes, then decided they'd had enough computer and went outside to 'play' Moshi Monsters! They were out there for about 1.5 hours, as their fun evolved into a whole bunch of other stuff. Passive? Hah!

Comment by patricia on November 9, 2011 at 05:53 AM

This line says it all for me:

"They don’t just passively consume — they actively produce."

That's it. I write so often on this topic on my own blog (I'm sure my readers are sick to death of hearing how you can learn from Thor and Lego Universe.) The specifics of what kids are taking in isn't what's really important. What matters more is what they DO with what captivates them.

Tonight while waiting for dinner, my kid designed a "Build-A-Robot" generator. Basically, he drew ten different robot heads, ten different hands, ten different weapons and so on, for a dozen robot parts. Then he asked me to choose a selection for each part, and he drew my robot. Did the same with his dad. I saw elements of the video game Spore in what he did, but there were also aspects of ancient weaponry, about which he knows quite a lot. Scientific talk of metals came into the conversation.

Just a little fun while waiting for dinner, but to me this is what homeschooling is all about. I never tire of watching my kids take so much in, on so many diverse topics, and then mash it up into something utterly unique to them.

Comment by Stacey on November 9, 2011 at 09:14 PM

Two things, while I should be getting some work done.

First, I often see the discussion about passive consuming of media focus on the moment of watching the movie. For example, I've been told a few times that my son only passively watches movies and DVDs because he is only sitting there, he isn't drawing or playing while he watches. Except after he watches that's when he incorporates what he learns or enjoys into what he is doing. I think that people assume that if you aren't doing it while you are watching it really is only a narcotic entertainment. But different people experience media differently. Personally I have to be doing something else while watching tv or a movie. Either way we are getting something out of it. And hey sometimes it is okay to watch some TV to relax.

Second, and this might be a general question about a lot of what we discuss here, what is our responsibility for the larger community with what we learn here? So often we come together from your (Lori) quotes and posts and learn from each other and share our own thoughts, but for me I want it to lead to some sort of bigger change. Personally I share a lot of the posts here with my local child-led homeschooling group. I know most of us are homeschoolers so our focus is on our own family but I wish there was a way to take these ideas that we delve into to more people. I'm not really sure how.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 9, 2011 at 09:51 PM

estea, it makes me a little sad sometimes, because my kids want to share all their projects with friends whose parents are anti- the tools they're using. bit awkward. :)

i think it's fine, of course, to not own tv or video games or whatever, but i have to say, it's hard to find the hs'ers who are both relaxed and tech-friendly. ;^)

charmaine, good example! :^)

patricia, ah, you reminded me of all the drawings "spore" generated here, too. :^)

stacey, that's so funny. i imagine if he got up and played during the movie, they would comment on his lack of attention span and/or ability to sit still and focus!

as to your general question, i'm not sure either. this blog is my way of trying to keep sharing these ideas beyond the life of my former school and the small world of my own personal experience. i suppose what i hope is that more people embrace the philosophy and share it with others just as you are doing. :^) if you have ideas for taking it further, i'd love to discuss them!

Comment by Cordelia on November 10, 2011 at 08:01 PM

I read this post to my son, and we both did a lot of "wha? that's crazy" Later, my husband came home and said he'd seen the billboard around here, too.

I meant to write this comment that day, It's a sad comment on our times that we trust our own feelings about things so little. Almost by definition, anything people, especially kids, like alot is suspect. I had a colleague awhiile back who ikept giving things up because he thought he was addicted to them. His evidence? He wanted more of them. It wasn't a mindset that allowed for the simple fact of pleasure--the notion that it is natural to want to do thinkgs you like. . Of course, you're right about the reading programs and the like. I feel the same way about the colonization of things kids like by adults with ulterior motives. All of the Lego and robotics classes that are really "standards based" math and science programs, that people "put" their kids into. It's sort of like baby mozart a few years back. Supposed to make them smart. Curriculumizing the learning and the fun.

The day you posted part 1, my son had just found out how to save progress on Minecraft, a game that doesn't have much in the way of point and click features. He loves making things "the old fashioned way" and minecraft is a good fit. As a bit of a perfectionist, he had a hard time with the prospect of losing all of his work if he made a wrong move, so he had to solve this problem. It's not too transparent, but it is doable ("it's in beta Mom") The process involved alot of reading, watching videos, some by pretty advanced nerds. Somewhere in the middle of it he had to go buy a new bigger flashdrive. Somewhere in the learning process, one of his friends was having a hard time with the game, so he figured out how to set up a multi-player server for her to join. Somewhere along there he figured out how to use the progress saving to import his cool new server world into his stand alone game. I was acknowledging all he'd done (soflly and quietly, it has to subtle or it all fizzles). He was very happy, and he launched into a dramatic rendition of how you could make this "not fun" It went something like (in his best nasal schoolmarm voice) "class, today we're going to learn how to save progress in minecraft." Turn to page 8 in your books. First, you will need to locate your gameplay files. Next you will need to create a destination folder. I'm handing out flashdrives, please take one and pass the rest on. You will need to give each file a unique identifiable name that is easily recognized later. Who can tell me how you will do that?.....Tomorrow we will learn how to set up a minecraft server. The instructions are on page 10, Read the instructions tonight and be ready to set up your server tomorrow..." etc

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 10, 2011 at 09:21 PM

l o l o l o l his rendition of how to suck the fun out of minecraft by turning it into schoolwork!

"It wasn't a mindset that allowed for the simple fact of pleasure -- the notion that it is natural to want to do things you like."

love this. and love your description of all the work and effort he put into his minecrafting and all the learning he did as a result. <3

Comment by Paul Blanchard on November 10, 2011 at 11:41 PM

I see a recurring pattern here in the comments of others above and in my own children. There is a definite yin/yang to passive entertainment and active production.
My son has what some see as an unhealthy interest in fire power, but what I see is a greater interest in physics, and mathematics. At 6 years old he is learning terms such as feet per second, and the relevance of mass as applied to ammunition. His interest in weapons is directly influencing his desire to learn science and math.
My daughter being the more artistically minded creates as many movies for YouTube as she watches. She writes a screen play, develops characters, and thinks of dialogues. Her poetry has been published. Without technology she may not have found such a passion so young.
My children are brilliant, I find every activity to be a learning opportunity. Even a session of playing Halo is an opportunity to teach problem solving skills, work on reading, and teach simple mathematics such as angles and trajectories.
We have to move along with the times and discover teaching opportunities in their passions. Thereby making learning fun.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 11, 2011 at 12:35 AM

agree completely, paul! thank you for sharing!

Comment by Cristina on November 11, 2011 at 04:58 AM

I always love when you write about video games! Too many people demonize them. My son plays a lot of games. He also creates characters, builds clay models, and has made costumes out of duct tape based on gaming characters. He was Overlord for Halloween this year. I still need to get the photos up. Yes, I would love for him to balance his time more, do things I can brag about, but at what cost? His friends who have TV and internet time rationed crave it. Not only that, they are more impatient about their games. My son complained about one friend who kept using real money to buy upgrades for his game. My son said these upgrades are available if you simply play the game and get experience points. He patiently does his campaigns (quests?) and gains his upgrades the old-fashioned way. He earns it. :-)

Peace and Laughter!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 11, 2011 at 03:17 PM

we've noticed that friends whose screen time is rationed just want to binge when they're at our house — they either want to be glued to the TV or the video games the *entire* time. meanwhile my kids are trying to get them to do other things. ironic! :^)

Comment by Judy on November 12, 2011 at 05:35 AM

This makes me feel so much better about the hours of screen time my boys consume. It's all educational (hard to find a decent program for young kids that's not, these days!), but I have wondered where the line should be. Then they act out the stories. And extend/reinvent the stories. And draw endless pictures from the stories. And then I realized the reason they want to re-watch some of them is so they can fully absorb and memorize each detail. Then they spend time with their (ahem) 'socialized' peers and I realize all that screen time has not dumbed them down half as much as institutionalizing them for 6 hours a day would! (however, they do need more outside time...we all have something we need to work on, right? :). )

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 12, 2011 at 01:39 PM

it's always easier to achieve a positive goal ("let's get outside more!") than a negative goal ("you need to stop watching so much TV!") — even though they work toward the same goal!

along the same vein, you can start to feed the creative side by making (or maintaining, adding to, tidying) an art studio and/or writing space, making more room for dramatic play, making new tools available (typewriter, video camera), and on and on.

if we feed what we want to see, we'll see more of it!

Comment by Katrina on November 16, 2011 at 06:17 AM

My son loves mini golf. He played mini golf video games for hours, for days. Then he began drawing his own courses (he draws EVERYTHING that engages him). Then he came to me one day and said he wanted to play HIS courses on the computer. "How do I do that, Mom?" He is now 6 months in to learning to program with SCRATCH from MIT. And it all began with mini golf video games. I love watching this unfold.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 16, 2011 at 02:08 PM

katrina, beautiful example. :^)

Comment by Lily on November 17, 2011 at 08:23 PM

Anyone with a child with ASD (Aspergers) that finds a balance between screen time and other activities?

I love the article and comments but it doesn't seem to happen in our house. My son spends hours and hours on his computer and tv and wii. While he is learning things and loving it, I still am concerned he's not spending much time in other pursuits. He declines to join his friends or sibling or me in other activities so often. When friends visit they often end up playing outside by themselves while he watches tv.

Does self regulation and achieving a healthy balance always work....?

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 17, 2011 at 09:17 PM

i'll throw it open for others to comment intelligently on aspergers, but - how old is your son?

Comment by Katrina on November 17, 2011 at 11:04 PM

Lily: I wrote the example about my son watching mini-golf games and that leading to computer programming. After reading your comment, I wanted to let you know that my son, almost 8 yrs. old, was diagnosed 4 months ago with high-functioning autism, which in my understanding can bear a strong resemblance to aspergers. And I do still worry about excessive computer time occasionally. Since every child is different I will only comment on what I observe/do. ASDs are very visual so tv/computer is natural draw, but since we have only one TV, one computer, (no Wii), there are built-in limits because he has to share those items with the rest of the family. He tends to watch videos in spurts and then, almost as if he has sucked everything out of it he can get up to that point, he moves on to something else. There are LOTS of times when I try to invite him to play a game or do "whatever" together and he's not interested. I have to remind myself that since for ASDs the social thinking aspect is ALOT of work its understandable if he is less willing than I'd like to participate.It can sometimes be hard to discern what is a rut resulting from ASD rigidity, difficulty in transitioning, etc., but if I can look back over the last 6 months or so and see change/growth it calms me down. It also helps me see cycles of interest and behavior. I've learned to trust my gut with my boy which in our case means I couldn't do a true "unschooling" approach. We tried for almost a year but the ASD craving for structure sent us a slightly different direction.Now we have a couple hours of more structured activities and he still has most of the day to work on his projects. It was just enough to "scratch the structure itch" he had. I dno't know if your son is attending public school but my son started out in public school and when he got home he was so wiped out from the work of trying to figure out that world socially that he didn't want any interaction with me when he was home. He was tapped out. i dont' know if any of these random thoughts are helpful. Just trust your gut and continue to try and introduce activities one-off of things that engage him (i.e. my son liked paper mazes, which led to perplexus 3d mazes, which led to an as yet unsuccessful attempt to build a 3d ball maze from craft sticks). You may fail more than you succeed, but your successess will be AMAZING! Best wishes!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 17, 2011 at 11:20 PM

katrina, thank you so much for taking time to leave such a thoughtful and detailed response.

Comment by Louise Allana on November 18, 2011 at 10:12 AM

I would love it if screen time worked this organically in our house. I have had to work hard at breaking the grip that the computer has on my family. Two years ago my husband & I limited computer entitlements to one hour per child on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only. I could not live in a house where the computer was the centre of interaction for up to six hours in a row each day, and it meant that the housekeeping was unfairly left to me - the kids & their Dad were 'busy'. There were also far too many tantrums when someone had their turn cut short because of dinner/commitments outside the house. Now I think we have a much better dynamic, as everyone understands that screen time is a privilege to enjoy when you get it and not an entitlement to throw tantrums over. As the kids become teenagers the rules will no longer be as proscriptive, but as a mother of four with a husband who will willingly neglect his duties in favour of a computer game or the Internet, I do have fear around what is modelled and my incapacity to compensate purely through example. (This very afternoon the kids & I did a science experiment while their Dad played on the computer.) Our rules around screen time might not be best practice, but they are making the best of a flawed situation.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 18, 2011 at 02:00 PM

i'm absolutely not against setting limits, in case that's not clear. :) i do think there are problems with limits; they can make the desired thing that much more desirable. and, i think in the long run, it's very useful for children to learn to rebalance themselves, which requires letting them overindulge occasionally. but that's not always possible. with four children and a parent all vying for the computer, limits make sense to me — sharing is a kind of limit, after all.

Comment by annie on August 11, 2012 at 02:38 PM

I wonder though if anyone else is dealing with kids who don't seem to have a sensory system that is well built for visual stimulation of the screen variety. My daughter loves video games and watching videos, but we are basically agreeing to deal with the emotional fallout when we allow it to go on. She just gets super grumpy and combative after screen time. She isn't all that into admitting the truth of this, but the other day she even said "After I've been watching something I think I just get mad a lot easier. I don't know why."

Anyone else experiencing this sort of thing??

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 11, 2012 at 03:14 PM

how great that she can call herself out on it!

i personally get distracted/annoyed easily by electronic media. i can’t stand to have music playing when i’m trying to talk to someone; i only like to listen to music when i’m alone or when i’m with family on a long car trip and no one is talking. i hate having the tv on when i’m doing anything other than watching something with 100% focus, so i rarely have it on. and so on.

the reason i wrote this post about why i don’t worry about *my* kids’ screen time is that it annoys me when people make a generalization like “screen time is bad for kids.” “they should read books or play outside instead.” etc. but flipping from the general to the specific doesn’t mean NO kids are going to have issues with screen time. i would just rather not demonize screen time and focus instead of what works/doesn’t work for an individual child.

since your daughter loves video games and videos but they make her snarly, and since she’s admitting it’s an issue, i wonder if you could agree to try something like when she finishes having screen time she has a chill-out period of X minutes doing something very quiet like reading or drawing. maybe if she has a longer, mellower transition she can switch back from screens to real life in a better mood. just an idea. :)

Comment by sarah pj on August 11, 2012 at 10:09 PM

YES! Oh gosh yes. However, she doesn't recognize it. I think Lori is moving this to the forum so I'll just say that I think a) she uses screens as an escape hatch when she's already in a mood and they don't improve things. b) I think that generally the shows/games/websites that are made to be attractive to girls are pretty useless so at some level she feels like she wasted her time. It doesn't fill her up. I'll make exceptions for Activity TV and for documentaries. And I will admit that a session of My Little Pony videos will spur hours of drawing time. But that's it. The more she busies herself in other ways, the more content she is.

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 12, 2012 at 06:59 AM


sarah, i highlighted that phrase in your reply because i think (and i am intending on moving this to the forum for further discussion!) that we’re now talking about two things:

1 - kids who need help managing their screen time


2 - the poor quality of the offerings for girls.


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