Open thread: The psychology of parental control

Published by Lori Pickert on December 7, 2015 at 08:56 AM

Classic PBH advice — Are you choosing the books, materials, and activities? Are you researching the field trip and making the fun plans? Let the kids do it! They’ll be more engaged, they’ll acquire more life skills, and they’ll retain ownership over their work. The more we do, the less they can do.

Yet parents have said to me, “I like being the one who plans things. That’s my role. It’s fun for me.”

Of course it’s fun for you — but as Capt. Picard points out, how engaged are kids if you’re the one doing the fun part? How much ownership do they feel when you’re the one doing the important stuff?

I’ve been reading a great book called The Psychology of Parental Control: How Well-Meant Parenting Backfires, and one basic idea it shares is that parents don’t just control kids through threats and punishment, they also control them through positive-seeming actions like rewards and managing their activities.

Some quotes for you:

“[P]arental control does not simply mean yelling or using physical punishment. … Some parents’ most controlling behavior comes from their desire to provide the very best for their children and to be certain that their children are not missing out on a single opportunity.”

“Parents and other caretakers can control through physical punishment, but they can also control through rewards and even praise.”

“If the goal of a parent is to assist in the development of a self-reliant, competent individual, then there are many ways in which control, although well meant, backfires.”

“If parental control is one end of the spectrum, what is its opposite? One answer is parents’ support of autonomy in their children. Autonomy support is an active process, which involves taking a child’s frame of reference, supporting independent problem solving, and involving the child in creating rules and structures. Using this approach, parents also provide choices for children and encourage their children to initiate their own activities. The goal of autonomy-supportive parenting is to facilitate a sense of self-initiation in children and to support their active attempts to solve their own problems.”

It is easy to see how PBH aligns with autonomy-supportive parenting.

If we’re the ones who choose materials, arrange activities, control the budget, make decisions, and take the role of providing exciting experiences both at home and on the go, we are maintaining control. That puts our child into a passive role. We have every good intention, but we rob our children of agency.

No matter how *awesome* the experience — and the life — we make for our child, they are passive and they don’t feel ownership, agency, or control. They don’t get the critical experiences they need to make their own awesome life — defined however they see fit.

— — —

We are constantly trying to explain to parents new to PBH that they shouldn’t ask for resource suggestions but should instead help their child find their own resources.

The parents are confused — shouldn’t they want to find the *best* books, the *best* resources, the *best* activities?

But that’s a short cut, isn’t it? Asking for help locating the *best* resources means you don’t have to go out and laboriously find them yourself. It means you don’t have to spend time checking out and bringing home and flipping through those books that looked good but were actually useless. It means you don’t have to sift through a lot of possibilities online.

Of course, we don’t want you to do that boring slog yourself — we want your child to do it!

Slowly locating the best resources seems like a waste of time. But it is how children learn. And it is never a waste of time for children to do their own meaningful work, at their own pace, in their own way.

When it comes to learning, we don’t want to take a short-cut.

If they don’t have the opportunity to compare and contrast different books and other resources and decide which are the best — which have exactly the information they need, which present it in the most easily understood way, which are more entertaining and fun to read — they don’t develop the ability to do that. They don’t practice critical thinking; they don’t learn to set their own goals and make good assessments. They become passive recipients of other people’s suggestions.

They may even look at the “best” book and think (silently), Oh well, this isn’t what I wanted, so I guess what I wanted doesn’t exist, since this is the *best* book.

They learn that the way to find what you need is to ask other people or find a blog post listing the “10 best” xyz. They are trained away from active, hands-on research. They don’t develop the skills to wade through all the options and determine which best meet their needs and desires.

When we become a filter for our child, we take away their need to learn how to filter. When we depend on someone else to filter for us, we’re choosing from a subset created by a random person who doesn’t know us or our child. Our child is now two or more degrees away from doing their own research and making their own discoveries.

PBH is slow learning, and we should be in no hurry to find great resources. All of the work that goes into researching, discussing, comparing, rejecting, branching out, talking to experts, and so on — *that’s why we’re here*.

“The ways we control can be subtle and can be laden with good intentions.

Think of a small boy holding a bunch of tulips. To keep the flowers together, he grasps them tightly. By the time he arrives at his grandmother’s, the stems are crushed. But he meant well. That same sort of thing can happen to parents who hold on too tightly to their children.”

…and to their children’s learning experiences.

“When children go through the motions, complying with adult directives and contingencies, even the positive outcomes they accrue — good grades, trophies, and so on — do not facilitate a positive feeling.

Only when the person feels a sense of ownership of his or her actions can positive experiences translate into healthy self-esteem and well-being.

The goal of parenting for positive self-esteem is not necessarily to ensure that things go right. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if the child has one more trophy on the shelf.

What parents must do is to create conditions under which children can take pleasure in their own choices and accomplishments because they are theirs.” — The Psychology of Parental Control: How Well-Meant Parenting Backfires

• • •

I haven’t done an open thread in a long while, but I’m hoping to make it a regular Monday thing.

For those who haven’t participated before, you can ask any question or share/discuss whatever you wish in the comments — it doesn’t have to be related to the above discussion. The thread will stay live so don’t hesitate to jump in after it’s already been up awhile!

After reading my posts on abundance, a few people asked:

If we provide children with more materials, will they still learn to share?

Here are my thoughts.

Too often, we concentrate on teaching lessons through negative means: forcing children to apologize (often after putting them in a Lord of the Flies situation in the first place), forcing kids to share stingy resources, and so on. Then we tell ourselves that they’re learning necessary lessons about how to treat others.

In reality, generosity is more likely to produce a generous person. Stinginess is more likely to produce a child who is hell-bent on getting his fair share.

Demanding that children share ignores their feelings and does not truly teach them to share. It more likely teaches children to feel angry and resentful toward adults and to believe that sharing is always accompanied by emotional pain. The irony of sharing is that when children know they are not required to share, they are more likely to do so! — Teaching Children to Share

Will children raised with abundance learn how to share?

When we buy more butterfly nets or more wooden trucks, we aren’t focusing on abundance just to stop children from squabbling. We are investing in abundance (by making thoughtful choices) in order to allow the children to do more.

Instead of sharing wooden trucks, they are now sharing ideas.

Instead of sharing butterfly nets, they are sharing butterfly-catching strategies.

Children will still learn to share, because to do anything with others requires cooperation, collaboration, discussion, identifying and solving problems, and on and on. The point is to get to this richer area of learning that is completely blocked by an initial lack of abundance: not enough time or materials for the children to do anything meaningful or complex, for them to work together, for them to focus on something more important.

It doesn’t work to use punitive measures to teach children to be loving, kind, generous, compassionate, empathetic. In order for children to develop these traits, they have to grow up being treated in a loving, kind, generous, compassionate, and empathetic way. Whatever you want your child to develop within himself should be a big part of his environment.

We are so used to the idea that children must be forced to share, forced to apologize, punished for disagreeing, and so on, that we lose the opportunity to help them develop strong emotional intelligence, self-awareness, generosity, compassion, kindness, cooperativeness, and so on simply by raising them in a peaceful environment that focuses on doing meaningful work.

Please understand me: I am not recommending that parents ignore their children’s bad behavior and let them do whatever they like. I am recommending that you embody the traits you would like your child to develop. I am saying that focusing on abundance creates meaning and purpose — it allows your child to stop hyper-focusing on who has what and how much is left and who’s turn it is and move into a much richer area of making, doing, talking, sharing, extending ideas, helping, solving problems, and teaching.

Decide which areas of your life are important and worthy of investing in and creating abundance. Decide which areas of your life are less meaningful and simply stop investing your time and money there. Children absorb so much from how you live and the choices you make. Be thoughtful about those choices. Simplify your life in a way that shifts your resources to your deepest values.


Parenting with abundance and simplicity

Published by Lori Pickert on May 23, 2013 at 12:33 PM

This is a follow-up to my previous post, Parenting with abundance vs. scarcity.

A few people had questions for me about how abundance fits in with simplicity and even minimalism, thinking those concepts might be oppositional. Actually, they work together. Let me explain how.

Abundance requires simplicity — because in order to have abundance in one area, you must reduce something else. You can either use your toy budget to buy a roomful of random toys or you can decide to focus on investing in only two or three open-ended toys: say, wooden blocks, a wooden dollhouse, LEGO.

If you have a lot of random toys, children might fight because they all want to play with the plastic dinosaur at once; then when they tire of that, they suddenly all want to play with the nerf gun. They can’t play *together* with one plastic dinosaur. However, if you have a basket full of plastic dinosaurs, they can all play together. They can take them to the sandbox or get out the clay and make a dinosaur world. They can collaborate and cooperate and build something complex.

If you have a couple dozen wooden blocks, not only can children not play together (there just aren’t enough to share), but even one child is limited in the complexity of anything he can build — there aren’t enough blocks for complexity. He can build a small, simple structure and that’s it. He quickly reaches the limits of what he can build and he can go no further. A large variety of materials or experiences can make it seem like we’ve given our children more, but really we’ve given them less.

If you have fewer random toys and a LOT of wooden blocks, suddenly you can build something big and complex. Multiple children can work together, and there are enough materials for everyone. There are enough materials to go beyond simple ideas and simple constructions.

But this abundance requires simplifying — you can’t offer an abundance of everything. You have to choose what matters most and invest there. To offer abundance, you must thoughtfully simplify.

PBH requires focus. In order to support your child’s deep interest and help him stay with an idea longer, you have to forgo some random, unrelated activities. They might be perfectly fun activities, like a homeschool field trip to the petting zoo. But you might instead take him to the planetarium so he can stay with his interest on space. They might be perfectly fun crafts, attached to the current season or holiday. But you choose instead to help him stay focused on making planets out of recycled materials. You are forgoing variety, novelty, and width to focus instead on depth, on mastery, on becoming an expert in something he really cares about. You’re letting go of some things that are mildly fun and interesting for everyone to focus on something that your specific, unique child finds deeply engaging. You are helping him move beyond the surface of learning and dig deeper, learn more, and build new skills.

If you want your child to be able to work deeply and meaningfully, you might pare down your extracurricular activities. Another family might be doing swim lessons, tae kwon do, soccer, and ballet, while your child is goes to one art class a week at the local museum. You are making a choice for simplicity (more white space, more project time) that is simultaneously a choice for abundance (a deeper exploration of art, more time for his specific deep interest).

The main point of abundance vs. scarcity is that if you limit materials, opportunities, or experiences too much, you are ensuring that your child can only be a passive consumer. You haven’t given him enough time and support to become an active creator.

“Abundance” doesn’t mean an enormous pile of materials or a huge number of activities or a never-leaves-the-basement obsession with a particular interest. Abundance means thoughtfully paring away the less important so you can invest more time, energy, and money in what you really care about.

What is the point of simplifying your life, if it’s not so you can do more of what matters?

Parenting with abundance vs. scarcity

Published by Lori Pickert on May 18, 2013 at 07:42 AM

This week I shared how we use generous limits as a way of dealing with screen time and how that approach reflects an abundance vs. scarcity mindset.

When I owned a small Reggio-inspired school and worked as an educational consultant, I often ran into this type of problem, where emotions are high and adults and children are in opposition. No one is happy and the overarching goals are not being met.

Scarcity situation:

- Conflict arises because of a scarcity situation (or a perceived scarcity situation).

- There is intense focus around the item or experience that is felt to be scarce.

- The adult is frustrated by the child’s intense focus.

- The adult wants to “teach a lesson” through scarcity.

- Much time is spent arguing, bargaining, and complaining (the ABCs of scarcity).

Scarcity issues typically arise directly from how the adult has organized the situation. Once conflict occurs, the adult usually maintains the scarcity for a reason: because they want to teach a lesson.

Here’s a reenactment of a mentoring session I did with a preschool whose teachers had visited us. All names and details have been changed.

Sunnyside: We want our kids to be working on projects and collaborating like yours do, but all they do is fight all morning.

Me: What are they fighting about?

Sunnyside: Well, there are a lot of boys in this class and only four kids can use the block center at a time. They fight constantly about who is in the block center, whose turn it is, how long they’ve been in there, and so on. Then, even when they’re in the block center, we have two wooden trucks and they fight over who gets to use those.

Even the girls who weren’t even interested in blocks are demanding to play in the block center and demanding their turn with the trucks, just because they see the boys fighting about it. All we do all morning is referee arguments. No one is working on any projects. All they do is fight about this.

Me: What have you tried so far?

Sunnyside: We want the kids to use all the centers instead of just staying in one place all morning, so every half-hour we have them move from one center to the next one. And we have an egg timer to keep track of whose turn it is with the wooden trucks, but we get busy and sometimes we forget to check it, then they fight even more.

Me: Okay, you need to do two things.

Sunnyside: Tell us!

Me: You need to drop the limit on how many kids can be in the block center and you need to buy more wooden trucks.

Sunnyside: What?! But they won’t all fit into the block center! And giving them what they want seems totally wrong — shouldn’t they be learning how to share?

Me: Just try it, then get back to me in a week.

So here’s what happened:

- When the strict limits were taken away, all the kids did try to crush into the block center at once. There was a lingering residue of “the block center is the desired place to be.” Sixteen kids pressed around one small table and a limited number of blocks didn’t work, and the kids figured that out on their own. It was boring to stand in a crowd with hardly any blocks to play with, so after awhile, some of the kids wandered away. The ones who stayed began to negotiate how they would share the blocks.

- When the new wooden trucks arrived, the kids ceased arguing about them and started playing with them.

A week later:

Me: How’s it going?

Sunnyside: Much better. But we still have more kids who want to play in the block area than the block area will accommodate. They are crushed in there together and they’re doing pretty well, but there isn’t enough room.

Me: Make the block area bigger.

Sunnyside: Wha— [sigh] Okay.

When you have a scarcity situation, the first thing to look at is:

What am I trying to accomplish by using scarcity?

These teachers had good goals for their students:

- They wanted them to use the whole classroom and not just one center.

- They wanted them to collaborate and not argue all the time.

- They wanted them to work on long-term projects.

But their choices had made the exact opposite happen.

Instead of valuing all the areas of the classroom (art studio, library, science area, etc.), the kids were all hyper-focused on what they couldn’t have: the block center.

Instead of collaborating, they were arguing and bargaining and complaining all morning.

Instead of working on long-term projects, they were being rotated through the centers, so that even if they were involved in what they were doing, they were interrupted to move on in the name of variety. Whatever a child was building in the block area, someone else knocked down a half-hour later. Whatever a child was painting in the art studio, he had to drop it and leave — so why ever start anything complex or ambitious? Whatever book two children were looking at together, they had to put back on the shelf and move on — so no deep interests ever sparked.

The teachers were accidentally training the kids NOT to focus, NOT to invest in big ideas, and NOT to work on long-term projects. They were accidentally training them to have the opposite traits than they wanted: developing short attention spans, seeing each other as competitors rather than collaborators, and so on.

The work of figuring out how to share can’t start until children are given the responsibility and freedom to do that work. When you create a scarcity situation, you aren’t teaching them how to share, you’re teaching them how to compete hard for what’s rightfully theirs. When they are given the tools, the opportunity, and the support, they can begin to build those character traits and habits of mind you want for them.

The work of figuring out how to self-regulate can’t happen until children have enough elbow room to make some of their own choices. You aren’t teaching kids how to restrict their own screen time when you restrict it for them. There is literally not enough white space for them to give them any control or decision-making, so they aren’t building any skills. They’re just reacting emotionally to a situation that you control. How can they learn to make good choices if they don’t get the opportunity to make bad ones?

With generous limits, children find that they have to make decisions — Do I finish drawing this comic, or play Minecraft? Now they’re beginning to make choices and deal with consequences. They may make what you think are wrong choices, but mistakes are the pathway to understanding and eventual success. If they don’t have room to make mistakes, they don’t have room to learn.

Let’s check in with Sunnyside one more time:

We doubled the size of the block area and suddenly the boys started working together on a large construction. It was like magic. They started building a city, and they used all the trucks to build a garage. Once their project got going, the girls became interested and began to make suggestions and work on it as well. They are making signs in the writing center and they are using the art studio to make people and animals. Some girls are painting a backdrop for the wall; they all sat down together and talked about what it should include. They are even using the materials in the science center to make trees and bushes. We’ve put books about cities and garages in the library and they are using them for reference.

We finally have a project going, and the kids are doing the work we wanted them to do instead of fighting all the time. And we are helping them work on their ideas instead of being referees. It is wonderful. Thank you.

By the way, we had to throw away another rule. Before, they had to clean up the block area at the end of the day. The day we took that rule away, they started to build their city.

As a parent, you need to think about what you really want. Then you need to look at your choices and see if they are getting you the results you wanted or if they’re getting you something else entirely.

What parents want when they set strict screen limits (or strict limits on comic books or anything else) is for their kids to play outside, read, build things, develop intellectual hobbies, play, enjoy their family, collaborate, do more worthy activities. They want screens to be a small part of the children’s lives.

What they get is often a child who is hyper-focused on the exact thing they wanted to be least important. Suddenly the limited thing looms large and taints every other hour of the day. It’s all the kids talk about and all they think about. Arguing, bargaining, and complaining ensue.

When you employ generous limits (focusing on abundance — there is enough time for everything), focus can shift away from arguing and bargaining to what the child wants to accomplish. The focus can leave the screens. There’s no need to argue and fight, because there is enough time.

Note: “Generous limits” does not mean “no limits.” Generous limits take the pressure off and eliminate anxiety and bargaining. No limits can actually increase arguing, bargaining, and anxiety because every single thing you want to do during the day is opposed to screen time. Do you want to go to the park? No, it’s park vs. screens and screens win. Do you want to make a cardboard robot? No, it’s robot vs. screens and screens win. No limits can actually be a more fraught situation. Generous limits make time in the day for everything: outdoor play, art studio, library, reading aloud, cooking together, playing, etc. These things are not directly opposed to screens; screens have their own generous part of the day. And generous limits mean that even during the time when screens are allowed as a choice, there is enough time to choose other things as well. Note: choose other things, not have them chosen for you.

Now, I’m anticipating that someone will say, “Oh, you’re just giving in to the kids! You’re giving them what they want!”

If you are arguing with your child for no reason other than to control what they do, does that really fit with your overarching values and goals? If you get stuck in an oppositional pattern, are you helping them learn how to articulate their goals, negotiate fairly, collaborate as a team, and make their own decisions?

When you approach a situation with the mindset that there has to be a winner and a loser and as the parent you should always win, you are going to experience a lot of conflict and a lot of unhappiness. You are creating scarcity: scarcity of power, scarcity of freedom, scarcity of autonomy, scarcity of choice. You are putting your attention and your whole family’s focus on something unpleasant.

If you approach a situation with the mindset that you want to live your values, focus on your priorities, and consider your child’s goals along with your own, you can find solutions that are win-win. But you have to be willing to experiment, gather data, and revise. You have to be willing to examine your own prejudices. You have to be willing to let your child have both freedom and responsibility. They go hand in hand.

Flip to an abundancy model and flood your life with your priorities, your values, and your goals. Make room for your children to stop thinking about the rules and infrastructure and start creating, building, thinking, playing, making, and doing. Envision a life where everyone in the family gets to have their own interests, their own meaningful work, and each other’s support.

What is the end goal of extremely limiting a child’s screen time? Presumably it’s a young adult who knows how to live a balanced life, who has various interests, and who isn’t addicted to screens. What is the outcome of extremely limiting a child’s screen time? Sometimes it’s a child who is absolutely riveted on what they can’t have, who can’t enjoy their screen time because they’re tense and watching the clock and who can’t enjoy their non-screen time because they wish they could play Minecraft instead. When they’re a young adult, what’s going to happen? When they finally get freedom and control, what are they likely to do with it?

Employing generous limits helps a child live a balanced life now, a life that is much closer to how they might live as adults. (My sixteen-year-old son pointed this out to me — credit to him.) Employing generous limits allows a child to begin learning today how to make good choices, how to manage his own time, and how to prioritize his goals. If he falters, you are there to help him get back on the rails. If he makes poor choices and suffers for it, you’re there to help him figure out how to fix it.

Whatever it is that you are tightly controlling, it’s an emotionally loaded issue for you, and you may be making it an emotionally loaded issue for your child. Wherever you are causing scarcity, you are probably feeling scarcity. You feel your child’s outdoor time, project time, or reading time is scarce, so you clamp down on screens. Instead of dealing with a feeling of lack by tightly controlling something else, try abundance instead. Fill that lack with all the things you’re missing. Consider that the situation is not oppositional after all, and there is room for all the good things.

A day holds much more time and potential than you might think. But you have to hold it gently.

There really is enough time. Focus your attention on what you want to grow. Focusing it on the thing you don’t like is not going to get you what you want. Forget about that, take some deep breaths, and then focus on what you want to see more of. Let it bask in your attention and love. Try it, and see what happens.

See also:

Why I Don’t Worry About My Kids’ Screen Time, Part 1

Why I Don’t Worry About My Kids’ Screen Time, Part 2

The Sliver, or How to stop fighting about screen time


Parenting with abundance and simplicity


Abundance and sharing: How children learn to be generous



The Sliver, or How to stop fighting about screen time

Published by Lori Pickert on May 15, 2013 at 08:08 AM

Sub-subtitle for this post: Why you need to move from a scarcity to an abundance model.

One of the most frequent things I’m asked is how to deal with the struggle between parents and kids over limits on screen time.

Parents want something better for their kids than TV, movies, and video games — they want their lives to be full of better-quality activities, like playing outdoors, reading, playing, and building.

Many parents approach the subject of screen time — or other kid activities they don’t like, like reading comic books — by placing a strong limit on it. They say to their child, “We want our lives to be lovely and full of all the good things, so we are cramming all the stuff you love that we don’t like into this sliver.”

The child hears, “Blah blah blah, you love the sliver.”

Then the parents get to experience the ever-burgeoning frustration of having their child riveted on that sliver of time. The kids want to talk about it. They want to bargain for more of it. They want to argue about whether they got their fair share of it. Why? Because the sliver is where all the good stuff is.

What we need to do is flip it around. Instead of making the sliver the garbage chute on Star Wars that everyone dives into for blessed escape, we need to allot the sliver to ourselves instead.

We say, “We want our lives to be lovely and full of all the good things, so we are going to allot a portion of our day to the stuff that really matters — the stuff we think is important.”

Now put it all in there. Make time every day to read, to play outside, to play a board game together, to build with LEGO or blocks, to spend time together in the art studio. Work on your projects together, side by side. Go for a hike, fly a kite, sit on the steps and eat an ice cream cone. Read aloud to one another.

As if by magic, the stuff you care about is now part of your everyday life. Magically, your kids are no longer riveted by the tiny sliver of time when they get to do what they want — therefore, they are free to enjoy all the good things instead of bitterly resenting them. Magically, you have just negotiated a life that respects both what is important to you *and* what is important to your child.

When you set up a scarcity situation, you are always going to whip people into a frenzy to get whatever it is that’s hard to come by, whether it’s a dancing Elmo, a Beanie Baby, or a half-hour playing Minecraft. That’s just human psychology. Make it rare and people want it desperately. And when you limit what your child wants to do and push them toward something else, saying THIS is better than THAT, you create conflict where there doesn’t need to be conflict. They should be able to love books *and* TV, computer games *and* playing outside. But because you have put these things in competition with one another, they have to choose — so they end up rejecting the very things you want them to embrace.

When you force your child’s interests into the sliver, you are denying them the opportunity to get good at what they care about. You are denying them the chance to relax and enjoy themselves. And you are saying, flat out, “I don’t care about this thing you like. I don’t like it.” That’s a path toward having them not talk to you about it anymore. You are forcing them away from you just when you should be pulling them close.

If they love Minecraft or playing a video or computer game, they can’t accomplish anything in a tiny slice of time. The way these games work, it usually takes a lot of time just to learn how to play and then it takes a lot of time to slowly progress to mastery. The games make you put in the time; they don’t let you jump straight to the fun part. And the kids are willing to do the work — but if they don’t have enough time, they can’t do the work.

It takes a lot of time to understand, grasp new concepts, figure out rules, learn, practice, and master. Kids whose screen time is limited are living in constant frustration because they can’t build their skills, they can’t watch the YouTube tutorials another kid made, they can’t learn what they want to learn, and they can never relax while doing the thing they enjoy most because they always have one nervous eye on the clock. They can’t experiment, they can’t explore, and they can’t practice — and those are the key steps of learning that you want them to experience, even when it’s doing something you yourself aren’t interested in.

Some parents say they’re really frustrated because their child seems to spend all of their available screen time watching *other* kids play — and they’re tempted to reduce the amount of computer time even more. But watching others is a crucial step in learning. What’s the fastest way to learn to ride a bike — reading a booklet about it or watching someone else ride? Plus, watching tutorials and watching friends play are community aspects; that observation helps them learn how to teach and mentor, how to collaborate and socialize. If you only get X minutes a day and you really want to learn, you are going to forgo playing yourself in order to try to cram in more learning time — and learning requires observing. So cutting back on their computer time actually forces them to do less hands-on experimentation. Learning by doing takes a lot of time, and they just don’t have that luxury.

One of our higher goals as parents should be to help our children become independent — not just physically, but intellectually. If we reject their interests because they seem stupid or because we don’t understand them or enjoy them ourselves, we are rejecting our kids themselves. Do you remember what you liked when you were 11? I’m pretty sure that’s the summer I played Monopoly nine hours a day, six days a week. On the one hand, it was very sedentary. On the other hand, I do own some real estate now. I haven’t built a hotel yet, but don’t count me out. I also watched a lot of “Love Boat” that year. Yet I still managed to start a company, open a school, and write a book. If “Love Boat” can’t kill your intellect, believe me, nothing can.

In our home, we limited screens naturally when our children were little by having a routine that just didn’t include them. When they got older, we employed generous limits. We didn’t use screens for entertainment (our family word for this is actually “sloth time”) until 3:00, which made their morning and early afternoon the focus of project work and play. As they got even older, we shifted that time to 2:00, but we also allowed computer use for project-related work because the boys were now researching independently, making films, writing books, and so on.

During the day, we worked on projects, played outside, read, played LEGO, took photographs, made art, and all the other good things. The kids never watched the clock; they never dropped a book or a squirt gun to dash to a computer or a TV set. They experienced balance and they enjoyed everything they did. There was no competition between computers and nature or between books and TV. Screens were fun, but the kids never riveted on them because there was no need to. If they wanted to get to level 47 of some game, they had plenty of time to do that. Employing generous limits means you have plenty of time. You don’t worry — there’s no urgency. You aren’t hyper-focused on it, and your mind is free to focus on and enjoy other things. And we made sure they had plenty of other things to focus on.

We need to shift from a scarcity model (there’s very little time for you to do those things you love to do) to an abundance model (there’s plenty of time for us to do all the good things, including that stuff you love to do).

You can’t really fix the sliver problem by, say, making the sliver a little bigger. It really takes a complete flip-flop. You have to stop curtailing what your child loves and instead focus on building a routine and a family culture around the things you believe are most important. Get those things in there — do them every day. But if you want your child to see them, appreciate them, and relax enough to enjoy them, think about getting rid of the sliver.

See also:

Why I Don’t Worry About My Kids’ Screen Time, Part 1

Why I Don’t Worry About My Kids’ Screen Time, Part 2

Parenting with abundance vs. scarcity