Daddy Log

‘No screen’ time is not the answer to good parenting

3 May, 2012 (12:00) | Daddy Log

A new category for the blog!

I read an interesting article that a dad friend posted – http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/11/more-screen-time-for-kids-who-create-instead-of-watch/

It differentiates between simply consuming entertainment during screen time and actually being creative with screen time.  It reminded me about teaching the LEGO classes.  The students would love to just be given a pile of bricks and let them go to town.  Sure, they’re creating something, but a lot of the times they’re not being challenged or inspired.  A house with no doors or windows is simply a stack of bricks.  During the last classes, I usually do let them have a free build day, but they have to tell me what they’re building.  If I think they can do more than a house, I say, “Ok, you can do a house, but I want a chimney with smoke coming out of it too.”  Or, “Yeah, you can build a car, but I want to be able to lift the hood and see an engine.”  Back to screen time, the tool to limiting game time shouldn’t be time itself, but how that time is being used.

This perspective gels well with my pre-existing thoughts on computer time.  When I was a kid, my mom let me play games like tetris.  I eventually graduated to games like SimCity and the Civilization series.  These aren’t just ‘video games’.  There is a high tendency just to lump all video games or over indulgence in screen time as a bad thing, but I disagree, almost fervently.  Specifically with games like SimCity and Civilization, there are historical references and educational content that far exceed anything taught in a public school history class.  One of the most popular criticisms about history classes is that they’re boring and there is no way to learn hands on, like a chemistry course.  Well, SimCity and Civilization create that learning environment.  You know how I know that Darius was the prince of Persia and that Susa was part of his empire?  Because I burned Susa to the ground and he made me pay for it!  The Civilization teams creates such historically accurate and immersing environments, that you can’t help but learn something.

More so in SimCity, but still in Civilization, are the concepts of management.  Citizens begging for better schools, paying for road improvements, balancing the budget and making people happy.  The rule you learn is that you can’t make everybody happy.  If you spend money, someone will get mad at you.  If you don’t spend money, someone else will be mad at you.  You have to stop and think, what is the best thing to do for the city and what is they best thing for the citizens, and what to do if those two conflict with one another.  It also has a history component with technologies like subways and airports being discovered later in the game.  The great thing about both games are the physical landmarks like building the pyramids or other great architectural wonders of the world.  I can directly attribute my knowledge about and interest in engineering and at in part to these games and the hours I played them.

to that point…I played a lot.  I’m sure most parents would say there should be a static time limit on how long a kid should play games.  I would argue that pulling kids away from something they’re so involved in would have devastating effects on their attention span as well as their willingness to get passionate and commit themselves to achieving goals.  My solution is not to just let them do whatever they want, but to help them learn to manage their own time as well.  Set out your expectations of chores for them first, make them work for their computer time.  Once they’re in their computer time, make sure they’re setting and achieving their goals.  Don’t let them just play games, teach them to do something!

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