Learning to say yes

I wrote a few days ago about unlimiting video games. Since then I’ve been struggling paying attention to allowing playtime to be unfettered by my own ingrained judgment about “waste of time” playing versus “quality” playing.

This means my nearly-six-year-old is totally overdosing on iPad games. This is Not Easy for me. I have strong Achiever inclinations. For him it’s frigging fantastic, and I have to keep trusting that this is a freedom that he actually needs. We’ve downloaded Minecraft (the easier iPad version), but he hasn’t quite gotten the hang of it yet. But he’s happy to spend hours playing Angry Birds, Minion Run, Cover Orange, and that (sorry guys) hideously strident Talking Tom mimic-the-talking game. He still hasn’t stopped asking me cautiously whether it’s ok to have screen time. I have, however, become more successful at resisting my (frequently strong) urge to complain about his game choices.

Interestingly, the more I notice and intercept said Urge to Complain, the more I’m able to remind myself to respect his choices – to give him a bit of sovereignty to do justwhat he enjoys. And if I’m able to be glad that he’s playing and enjoying himself, I’m suddenly freed up to see the fun of it, and to ask questions that are actually relevant to his experience of the game, rather than relevant only to my judgment of it.

Also interestingly, I notice he’s responding in kind. I feel ridiculous even noting something so obvious, but since my response to “Can I play on the iPad?” is an unconditional Yes, of course I notice there’s a whole lot less agitation and urgency and irritation and refusal to engage with me when he is playing. There’s less nagging on both sides – I don’t have to nag to get him to stop or do something other than what he wants to; he doesn’t have to nag and wheedle for a bit more time, more turns. He also doesn’t ignore interruptions in the same way as before – perhaps because they aren’t the dreaded signal that Time is Up.  When there’s something to do – say, lunch or bath or swimming lesson – which necessitates an interruption to the game, it no longer sets off a nuclear meltdown. (I’m not saying he’s turned into a magically obliging saint; but the discussion around why and do I have to now feels relatively short, and reasonable and constructive.) There’s a whole lot more Yes of course from his direction when I present reasonable requests – mealtimes, helping with stuff around the house, taking into account what I want to do. Seemingly because what he wants to do is being satisfied.

Still, I can’t say this is easy. It flies in the face of all the ‘limits’ and ‘self-discipline’ and ‘compliance’ ideas that I’ve been steeped in since forever. It’s hard not to give way, after several hours, and with the afternoon tiredness setting in, to the long-practised reflex thoughts that it’s enough now (enough for who?) and surely he has something better to do (better in what sense? in whose book?) and it just can’t be good for him to be engaged with technology the entire day (what kind of good exactly?). It’s hard to fend off the gritted-in-deep aspirational me that longs to be have the model outlier child who wants to spend hours building trains (engineer genius in the making) or constructing circuit boards (technology genius in the making) or playing the violin (musical prodigy in the making). It’s hard not to wonder that maybe one should be more Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother about this. (One shouldn’t;  here’s why.)
But yes, here we are, a few weeks into saying yes. And it’s feeling good.

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About Lisa

I live in South Africa with my husband and two small children, doing things, thinking about things and sometimes writing about them.
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3 Responses to Learning to say yes

  1. Miriam says:

    My kids are both on their computers right now, and I am too. I’ve been a parent for a long time and read plenty on both sides of the “screen time” debate, and setting limits in general. I still don’t feel like I have a clear answer, but I learn toward respecting their choices rather than dismissing certain things as being a “waste of time”. I try to keep their lives balanced- make sure they get plenty of fresh air and exercise, time in nature and with other kids, time doing stuff with me like reading books, playing games, etc. Because they’re not in school all day and spending hours on homework, they have a lot more time in a day, so they can spend time on the computer and do other things as well.

  2. Alexis says:

    I just googled unschooling and iPad and landed up on your post. It describes my current situation exactly! How did this work out for you? Was it all ok in the end? I’d love to know from someone who has ‘been there and done that’. I want to just let my kids do what they think is important, but I do worry about how all this screen time will affect them. Sometimes I joke about starting a blog about a homeschooling curriculum that consists primarily of iPad games, tv watching, PC games and PS3 games… But my husband says I’d be flamed!

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Alexis
      Limiting or unlimiting screen time for kids is an ongoing source of discussion in the home ed world. I have friends who swear by the unlimited option, and are adamant that their kids self-regulate their own activities in the way that is best for them. I’m not sure I gave it enough time, but it didn’t work for us. I find that after about three hours of computer games on a single day, my son becomes whiny, lethargic, uncooperative and generally unpleasant. In what is now a family of five, that just doesn’t work. So we limit to 2 hours per day.

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