This post is part of a series documenting everyday respectful parenting moments. Reading real life parenting examples inspires me. I also find it helpful to look back on situations and think about what went well or what didn’t. Maybe you will too!
The girls recently discovered the world of Minecraft.
I’m sure most people have heard of it, but if not, it’s a computer game where you… build things? And there ends my knowledge of it. Evidently, it’s super popular and fun though! Most of the kid’s friends play it and so I was met with the request ‘Mum, can we get Minecraft? All our friends play it and we want to know what they’re talking about!’ And just when you thought you could avoid this kind of thing by not sending your kids to school, ha! Just kidding, a perfectly reasonable request. They are often inspired by things their friends are doing. And so, we downloaded the game amidst squeals of excitement.
They’ve never really played a computer game before so there was much to discover! They spent the rest of that day playing, experimenting, and watching tutorials on youtube. I predicted that the next week would look very similar to this. You know that feeling when you discover something new and you just want to totally immerse yourself in it? That’s what they were feeling.
We don’t have any arbitrary limits on screen time in our house. And yet, contrary to what most people warn, they do not spend all of their time in front of a screen. Honestly, if they did I would be concerned/challenged. I really value time outside in nature, art, physical activity, and other types of free play, and I don’t believe being sedentary for extended periods of time is healthy or in their best interests. However, what I also value is their freedom and autonomy. If I was concerned about their use of screens, I still don’t believe control would be the answer. Honest discussion and problem solving would be, as we do with everything else. Sure, I want them to make healthy decisions but ultimately I want them to be the ones to make decisions about how they spend their time. My job is to support them to do that, not force them to. I believe that putting arbitrary limits on them would most certainly be contrary to my goals. You learn to make healthy choices by having practice making them.
What have I learned from watching my kids make their own decisions? As with everything else, they are remarkably capable of following their own needs and self-regulating. The discovery of Minecraft provided a pretty typical example, so I thought I’d share it with you.
On the first day they played until it was time for bed. The next day they were up before the sun and straight back to it. I could hear squeals and shouts coming from the computer room. They were having such a great time. They weren’t even keen to stop for breakfast, but hunger eventually got the best of them. We had to go out mid-morning but they weren’t keen to stop playing. We had a chat (read more about that here) and they agreed to come, but were immediately back to the game when we returned home. Again, they played for most of the day when the computer was available to them. When they weren’t actually on the computer, they were drawing Minecraft plans for what they were going to build, playing Minecraft people in the back yard, or creating Minecraft pictures.
On the third day they didn’t run straight to the computer when they woke, but did start playing after breakfast. They played all morning, but by mid-afternoon nature was calling. They asked to go for a walk to the ‘tree park’.
The next day we went out to play with friends and didn’t get home until late afternoon. After dinner, they played Minecraft for about an hour, but then said they were tired of it and found something else to do.
The day after we were again out all day playing. They chatted to their friends about what they had discovered and how they could play together. The next day they played for 30 minutes and then said they were ‘bored of it for now’ and ran off to play an imaginary game. They didn’t ask again for the rest of the day, or the following two days.
They went back to their usual activities and now playing Minecraft is just one of those many things they do, amidst reading, art, imaginary games, cooking, dancing, writing, climbing trees, and many other things.
Their world is full of interesting things! Why would they choose to overly focus on one? In my opinion, that would be a more likely scenario if I had tried to control them. In this case I very deliberately made sure not to say anything that would appear as if I was trying to influence them to spend less time on the computer. I focused on keeping perspective and knowing that this was a temporary immersion in a new discovery. No ‘Don’t you think you’ve had enough?’, or ‘I think you should play outside for a bit now’, or ‘That’s enough screen time for one day’. Instead, I listened to what they told me, shared their joy, and showed interest in this new and exciting discovery. I have no doubt that if I had reacted negatively, if I had have set limits on their ‘screen time’, then I would have interrupted this self-regulation process. Instead of focusing on their needs and interests they would have feared that their time would be limited, and that their enjoyment would have been taken away. They would still be trying to squeeze in as much time playing as possible, not entirely because they felt like it in that moment, but because they worried that at some point in the future it would be taken away so they had to use it as much as possible before that happened.
And if they did use screens more than I felt comfortable with, what then? What of this level of play wasn’t actually temporary? I would have had an honest discussion with them about how all of us were feeling, and if all of our needs were being met. I cannot make another person do anything, and I don’t want to. What I can do is voice my concerns and needs and in the context of a respectful relationship they are very likely to care about my thoughts, as I do theirs. Knowing that they are free from force means they do value my opinion and we are frequently able to work things out.
Screen time limits (e.g. allowing kids to play for x amount of time every day at a scheduled time) don’t even make sense! How can you possibly predict when you will be interested in something? When you will feel like playing your favourite game? And what if you’ve just made it to a crucial point and then screen time is over? How disappointing! What a way to circumvent curiosity, motivation, natural learning, and passion. That’s not how interests work! Even as an adult we should know that. When you’re interested in something you normally don’t set out a specific time to practice every day. You likely immerse yourself in it whenever passion strikes and don’t stop until you are satisfied. That is how children learn too, if we don’t interrupt this process.
“Children do much of their learning in great bursts of passion and enthusiasm. They rarely learn on the slow, steady schedules that schools make for them. They are more likely to be insatiably curious for a while about some particular interest, and to read, write, talk and ask questions about it for hours a day and for days on end. Then suddenly they may drop that interest and turn to something completely different, or even for a while seem to have no interests at all.” -John Holt
Today they have moved on to their next obsession… building ‘challenges’.
As I watched them I noticed the similarities between this scene, and when they played Minecraft together. In both they worked together, negotiated, problem solved, laughed, encouraged each other, argued and sorted out their differences.
No matter what the activity is, when you remove coercion, unnecessary limits, force, and control, children are more able to listen to their own minds and bodies. A child who feels truly free makes decisions that benefit them without the burden and influences of artificial consequences and control. Sometimes discussion is needed in order to make sure everyone’s needs are met, and certainly it is our responsibility to educate our children on the negatives of technology and identify when they need more support in this area, but I really believe this can be done respectfully.
The girls are using Spielgaben pieces for their buildings, along with inspiration cards from the Spielgaben printed resources. You can see a video of them using them here. Spielgaben offers a 10% discount to blog readers if you mention Happiness is Here. Spielgaben also offers a LayBy Payment Plan. You can pay 3 x monthly payments with orders shipped as soon as final payment is made. All you need to do to claim the discount is send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org mention