Online vs. Offline: How to find the right balance

Computer time is quite popular in our home, but it does have its limits.

My husband bought me my first iPhone when Jack was two. I was pregnant with Eli and I have to admit that toddler apps downloaded onto my phone were an awfully easy way to entertain my two-year old at my OB appointments that invariably always ran long because someone was delivering a baby. Lol.

Jack’s pudgy hands deftly worked the touch screen buttons and I was fascinated at how quickly he figured out the various learning games. My husband bestowed an iPad on me next – intended to help me quickly answer office emails whilst trying to work at home with two kids under the age of three. Jack confiscated the iPad and given his passion for Legos, by age four he was playing Minecraft in creative mode.

Around this time I came across a Facebook meme one Christmas where moms were berating themselves for letting another year go by without making applehead dolls, for buying the kids gifts rather than whittling them from wood, and for failing to hike a portion of the AT.

I am not making fun. I am serious. Mom’s were sweating it out because they bought their kids a Barbie instead of an applehead doll. I happen to think applehead dolls are creepy, but I do understand what these moms were concerned about.

I hear the same concerns when  it comes to electronics. Our kids should be outdoors playing in the mud, not gaming online with their friends, right?

I think they should be doing both.

I’m fairly certain that Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates spent a considerable amount of time in dark rooms tinkering with computers. I’m okay with that. Although Steve  Jobs famously stated that kids shouldn’t engage with computers until age 10, that was his parenting choice, which is just fine for him, but I disagree. Computers are our future as well as our present. I’m not going to pretend that we live on Little House on the Prarie because we don’t.

At the same time, I don’t hand my kids a PS3 controller with their morning Wheaties. My kids are outside a ton and we spend most of our day creating stuff out of nothing. Right now, the boys are building some fantastical world in the living room using Duplos, Jenga, wood blocks, and Scott’s tool box. No idea, but they’re into it.

So if it’s helpful at all, here is how our family  has learned to navigate the electronic jungle. I would love to know how your family handles electronics, so please leave a comment below!

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RULE #1: Challenging apps, not games of luck

You won’t find Angry Birds or Plants vs Zombies on our iPads. We tried that for awhile, but it only brought meltdowns and frustration. Instead, our kids iPads are loaded with educational apps that are challenging and fun. Our top favorites:

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RULE #2: Challenging PC games, not games of luck

Same story, different device. My kids spend most of their time exploring in Minecraft, Spore, Filament Games or PBS Go. We also love Brainzy, Teach Your Monster to Read, and Jack and Daddy play a few strategy survival games that are about skill and not dark or scary at all. Both the boys are learning to code on One Hour of Code.

At one point, Eli was playing a Lego Star Wars game that was all about luck and shooting. He would go absolutely INSANE every time he played. That one has gone to the wayside along with Angry Birds (which is designed to make you angry, right?)

RULE #3: No PS3

My sister’s teen age boys play a lot of PS3 and she graciously gave my boys one a few birthdays ago. I’ll have to admit that when everyone was able to keep emotions in check, Lego Indiana Jones was a pretty fun game. The downside is that it’s very hard to keep emotions in check and the PS3 games seem to get everyone in our family entirely frustrated and angry. Our PS3 broke last year and we didn’t bother replacing it. Maybe someday in the future, but for now this is one electronic device that doesn’t hold very strong value in our home.

RULE #4: It’s all fun and games until somebody explodes

Jack has the demeanor to play on his computer all day long. It rarely frustrates him and when he is in one of his creative modes, I just let him play as much as he wants. Eli, however, can’t handle that much electronic stimulation. He starts to get edgy, then frustrated, and finally he’s crying for no reason at all. Every child is different and this is probably the hardest area for us to balance. If Jack is playing on his computer, Eli wants to play, too. Yet, Eli can’t handle that much e-time.

How we balance this is by asking the boys to play in the afternoon, with Jack getting some morning time to work on a project or Minecraft homeschool assignment if he’s got that going on. Between 2-4 every afternoon the boys can play as much or as little as they want.

In the beginning all we heard  was “When will it be 2 o’clock?” as if that time would magically bring happiness and pink frosted donuts. However, as time worn on two o’clock comes and goes and the boys don’t always notice. Or they will play for an hour and then go read on the couch. I think the reason for this is simple: they aren’t told they can’t. We always work to meet their needs and our family works best when we all get our needs met. If we didn’t allow the kids to game at all, they would want to game even more. We simply ask the boys to do their gaming in the afternoon when “it makes more sense to sit still.” Morning times are active times so that’s when we do active stuff.

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Realization #5: Gaming is social

Both our boys play Minecraft Realms online with their friends. We connect them up to Skype so they can chat while they play. Our boys also play on a family-friendly server called The Sandlot and take classes with GamEdAcademy. All of these are opportunities for socialization, cooperative play, co-creation and compromise. Best of all, they get to play with  kids from all over the world.

I never really thought of this as a benefit until Jack started socializing with other homeschool kids across the pond and I saw how gracious and sweet he was about sharing his tools, resources, and other goodies with new kids who had just entered the game.

CONCLUSION

Do we have the perfect mix of electronics and non-electronic play? Probably not. I am sure there is a study out there somewhere that states the 2 hours of gaming my kids get each day is burning up precious brain cells. I’m open to that and I’m open to change. Yet for now, this works really well for our boys and I’m excited that they are excited about learning through gaming.

Sometimes the boys complain and want more computer time. That’s cool. We always tell them they can have as much time as they want as long as they can self-regulate and find balance with other activities. I’ve often found that if I help my children meet their needs, even if it makes me a bit squeamish to watch them play for hours on end, they are much happier when their needs are met because they know I value their needs. Plus, they usually burn out pretty quickly as soon as they’ve satiated whatever curiosity they had and return to a life of outdoor play, non-electronic creativity and some digital time sprinkled in the mix.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Kate

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