My six year old spent all day occupied by a ‘screen’.
We had a busy day with friends yesterday and I sensed that it was going to be a quiet day around here today. There is so much fear and judgment around the use of technology so I wanted to document what ‘spending all day on a screen’ really looks like and why I don’t care.
Here is what I saw.
He woke this morning a bit later than normal and headed to his computer. I made him breakfast while he watched some youtube videos on Minecraft. He was busy typing away searching for the right demonstrations and happily absorbed in watching other people play.
A little while later he moved on to actually playing Minecraft and building intricate structures in his world.
His friend called on skype and wanted to play with him. Usually he would be really excited about this, but I heard him say he wasn’t feeling well and didn’t feel like playing with anyone. What this actually meant was that he just wanted to hang out with family because about five minutes later I heard him excitedly telling his brother about some cool new move he had learnt in roblox and there was a hype of activity as they scoured the house for his ipad so they could connect and play together.
I heard my six year old teaching his eight year old brother what he needed to know to replicate the exciting game move and they were busy playing for quite a while together.
Suddenly, hunger hit. His breakfast had gotten cold on the table, forgotten about as more exciting pursuits called. He picked it up and moved to the TV. He put on the second half of Beauty and the Beast which he didn’t finish earlier in the week and ate his breakfast.
This led to a lot of questions about special effects and how the Beast could look so real. We looked up some videos together on how they create this type of special effect in movies and got excited again about a digital play space exhibition we are visiting next week with a green room. We were supposed to go today but postponed after a busy week.
He headed back to his computer and started trying to call his friends. No one was answering so he decided to watch a bit more youtube. He likes watching Minecraft songs which take popular songs and dub them with Minecraft themed lyrics. The words show up at the bottom of the screen so you can follow along and learn the words. It was lunch time and I asked him if he wanted to come and make lunch with me. He checked on his video. It was a six minute video and he had watched about three and a half minutes. He thought for a second and then told me he would come in two and a half minutes.
After our late lunch, he started to play Roblox. He asked me how to spell ‘ninja assassin.’ I asked him to show me what he had already typed, and I could help out. He had written ‘ninga asasin’. We spoke about the changes he needed to make and he was back to playing.
Soon enough a friend was playing. They were having trouble with their facetime connection, so he was typing to his friend instead to communicate.
Late in the afternoon, one, then two, then three, then four friends started roblox as well and they all joined up on a group skype call. That was a few hours ago and there are still excited screams and game moves echoing through the house as they negotiate which games they are playing and who is doing what. This has been a really great way for our kids to stay connected with their friends in other countries we have lived in.
So, what do we do when we refer to all of this as ‘screens’? We diminish its value.
What I saw today was not a day of ‘screen time.’ I saw research, writing, design, maths, science, a lot of reading, any number of social and peer negotiation skills, empowerment and confidence as he taught his older brother, and most importantly, a LOT of fun. And to be honest, I’m sure there was so much more I missed as I played with and helped the other kids whose ideas for the day didn’t involve ‘screens’.
What if I had swooped in with some arbitrary time limit? What if in the middle of putting to use all the skills he had researched for designing his Minecraft structure, I had come in and told him he was misusing his time and that he had to turn it off? And what of all the wonderful moments in front of that screen that came later in the day?
I saw someone in a group I am part of say that describing the use of technology as a ‘screen’ is akin to describing everything that happens inside a house once you enter as being a ‘door’ activity. It really made me reflect on whether or not I had been casting judgment.
Our days flow in different ways. Sometimes the excitement about something else is too great for technology to get a look in. Some days are about playing all day with friends. Some days are about exploring. And some days, like today for my six year old, are all about discovering in the digital space.
The message I want my children to get from me is that none of these pursuits are more important than the other. That we don’t value reading a book more than we value reading a computer screen. That we don’t value writing on paper more than typing to your friends. That being able to find the book you want at the library is not more noble than being able to search for the youtube tutorial you need. All learning has a place in our home.