24 January 2011

unschool monday :: technology


The topic of technology and screen time for children is always a bit controversial. You often read reports warning against allowing children more than a certain number of hours in front of a screen, if any at all. Its something that Huz and I were conflicted about for a time and still reassess on occasion, depending on what technology our owlets are using and how. When we were children, technology involved enormous machinery like telex machines, huge grey computers, answering machines that required tape, and television around the clock. There wasn't an internet. Using the computer (if we had access to one) meant typing commands like READY and RUN and playing games like Gold Dust Island on the Commodore 64. Dad's mobile phone really did look like a brick. Now I can send emails and shop online or play games - on my phone. Everything is instant. How that affects the owlets certainly begs consideration.

The owlets are growing up surrounded by iMacs, iPhones and iPods. Hand them one and within a few minutes they have worked out how to use it. Everything is intuitive and graphic, simple. Huz and I occasionally refer to the owlets as generation "i" - often true for more reasons than one... The elder two have been using computers since two years of age, when they showed interest and could manoeuvre a mouse. We had a television until a few years ago. We had it on most of the time. One night we found ourselves eating dinner in front of the television, watching the Simpsons. Big owlet complained that she'd seen that episode before. Little owlet giggled from her high chair. NOT the kind of environment we'd envisaged our owlets spending time in, but there it was. Big owlet was going to a steiner kindergarten at the time, so we already had an element of tv guilt. We understood how television could affect play and how we all interact. The television was re-homed within a week.

Surprisingly, we didn't miss it. What we noticed was the absence of advertising. Life felt so much more peaceful. We now avoid many of the things that were concerning us about the media and what it exposed our owlets to. If we stay somewhere that has a tv, Huz and I are usually shocked at the violence and sexualisation in ads, programs, the news! It's just so hard to choose when it's thrust in your face. Now we use the computer to watch television programs and DVDs at times that fit with our schedule. We play games, answer questions, use it for work and connecting with friends and family. We still manage to avoid a huge amount of advertising.

The owlets are free to use the computer when they need to. It's a tool, like any other we use around the house. We do tend to oversee their use of it to an extent, just as we would any other tool. We spend time with them while they use it so they can get the most out of the experience. I'm fairly sure that big owlet's reading has been helped along by her computer use. As I've mentioned before, she tends to learn visually. Unfortunately she finds self-regulating her screen time difficult, so we do ask her to move onto other things from time to time. After learning about radical unschooling, we decided to let her go for it, see how much time she'd spend at the computer. She spent every waking moment there. She lasted for two weeks, then I decided enough was enough. Her moods change when she spends too much time there. She forgets to eat, or demands to be fed all day. She's generally a big grump and she has trouble sleeping. Not something I'm comfortable with for her right now. So we make sure her computer times fit in with the family and what we are all doing. Something we've mutually agreed on and continue to negotiate. We make sure she has ample time to play too... Little owlet doesn't share her sister's attraction for the screen, and so she just uses what she needs when she needs to, then potters off to something else.

Big owlet's screen use is also related to my level of connection with her, and my own screen time. If I'm sitting at the computer for hours, its inevitable that she'd want to do the same. Something I'm careful of most days. It's also part of that mindfulness and staying in the moment that I talk about so often. Finding a balance for all of us. Enjoying all the benefits that technology can bring into our home and respecting all the things that a simpler life can bring us too.

Huz and I were laughing at the above clip the other day and tiny owlet giggled along with us. Oh the cute!!


  1. Mmm, we could all live without the non-stop ads, violence, and my pet hate, when commercial stations tell us what to think about events.

  2. Very interesting thoughts on the subject. It's a constant learning process to find balance for children in this technology saturated, entertained society. I appreciate your honest contemplations. Especially the observation about our own modelling of technology use.mmm something for me to reflect upon.
    I am happy to find a baby wearing blogger too!

  3. Exactly. We live without the TV, too. We have a DVD player and some favorite movies and if there is a movie or show we are interested in, we look it up on the computer. We have been having similar issues with our oldest and the computer. Thanks for sharing how you all worked it out. And thanks for the video! Hilarious!


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