In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had several conversations with folks who are struggling to find balance between time on electronic devices and time doing other things. As unschoolers, how do we help our children strike that balance? Or should we? Because unschooling is not “one size fits all”, I’ve found people to be all over the map on this topic.
On the one hand, I’ve met people who don’t regulate devices at all. They’re perfectly comfortable with whatever their children decide is the right amount of time – even if it’s the bulk of the day (or night). On the other hand, I’ve encountered parents who worry that devices are addictive and must be strictly limited.
There’s no easy answer. But here are my thoughts…
I hesitate to demonize devices by calling them “addictive” and waving a banner of concern if my children seem a bit too interested for my comfort level. I’d rather look at it like this: devices can be fun – LOTS of fun. That’s a good thing. On the other hand, I believe all of us – adults and children alike – will sometimes bypass our bodies’ signals for food, sleep, movement, etc. when we are particularly enjoying something. As a child, I used to ignore my need to use the bathroom when I was having a lot of fun playing outdoors. I’d bypass my need to sleep on those exciting occasions that I was allowed to stay up and watch a special movie. As an adult, sometimes I’ll ignore my need for food or sleep if I’m reading an excellent book or writing.
While I believe children have a wonderful innate sense of their needs, I think they are just as susceptible to this tendency to bypass needs as we adults are – only they may not even be aware that it’s happening. And as someone with more experience, it’s my responsibility to help them figure this out.
I talk with my kiddos about the things that tempt me to bypass my needs, and invite them to share what tempts them. They usually know, but if I’ve noticed something they haven’t brought up, I point it out. We talk about ways we can help ourselves and one another to recognize and honor those signals.
It’s wonderful to let our kids pursue the things they love, but it’s also important for us to provide them with new opportunities and experiences; after all, there’s a lot out there they haven’t even tried yet, so they don’t know if they’ll love it! My kids thrive on predictability, so we have a loose structure to our week which allows me to build in experiences that I would like them to have while still allowing them plenty of time to do the things they already enjoy.
Another thing I’m big on is finding ways to meet the needs of everyone in our family – including us adults! We went through a time when our kids were often up until after midnight and then sleeping until about 10:00 am or later. This schedule made it harder to plan activities. It also made life difficult for my husband, who has to be up for work early ; he was exhausted all the time! And I was frazzled, not getting the quiet time I need in the evenings to recharge. Eventually, we had a family meeting to discuss our needs and brainstorm ideas. We all agreed to move into a “winding down” time between 8:00 and 9:00. The kids still were welcome to go to sleep when their bodies were ready, but we put away the things that tempt us to ignore our signals (for us that’s online games and tv). We also set the mood…lights are lowered in the bedrooms, we’ll have quiet music or a book on tape playing, and some quiet activities such as coloring or knitting available. I’ve found my kids are much better able to “feel their tiredness” when we do this.
When we talk with our children about balance, we help them to become aware of how to achieve it – as well as the things that might get in our way. When we offer our children a blend of self-directed activities and tantalizing new opportunities, we go a step beyond making them aware: we give them the opportunity to experience a life in balance.