It takes a village…

Left 4 Notch 4: Blood on my Chunks by on @DeviantArt

“It takes a village to raise a child” African Proverb. 

My children have far too much screen time, and I’m not sorry.

I have two boys who over the past couple of years have spent a lot of their time either playing video games, or watching Youtubers play video games. At first I tried to limit this screen time. The oldest was on a reasonably strict diet of no more than 2 hours, with regular breaks. When he started playing Minecraft, it took him months to convince me to let him play online, and then I only let him join a server with strict family friendly policies, drilled him on the rules of not giving too much information to strangers, hovered around reading all of his chats over his shoulder, and constantly emphasised the need to be a good digital citizen. I believe this approach paid off, he behaves well and responsibly online, and appreciates everything he earns or is given.

However, as is often the burden of the older child, his little brother had a much easier ride. By this time I was too tired to argue, or to enforce my own rules, so younger brother was joining any server he wanted, engaging in Hunger Games events and other survival games. Unlike his older brother, who had been forced to play offline for months, during which he had developed his skills at mining, building, and finding food, younger brother just wandered around asking random strangers if he could live in their house, use their equipment or have their food. To my horror, I was raising a couch surfing freeloader.

Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. While he did have plenty of assistance from the other players, they were also quick to tell him when he was overstepping the boundaries. Occasionally he would come to me in tears because he’d been suspended from a server for bad behaviour. Over time, I started noticing that he was building more and more, going to Youtube for help and instruction when he needed it. Having already learnt that my youngest preferred to figure things out for himself (he hated being read to as a toddler, and I’m pretty sure he taught himself to read specifically so that he could play video games), this connected learning experience was perfect for him. Certainly the suspensions were a lot more effective at teaching him how to behave online than any thing I could have done.

As older child has progressed onto World of Warcraft and other multiplayer games, he’s been showing me Youtube videos like The Top 10 ways to suck at World of Warcraft, that are essentially etiquette guides to the games.

As well as these, the various other Youtubers post series like Draw my Life, sharing their experiences and celebrating their geekness, which I find a refreshing change from the cult of sport or pop stars. Many of the Youtube stars that my boys watch raise money for charities such as Save the Children or Comic Relief, are very careful about copyright – acknowledging when they can’t show or play part of a game to avoid breaching it, or sharing their experiences of being cyberbullied or trolled while online.

I’m actually quite happy to have my children exposed to these funny, intelligent and supportive communities. They are not perfect, often swearing a lot or demonstrating questionable good taste, and the advertising and product placement in some videos can be extreme. Yet there are also positive adult behaviours and relationships being modeled in ways that my introverted, anti-socialness does not provide, and I believe both boys benefit from this.


3 thoughts on “It takes a village…

  1. Hampsonc says:

    HI Vanassa, like you I have two boys who are a little obsessed with the small screen. In fact as I am writing this comment on your blog I can hear the shrill and rather annoying voice of Stampylonghead discussing his latest Minecraft video clip with them in the living room. I have heard many parents views on how much screen time they should give their kids and I really think it is down to the manner in which that individual family function. Like you I am now seeing my boys mature into their activities online, and I have decided to learn with them rather than taking the negative attitude of thinking it must be bad for them if I don’t understand myself. Every generation has that conflict between adults and children regarding the ‘worthiness’ of what the kids are into versus what we the parents THINK they should be doing, and I think taking the time to learn about their interests is far more productive then dictating. I love the fact that they are discovering things on their own through YouTube videos etc. in order to improve their skills in gaming. They are also more than happy for me to sit down with them and with incredible patience they will take me through the basics of whatever level of problems they are facing in the ‘virtual’ world at the moment and how they plan to fix them. So there we have two more impressive qualities in children we would love to see grow – patience and understanding not to mention the ability to problem solve. I would say it was a win win opportunity for all of us!


  2. Hi Vanessa
    I too have two kids, who are also obsessed with the small screen, but then again so am I. My eldest is neurodiverse and my youngest is neurotypical. My youngest is so digitally savvy it scares me. She has been chosen at school to participate in a online maths program and this involves her keeping in touch with other kids via an in-house chat room, and also writing a blog. Like seriously, she’s 8!!! My 11 year old (neurodiverse) is obsessed with youtube videos about science and maths (lucky me!!). But neither of them have ventured into Minecraft yet. I have mixed feelings about Minecraft for both of them. For my neurotypical, I think she’ll treat it like the game it is and relish more the social side. However, I do worry that my neurodiverse son may chose to dwell in this virtual world because it may just be much more attractive to him than dealing with the real world (which is really tough for him sometimes). I feel I might lose him to it forever. Kind of scary. So I am not in any hurry at all to venture there. I do like reading about the positives you have drawn from your own experience though in terms of enhancing their digital citizenship – always great to have a balanced view on things.


  3. drmikeyp says:

    I’ve been asking myself recently how I could convince my school to buy a set of 30 PlayStations or X-Boxes. I’ve got this idea that when I teach both world wars I could have a little section on the landings at Normandy and Gallipoli and get the students to have a little ‘hands-on’ experience through the world of gaming. I’d also like to use Minecraft to explore the places and buildings that made up the periods we study in History. Likewise in my junior English classes, I’d like students to demonstrate their knowledge by recreating scenes from the novels we study.
    Actually, since writing this I’ve thought that for year 9’s Multimodal on the Gallipoli landings, they could recreate the landings using Minecraft and show how the difficult nature of the campaign contributed to the Anzac legend. Now all I have to do is work out how to use it myself… 🙂
    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post!


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