“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.