One question I get asked a lot during and after my presentations is “how much time to do you let your own kids have on the computer?” and the answer, in a couple of words, is “not much.” Both Tess and Tucker have their own accounts on our iMac which is conveniently placed in our living room, and they have access to a limited number of programs for 45 minutes a day. (The television is almost never on in our house, btw.) They can request more time if they like, and I often give it when Tess is in the midst of something on Google Sketch-up (me hoping she’ll follow in the footsteps of her mother the engineer) or when Tucker is deep into the latest batting statistics for his beloved Phillies. (I know, I know. Cubs are his second favorite team.) If it’s Webkinz or Line Rider, when time is up it’s up. But by and large, especially in the summer, Wendy and I want them off the computer and outside shooting hoops, jumping on the trampoline, or climbing up the mountain making forts and looking for snakes. Or reading books on rainy days. Or just being bored.
Wendy said that to me early on in our parenting lives when the kids were like 3 and 5. “Sometimes it’s good to let them be bored.” I’d never thought of it that way, but I’ve come to believe it wholeheartedly. They need to learn how to entertain themselves, to fill up their days.
Last weekend, they got really bored. After two months of weekend basketball stuff (which we are re-evaluating), Wen and I just wanted a couple of days to veg. The kids couldn’t believe it. They kept begging us to do stuff. We kept saying no. Computer? No. TV? No. It went on like that for a good two hours. But finally, it got quiet. We heard them rummaging around in the kitchen and in their rooms, running in and out of the house, and then a measured commotion down by the basketball goal. “I think they’re doing suicides,” Wendy whispered when she looked out the window.
Yes, they were. And not only that, they had devised a daily practice schedule (click on the pic above), which they proceeded to work through for the next two hours, coaching each other, supporting and praising each other, until the very end when Tucker threw the ball at Tess, she hit him in the head with a stick, and they both came stomping up to the house locked in mortal sibling combat. Oy.
Anyway, on par, boredom is good. They’re 8 and 10. They’ll have plenty of time for the computer…
Caren Pence says
I just said this past week…”Oh, I wish to be bored.”
I miss the creativity that brought everything in as a toy; when as a child during the second week of summer after telling my parents that I was bored, they would say â€œfix it!â€
I, too, limit my daughtersâ€™ time on computer, phone and television. We leave for Canada in 9 days for no: TV, phones, or internet. It is a time of R & R. Swimming, reading, bike riding, fishing, and good old fashioned play are the choices for each day. I love this time for me and for us as a family!
Thanks for this blog to allow it to register.
TV? What’s TV?! It’s rarely on at our house, too. In fact, someone recently asked me how I have time to keep up on email, Twitter, follow 30 blogs, and maintain two blogs of my own when she can hardly find time to answer email. My answer? I don’t watch TV at night!
Our girls are 9 and 7. They get 1/2 of “free” computer time daily to practice math facts. Otherwise, they can spend their Handipoints (http://www.handipoints.com/index.php) on computer time in 1/2 hour increments, up to an additional hour a day. Most of the time, they would rather be reading or outside playing.
Being bored and finding things to do is a good thing. I have a friend whose 4 kids “require” her constant interaction. They literally don’t know how to play without her, and she feels guilty if they say they are bored, despite the fact that she’s a stay-at-home mom. Our kids play pretend together so much that they rarely complain of boredom. This is their 3rd week off of school and we haven’t heard it yet!
Part of the reason I think kids don’t know how to play is that they are SO over scheduled. Kids have inherited our frenetic schedules. Our kids are allowed to be in only 2 extra-curricular activities. If they want to add something new, they have to drop something they are already doing. Over the summer, they go to sleep-away camp for one week and participate in VBS for 3 hours a day for another week – and that’s it. Summer is our down-time to play, recharge, and hang out.
Tom Hoffman says
Should 8 and 10 year olds be using computers in school? What happens when you get to middle school?
Will Richardson says
Yes, I think they should be getting some effective computer time at school, more as they get older. I want my kids to have teachers that can model and implement technology in ways that enhance learning and teach them how they can begin to use it for their own learning.
What do you think?
Jen Boggs says
Amen! I think of all the scenarios gone unpretended, recipes gone unmade, art gone uncreated and inventions gone undiscovered without that vital ingredient- boredom. Wes Fryer over at Moving at the Speed of Creativity just last night blogged about some kids needing to practice creativity and spontaneous fun. Maybe what those kids need is a generous, healthy, delicious dose of boredom.
Sara Kajder says
I needed to read that as a parent, Will. My eldest (almost 4) asked to read with Mommy’s kindle the other night as we were doing our nightly “tuck in.” I was somewhere between horrified and appalled as I couldn’t imagine reading “Knuffle Bunny” on the kindle when our beloved print copy was sitting in full color at his bedside. I said no. I stick to no. I know this is a little tangential – but what I took away from your post is also the idea that we need to be teaching kids to think about the value-added by a textual medium – and the ways that specific tool/text/technology “does it better” – even down to bedtime reading…
That’s great that you are encouraging a physical lifestyle and monitoring computer time. I don’t know how many parents out there are successfully doing so. The TV being hardly an entertaining tool is key, and differentiating between computer use for games and such versus helpful things is great.
Chris Lehmann says
Tom Hoffman says
I can’t quite articulate this clearly enough to stand on its own as a post, particularly because I’m just guessing how we might handle Vivian a half dozen years from now, but I do think that there is a constructionism vs. connectivism issue here. A constructionist believes that computers are uniquely tools for learning — computational thinking is powerful and important, and starting early is good. As a theory it directly addresses young kids. In connectivism, computers are primarily communication tools — learning tools insofar as they foster communication — and in most cases, their importance doesn’t kick in until later.
@Sara Kajder They DO still want to be like us, don’t they? It’s a massive responsibility. I need to lay off checking email when I should be giving my son my undivided attention. (Seems like that should be “unsplintered attention,” these days.)
@Tom Hoffman Really interesting point!
I’ve been periodically letting our son “swap out” his .5 hrs of media time (previously almost exclusively PBS television time) for a round of Desktop Tower Defense. It feels like an okay use of his time and he loves theorizing about how to make a better maze for the creeps. (He’ll be 7 in September.) But I wonder if this is the slippery slope.
We treat any claims of boredom as a cause for elaborated concern — boredom tends to affect those whose brains are having trouble, we say — this hasn’t eliminated boredom, but has effectively eliminated boredom-induced whining, which was our goal.
I’m going to be thinking about this today… what role do computers play in our young people’s lives, and to what end?
David Colon says
I’m with you on the boredom principle. My kids love all things electronic and prying them away from it makes them go nuts. Odd thing is, though, that after a few minutes away from it, they start making up the most amazing imaginative ways to occupy their time. They get outside, play with the neighborhood kids, write stories, invent games and the like.
I’m all for the new technologies and have no problem with my kids interacting with it, but they also need to explore other things as well. Great post!
Kids definitely need time away from the computers to be able to exercise, not only their bodies, but their brains. Too much of the same is not good for anyone. 🙂
In the 80s I had a summer Computer Kids Computer Club summer program. Hundreds of kids tried to sign up for this.
Then I became a runner. One summer in mid-90s I tried to combine running and computers. No one signed up.
Now (and for the past 5 years) I’ve had an after-school Happy Feet, Healthy Food kids’ club. It combines literacy, play, running, hiking, and healthy eating. Just like the 80s – more kids sign up than I can handle.
The only part computers have in this is that I put my lesson plans and club ideas online to share.
I don’t use computers as much with my young students in the class as I used to.
I did find a nice explodethecode.com program for the children having trouble learning to read and a few others, but I don’t worry about giving them as much computer time as I used to. Now, I’d rather have them do other things.
That’s a really good point.
â€œSometimes itâ€™s good to let them be bored.â€
But it’s a controlled type of bored. My fiance’s parents let her younger brother play hours and hours of video games, held up in his room, a soda parked on the side. He’s got one true friend who visits a rare occasions, otherwise, it’s back to the video games. I dread to think how his high school and further years are going to be if his parents allow him to stay on this track.
What a great post. It is okay to be bored, but for some reason a lot of kids and parents think that every second of the day needs to be entertaining. I’d much rather be active than watch television. Admittedly, I do have to limit my own time on the computer. It is a bit addicting.:)
I think you hit the nail on the head but I don’t think it is called boredom. Boredom has a negative feeling and this quiet, unplugged time is a positive thing. We need to give our kids time to listen. Listen to themselves, find out who they are, listen to that still small voice we/they have been blocking out with all the noise of technology, the voice that unlocks our creativity. I also agree that school is not the place for this boredom. School should be a technology rich place, a place of discovery, a place to guide 21st Century learners into using technology as a learning tool, not just a game machine.
Joshua Kraus says
I was raised just before the tech boom with kids. I was in college when everyone was locked to their computer screens either typing away madly or playing video games. I admit I was often one of them. And I am a teacher now and see the results of kids who spend way too much time on-line, playing video games or simply inside not doing anything. I love to get out and do things. Honestly the computer is where I turn when I am bored and have nothing else to do. And recently I have decided to not watch TV anymore and I read when I am “Bored” I am a better person for this and hope to pass this onto kids if/when I have them. Well I have passed my allotted computer time now and have to get off.
I really enjoyed your thoughts on limiting technology time. My son is 7 and if I let him, he would sit at the computer or with the Nintendo D.S. all day long. He gets 1/2 hour a day to do his thing (somethimes a bit longer in the summer) but we try to break this time up. Not because I don’t see technology as a huge asset but b/c I truly believe in imaginative play. I want him to love riding his bike, reading, and playing board games just as much as he loves playing with the “techie” stuff. Thanks for sharing.
I really enjoyed reading this! I have 3 children and they have a 45 minute limit on “screen time”. This includes T.V., computer, Wii and anytning else that allows them to zone out and not be a contributing member of the family! I hope that the hikes, bike rides, visits to the library, camping and other adventures we have encountered this summer create memories that span farther than any website will ever take them!!
I liked reading this too! but not because its good, because you people are full of shit! Computers are actually not a bad thing at all, more reading is done ON the computer than off most of the time. Im actually a teenage boy who, like a lot of others, loves video games and youtube and such. I often find myself spending 4 hours+ on the computer. So even though all of you think its a REALLY bad thing, its not really, i still exersize and eat healthy, and im an overall healthy person. So, please try and rethink what your saying here.
p.s. In the near future, almost every person in america will have a computer for themselves. A recent study shows that there are officially more TVs in a household than that of people(which isnt saying that much)