Friday, April 30, 2010

Jace loves gamimg. Very often the first thing he wants to do when he wakes up is play a video or computer game. And probably just as often it's one of the last things he does before he goes to bed. It doesn't matter to him what type of game though lately RPGs (Role Playing Games) are his favorite. I know lots of people resist video games and there are many studies about the dangers of video games. I used to be a parent who whole heartedly believed that I must limit 'screen time' in order to protect my child from the brain draining powers of video games. We had time limits and rules surrounding games, they were used as leverage and I thought most bad behavior could supposedly be traced back to too much time spent gaming. And then I started reading unschooling boards.

Now, I'm not really big on the idea of doing something just to fit the popular definition of something. I don't think you have to publish anything to be a writer, sell a painting to be an artist, or let your kids do whatever the hell they want to be an unschooler. However, so many unschooling parents whom I respected on other topics were saying the same things about video games that I decided it was worth exploring. Even more so than the rally cries of unschooling parents the real deal-breaker for me, the thing that proved I needed to explore this idea of unlimited access to gaming is that I wasn't being consistent.

I figured out a couple of years ago that the things I find it difficult to be consistent about are things that deep down I don't believe. After all I consistently feed and clothe my children. I consistently tell them I love them. I consistently avoid HFCS and red dye in the food we eat. But I couldn't be consistent about this and that let me know that deep down I may not really believe what I was trying to do. Sure, if I noticed behaviors I thought might be linked to gaming or, more likely, I felt guilty about the amount of time he spent gaming then I would begin to get more strict about enforcing the rules. However, slowly but surely I'd always start to be inconsistent about it. So, I decided I should try this radical approach to gaming.

All I can say is WOW!

It has been several months now, maybe even approaching a year, since I let go of limiting his gaming. Some guidelines have remained such as a gentle word if I notice him becoming upset or a reminder that he needs to pay attention to and respect his own body cues for a break. That has been a process but one he has done really well with and lately he needs very few reminders from me about these things (admittedly he does still need that gentle word from time to time, just less frequently than before). That's really what unschooling is about- helping them learn to recognize their own natural limits instead of imposing my own. I realize in hindsight that this was my ultimate goal all along- I instinctively knew that my interference wasn't really helping him learn lifelong limits and that once he was away from my watchful eye he would overindulge and have to learn self control as opposed to parental control in a setting that wasn't as safe and loving as home.

Even though I realize my goal now I also see many other benefits to allowing him space to pursue something that captivated his attention. The pleasantly unexpected result is that Jace has found a way to bring gaming into many aspects of his life. He writes beautifully creative and descriptive stories based on games- either ones he's played or ones he wishes to create. Speaking of creating, he has taught himself to do just that- first by finding a website that let him create flash games and then moving on to more complex sites and even purchasing a book to help him with his endeavors. Recently he upgraded his membership on one of those sites to a "pro" membership so he can create three dimensional games. Through gaming he has also connected with other children who share his interests all over the world and shows genuine interest in learning about their cultures, languages and geography. He creates arts and crafts using many mediums so he can reenact games scenarios. He buys and sells games on eBay and in gaming stores and has learned about marketing, interpreting ads, finding the best value and an understanding of simple economic principles such as the laws of supply and demand, profit/loss and opportunity cost. He has learned the value of saving and delayed gratification when he wants a new game or game system.

He came to all of this knowledge not in spite of video games but because of them. He was given the freedom to explore a passion- a passion most of the world judges as frivolous at best and psychologically dangerous at worst. I admit that I swung between these two perspectives myself and in the beginning when he was binging on the games that had previously been limited I was concerned. But I trusted what my instincts were telling me and instead of my knee-jerk reaction to 'protect' him from this world I dug deeper and saw that what I really needed to do was help him develop the skills to guide himself through it.

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