Offline Education

Remember when pedestrians used to tell us to limit kids screen time to no more than one hour a day? Now five year old’s are attending kindergarten on zoom. Limiting screen-time is the number one pro I considered when deciding to homeschool my kids.

My problem with online school was that my kids are older (11 and 13). They have lives online and know what apps they enjoy most. The “school” app is not their favorite. Last spring, both of my kids found lots of non-educational things to do online while I thought they were learning. Taking school offline actually makes it easier for my kids to work independently, so I don’t have to watch what they are doing every second they’re supposed to be doing school. I can just look at their physical piece of paper at the end of the day and know they’ve actually done their work.

Just taking school offline isn’t enough though. School takes maybe four hours per day. If my kids then sleep for ten hours, that leave another ten hours for them to be online. My older son does sometimes seek out offline activities, so he probably only spends 6-8 hours online each day (which obviously is still 5 hours too many).

My younger son is hard core addicted though. He is obsessed with Minecraft! All of his friends are online, and he’s constantly playing with them. Also, in real life he’s an awkward kid. He was bullied a lot in physical school, and generally not very happy. In Minecraft, he’s popular and cool. He knows how to do things other people don’t and generally feels good about himself.

In many ways, I feel like my son is happier now than I’ve ever seen him. All the big stressors in his life are gone. Except none of the positive things in his life are real. Minecraft is not real life. Yes, he’s talking to friends, but playing a networked video game isn’t the same thing as playing soccer. All of his friends are avatars, with voices he hears through headphones.

I know that thanks to COVID, this is reality right now. But I’m also really worried about my kids. I know electronics are addictive, and I know my children are addicted. What I don’t know is how to get them unplugged. I try to limit screen time, but somehow it’s a fight I loose way more than I win. I’m glad my son isn’t skipping his zoom school to play Minecraft anymore, but that doesn’t mean he’s not still addicted. It just means he now has the reward of Minecraft as a motivation to finish his math assignment.

I’m sure I’m not the only parent dealing with this right now. How are you coping? Are you coping? Is there any hope for this generation of kids. Growing up in the age of social media was bad enough, but now these kids are also growing up in the age of COVID, where even teachers and grandparents live only on zoom.

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