There are some kids who are completely engaged in a widely revered activity and they receive accolades at each turn. Most kids are not those kids. When it comes to self-directed learning, a wide majority of boys—and a good number of girls—will put themselves in front of a video game.

It’s pretty easy to have confidence that homeschool is the right avenue when you believe in self-directed learning. Until you kid starts choosing video games. Then it gets scary.

The problem is that most boys will choose video games over pretty much anything. Of course, not all boys. But I have a son who loves cello so much that he asked to take piano lessons as well, but even he tries to get out of practice all the time so he can play one more video game.

There are many days I ask myself if my kids will hate me for letting them play so many hours of video games. Some days they are playing five or six hours. I don’t admit that usually. But I’m admitting it now. (They are not in a row, okay?)

This is why I think the biggest issue in unschooling for boys is video games. It’s so clear that traditional school is worse for boys than girls. Boys can’t sit still, but girls can. Boys score lower than girls on everything, until middle school. Grammar school boys are on ADHD medicine at a much higher rate than girls. There is no way that parents of loud, rambunctious, don’t-buy-me-a-book boys are wondering if school is good for them. It’s not. Of course.

The parents worry what the kids will do outside of school. Maybe if the boys would climb trees and play with small animals then the parents could feel good, like they are raising Charles Darwin or Jane Goodall or something. But most boys will play video games. And believe me, it’s won’t be Math Blaster.

So one of the biggest barriers to unschooling is video games.

This is why I spend so much time on this blog defending video games. Because I use this blog as a way to help myself keep going with homeschooling, and what I need most is to have a clear list in my head of why it’s okay to play video games for what seems like, sometimes, all day long.

Here’s the list I keep in my head. Surely some of you will find this helpful as well:

Video games provide a significant and deep level of happiness

Screen time: It’s not about how much, it’s about how

Kids who play video games do better as adults

Kids like violent role playing and fantasy; it’s normal and healthy

Obsessive video game play is the most beneficial of all screen time

 

25 replies
  1. Yvette
    Yvette says:

    So glad I’m not the only one. I’ll be saving your previous video game posts to read the next time that I’m watching my son play Terraria all day and wondering if his only job opportunity will be when some company desperately needs a new recruit who can sit around all day in a puddle of their own drool.

    • Jeff Till
      Jeff Till says:

      The competition for drool-puddle-sitting Terraria players is going to be stiff in the late 2020-30’s. My seven year old son has already clocked thousands of hours.

      One ray of hope is the kids like crafting games and my son Facetimes or Google’s live with other kids while playing. It’s not quite as passive nor anti-social as video games have a reputation for.

  2. Isabelle
    Isabelle says:

    Isn’t it kind of interesting that boys “won’t sit still,” but they’ll happily sit still to play video games for many hours? Perhaps “sitting” has less to do with the issues in school than we’d like to think.

  3. Cay
    Cay says:

    Where does playing video games for almost the equivalent of a full time job — during the child development period — lead?

    Is the alternative outcome better or worse?

    “what I need most is to have a clear list in my head of why it’s okay to play video games for what seems like, sometimes, all day long.”

  4. Jean
    Jean says:

    The problem with video games is that it provides you with instant feedback, and complete controle in a way nothing else do.
    Well, some other activities do, but they require so much more effort that you end up playing video games.
    Our brain is craving for this kind of feedback and control, and we never get tired of it. We didn’t evolve in a world where something like it existed, so we might invest ourselves in it way above the point were it’s beneficial.
    Just like we do with sugar.
    Eating sugar indefinitely is a very efficient way to get fatter. So we like sugar, because it used to be difficult to be fat enough, but now?
    Playing video games is probably an excellent way to make you, I don’t know what, but something people used to never be enough of it. But as an adult who grew up playing video game, most real activity seems too slow, with to few control on the outcome to make them attractive, and altough I know I don’t wan’t this for my future, I’m always scared that I might choose to create myself a passive income and play videogames for the rest of my lifetime.
    This irresistble appeal is obviously not the same for everyone, but as an INTP, it’s really a problem.

  5. sarah
    sarah says:

    Sometimes my kids DO play for five or six hours in a row.

    The real problem with playing games is, we simply don’t know if it is good or bad for kids. We cannot know until they are grown up. Uncharted teritories our kids are exploring. And its scary.

    But, I’m confident there are alot of other factors, besides video playing, that leads kids to living in their parents basement at the age of 35 gaming all day. :)

    • Karen
      Karen says:

      It is exactly this not knowing if I am doing the right thing that keeps me up at night. My boys spend most of their day cycling between video games, YouTube and comic books. I think that it will all work out and I have a plan to keep them from living in my basement when they get older. When they turn 14 they have to get a part-time job. When they turn 18 they have to go to college or get a full-time job. If they choose a job, they cannot live with me unless they pay rent. I agree that any parent with an adult child living at home playing video games all day is to blame for enabling that.

  6. Kierstin
    Kierstin says:

    I have a friend who was homeschooled. His parents divorced while he was in high school and his mom was busy so she mostly just let him play videogames. He told me this while lamenting the fact that he never learned anything while being homeschooled and so he had to take all the “dumb” math classes in college. I know he felt bad about it, but he was such a well adjusted, smart kid. He was a student helper to his professors, he ended up assist teaching an intro English class his senior year, and is currently in grad school to become an English professor. He is so much better off having had a mother who allowed him to become an autonomous, thoughtful person, than he would’ve been learning enough math.
    So maybe your kids will complain that you didn’t do enough for them. But that doesn’t mean that you’re not doing the right thing.

  7. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “There are many days I ask myself if my kids will hate me for letting them play so many hours of video games.” and “… and what I need most is to have a clear list in my head of why it’s okay to play video games for what seems like, sometimes, all day long.”
    It may help to make clear to the kids that unschooling and self-directed learning is a shared experience and responsibility between you and the kids. Let them chart their own course and make their own decisions while having fun in the process to the extent that you’re able to and feel comfortable with. However, I think it’s important to make clear that there’s a certain amount of responsibility they must assume with those decisions in that kind of arrangement. I think it’s important for them to know why they’re spending so much time on playing video games. I think they should be asking themselves how they’re learning and benefiting from that format as opposed to another activity. Basically, I think self-directed learning is an exercise in knowing thyself by whatever means works for you. How you get there and what means you use will vary by the individual. So really, it’s the kids that should have a clear list in their heads why it’s okay to play video games so much. They should be questioning their time management as it applies to their self-directed learning activities.

  8. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    During my summer breaks as a teenager living at home, I would watch movies (on VHS) ALL day long. I would watch the Star Wars Trilogy and all the Rocky movies every day over and over again. When I homeschooled my last semester of my senior year of high school, I had more hours in the day to do self-directed learning and I wasn’t spending them all watching movies. I know movies and video games aren’t the same thing, but the hours I spent doing that passive activity certainly didn’t keep me from going to college, working, having friends, finding the right mate to marry, and having a family.

    I know I’m not a boy, but I also had two teenage brothers living at home. One, at 16, was designing websites and servers for companies around the U.S. and was in a rock band, and the other played football and participated in a jr. navy program. They also played lots and lots of video games.

    With everything in life, we should be letting kids know about balancing out activities, guiding them along this process since their life experience is limited. Some days it is great to do nothing but play video games and watch movies especially on sick days, but doing that single activity every day endlessly for years probably isn’t a good thing. Hopefully by the time they are in their late teens they are really good at self-regulating.

    Personally, I don’t think for a homeschooled kid that 5-6 hours a day playing video games, not in a row, is excessive.

    • Rachel
      Rachel says:

      I so curious about how you homeschooled your last semester of high school. Then I assume you did not get your diploma? How did that affect college. My son is a senior and taking too many AP classes. He is burning out. I would love to pull him out but the school is saying he would then have all withdraws/fails on his transcript which would look horrible on college applications. I’m not sure what is best to do.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Rachel,

        I actually did get a diploma. Homeschools are considered private schools in CA, and private schools can issue diplomas. I also went to college after I graduated with zero problems or hoops. I’m assuming that my mom put together a transcript or paid someone to do it for that last semester. The co-op I went to did a big graduation ceremony for all of us.

        I told my parents when the fall semester of my senior year was over that I didn’t want to go to school anymore, that it was too many classes that I didn’t need or want them. My mom pulled me out right away, how great that they listened to me and accommodated me with just the one request.

        After that I worked on whatever I wanted, I was very self-directed and zipped through the curriculum in about a month. Since I wanted to go to college, I actually did need to take a few classes such as government to meet the requirements. If the school is giving you correct information, then you may need to wait until this semester is over. I would double-check with someone else though, since how does that work for kids who have to move in the middle of a semester for a parent’s job relocation? I’m assuming they don’t get all withdrawal/fails.

  9. IT
    IT says:

    I’m a computer programmer. As a kid, I wanted to develop computer games but never really wanted to play them. It’s more fun writing code than playing games. Don’t understand the kids of today.

  10. Lucy Chen
    Lucy Chen says:

    I don’t think video games are bad, either, though I can’t help but still worry if I should limit my children’s screen time.
    Anyway, my 5-year-old son is able to read most of the things he needs in the games now, even games for older kid games like War Dragons. He is learning to write fast, too, because he wants to write his own version of the stories from the games, and he types words into Youtube search!

  11. Nicole Renee
    Nicole Renee says:

    I was worried about my Homeschoolers playing video games as well until my cousin who is a mathematician and technology specialist assured me that it’s better for them. It’s all math because in video games they are analyzing, strategizing, and problem solving. They are actively participating and controlling the outcome opposed to passively watching a fictitious world subliminally hypnotize and mind control them (tell-a-vision). Besides they MUST complete everything they are RESPONSIBLE for (chores, chess practice) before they can play video games which keeps my house clean.

  12. Me
    Me says:

    Why treat video games as though they are an unavoidable fact of life? Kids won’t play the games unless we parents buy them and provide access to them.

    I blame holidays and birthdays for this – I feel it as a parent too, the need to get a “wow” gift, which nowadays means electronics. It’s incredibly exciting and makes them so happy, but then you have the situation discussed here, where they spend half their waking hours in front of a screen.

  13. Becky
    Becky says:

    Video games were a top concern for me as a mom of sons who went to school too. Mine gravitated toward video games in all of their free time. Now they are young adults and it seems that they spend more free time from college and work watching movies and TV series. When there is a new game out they’ll wait a year or so for all of the bugs to get worked out and then schedule a weekend or vacation to play it. Their smart phones are with them all the time used like game consoles for their lives.

  14. Rose
    Rose says:

    I agree that video games are a top concern for homeschooling kids and actually for other kids too.

    My 8 year old plays video games a lot. I tried out many different strategies to limit “screen time” for my son, and we all became frustrated with the arbitrary rules. So, eventually, I started letting him play unless there was something else that we should be doing! What a relief. I won’t say it’s perfect. My son was getting extremely frustrated with a game yesterday and having trouble putting the tablet down for a break. But what I try to do is talk him through his feelings and decide what to do. I hope that I am helping him to learn to make good decisions and recognize his feelings and learn to self regulate. Hopefully! I feel like there is not a lot of support our information on how to handle such things because parenting is so autocratic and screen time is no more than 2 hours a day. Period.

  15. HomeschoolDad
    HomeschoolDad says:

    I agree with the premise, the “top concern”….

    Maybe make the kids pay, every penny, for the games.

    That would be the device, part of the internet,…and no one can buy them a game. No birthday money can go towards it.

    Same with cellphones.

    At least they would be working a little..

  16. Ali
    Ali says:

    First of all, Penelope I really love your blog. I actually stumbled across it a few months ago and have been loving your posts. Thank you.
    So, it took an undoing of almost everything I thought to “be true” to make the decision to home school. I feel like I’m in a daily battle to try to get them to want to do anything but play a video game. If I do tell them to do something or suggest something they say, “Ok, Mom. Ill do this if I can play Mario Kart when I’m done.” The neighbor kid has Minecraft and I haven’t bought it for my boys yet so all they want to do is go over there and watch their friend play. The friend won’t even let them play. I feel bad but I don’t know if it’s time to cross over into letting them game at their leisure, because that is exactly what they will do if I let them. I don’t want to control them but I’m trying to figure out some boundaries, at least. I really want to be as cool as many of you are with the games. I guess that’s why I’m writing this.

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