My son has been immersed in minecraft for the good part of the past 7 months. Being a “new” unschooler it was, I admit, really hard. It was hard for me to give him the freedom to immerse himself in something that he enjoyed so much because of the constant reminders of how “awful” of a parent I was for not limiting his screen time, for not controlling his server access and for not hovering over him and okaying every new friend he met and chatted with on skype.
I can hear it now…
“How do you know he is safe?”
“What about the possibility of becoming addicted?”
“What about the neurological consequences?”
“What about the __________________ (fill in the blank)”
Have I thought about all of these, yes. Have I worried about all these at one point or another, yes. Did I choose to let fear take over and control my, and his, life? No. But it was a struggle. It really, really was. I didn’t discuss how much time he spent online. Many of my peers have strict controls on screen time and I understand that desire, I really do. I still don’t think that being in front of a screen during all waking hours does the body or brain any favors. Although I also do not believe that having some time to be learning through technology and video is as bad as some believe.
I did, however, choose to trust my child. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t voice my concerns, point out the effects of being online a lot. I reminded him of what frequent hours of being on the computer could do to his health and well-being or point out the things he was missing in the rest of the world. But I chose to give him information, and let him choose. (as a disclaimer I still believe it depends on the age and maturity of the child)
7 months later…he is done. 7 months! He still loves minecraft but he is ready to embrace new experiences, to be diving into some new interests in his life. He will continue to play minecraft and I am thankful for that because he really has benefited from the game in many ways. Just some of the things he has learned:
1) Spelling. Spelling was a struggle for us for the past 2 years. He HATED writing and never seemed to care or want to spell anything correctly. He is now not a perfect speller but he is so much better. And I never had to open a worksheet. Yay!
2) Reading. His reading has become much more fluent and his vocabulary has increased. (Yes including some not so great “vocabulary” I admit)
3) Social skills. He has a whole new set of friends. He has favorite skype friends who accept him and are like him. He doesn’t have to change who he is to belong somewhere. His self confidence has bloomed.
4) Geography. He had friends from all over the world. On Christmas he was skyping with a kid from Australia. Yesterday he was skyping with a girl from Britian. Not to mention he met his “best” minecraft friend from Canada and other cool kids from all over the USA.
5) Computer knowledge. He know knows how to navigate around a computer more easily and although I still help him with things he knows how to research where to find information. I don’t know how many times he has come to me wanting me to help him with a mod or a server and just places the computer in front of me. “Mom here is a youtube video on how to do ___________. Can you help me with it?” I know he could probably do it himself but he has been told to not download anything on our shared computer, just to be safe. If it was his own, he most likely wouldn’t even “need” me.
6) Eventually he learned that he has the choice. He really immersed himself in the game for quite a long time. He learned how to build amazing things, how to cooperate with his friends and how to simply walk away from kids who did not treat him nicely. And yes, there are some, not so nice kids on minecraft.
I didn’t just leave him unattended to discover this new joy. We talked about internet safety. I got involved and interested in what he was doing. Heck I even knitted a creeper hat! I helped, at first, to navigate through social hiccups. I helped him spell words and figure out rules.
Although it feels like ALL he did was play minecraft for 7 months. When I look back this is what I see. He also still played soccer, downhill skiied, traveled half way across the US and Canada, saw Mount Rushmore, watched the whole series of Liberty Kids on DVD, listened to my US citizenship questions and answers over and over in our car, participated on a swim team, read, played with friends, jumped his bike off of ramps, went to museums, watched his favorite animal planet and discovery television shows (ya ya…more screen time), hunted, fished…and more.
But, really, minecraft really wasn’t so bad. He found a place he loved to be, for awhile.
Now onto new adventures! Let’s just hope it isn’t snake breeding like it was last Spring! Although we are attending the Seattle Reptile Expo next weekend…