Unschooling Mom, Julie Mink Schiffman, often fields the question:
"Is there such a thing as too much technology when unschooling and/or how do we know it's too much?"
First, I would look at whether or not kids truly are spending "all their time'"on devices. I know I have a tendency to exaggerate at times, but I think it's important to be accurate here when describing our children's relationship with technology. My own video game/YouTube-loving kids have other pursuits such as music (they both play instruments and enjoy listening to music), riding scooters at skateparks, RPGs, in-line skating, martial arts, Park Days, exploring our Bay Area's natural and cultural destinations, and so much more. We provide them with lots of opportunities to pursue all of their interests.
It might seem to a casual observer that all they do when they are home is play video games, but I also see them on the trampoline, playing with their dog, helping out around the house, reading with dad, playing Pokemon card games, etc. Do they play video games *most* of the time? Absolutely. Would you be as worried if your kid was glued to books most of the time, head down, not engaged with the world around them? Our kids are engaged in a whole variety of activities online - they are connecting with friends near and far, and being able to do so is extremely important to them during these adolescent years.
Unschooling often gets a bad rap when it appears to others that we are "unparenting." People assume that we never say no (that's not true, but we do try to find new ways to say 'yes' more often), and that kids are given total freedom to do as they please, no matter the consequences (also not true). Unschooling is more akin to a respectful partnership than absolute anarchy. Instead of hard and fast rules, we live by principles that we all agree are important to our family's well-being. Parents as partners means we are engaged with our kids as they pursue their passions. We help them find new ways to fuel these pursuits. We support and encourage them. In essence, you can not unschool without being connected to your kid, so if you're feeling a disconnect, maybe dig a bit deeper to figure out what's going on.
How do I support my kids when they're seemingly too engaged in gaming to do so? I check in on them often...I ask how they're doing (like *really* ask...not just in passing); I bring them bottles of water and snacks they can eat without crumbs or stickiness getting on their keyboards; I walk by and give a gentle squeeze on their shoulder so they know I'm there for them; I sit in and watch them for a while and cheer with them when they make that final kill...and afterwards, I talk with them about it to hear all about that I missed; I give them helpful advice for healthy screen habits (look away often, take breaks, stretching techniques); and we talk about scammers and how to protect your privacy and stay safe on the internet; and there are many other ways that I connect with them that lets them know that I fully support them and value what's important to them.
What happens when we put limits on things our kids love?
Do you think they will not love it anymore?
Does our disapproval make them want it less?
Or do you think they'll find ways to do more/get more of it without our knowledge (and subsequently without our guidance)?
A deep dive into how to use unschooling principles with technology in your homes. If your children love their technology, but you're not on the same page - you need this Unschooling Guide!
I remember hearing stories of kids going off to college only to fail in their first year because they've suddenly become responsible to monitor their own gaming/internet usage, and as they say,
"When the cat is a away, the mice will play (and play and play...)"
These kids have had such control held over them for so long that the moment they're given freedom from those constraints, they only want to do is... that which was forbidden for so long.
It's a little bit like that saying...what came first, the chicken or the egg? (although, thanks to YouTube, we know the answer, but I think you know what I mean.
We LOVE ASAP Science https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1a8pI65emDE
Are there some people who do use gaming/online activity to ill effect?
I think the article from Scientific American, The Kids Who Use Tech Seem to Be All Right above mentions a very good point...
"...effects really do depend on the user; benefits are conferred on some whereas risks are exacerbated for others, such as children who already suffer from mental health problems."
It may be that folks need to look a little deeper before they blame gaming - and technology use in general.