Hours in Front of a Screen… Wasting Time or Getting Motivated?

About a year ago, I was inches away from pulling my daughter’s computer out of her hands and telling her to go play outside. Why? She was wasting hours every day watching anime. Hours. Every Day!

But I clung to my philosophy that kids needed to take ownership of their learning, work, and lives and remembered my own childhood when I wasted hours every day reading. And with seven or more dance classes every week plus rehearsal time, at least she is no couch potato.

This post is not about video as the new literacy, though that’s also an interesting question.  Instead, this post is about the consequences of giving students time and space for things that matter to them, even things that are a waste of time.

After a month or two, I realized I was no longer seeing my daughter sitting and just watching anime. Instead, the anime was in the background and she was spending hours every day drawing manga. Hours. Every day. Her Christmas list was about pens and colored pencils and sketch books. Each picture would take a whole afternoon and she had dozens of them. I started to feel a bit less stressed about the time-wasting. I mean, drawing is productive, not purely passive.

Fast forward a bit and now Annika is watching something called Vocaloids. This is a small subculture of folks following the music videos of computer constructs. Vocaloid software contains a digital voice that can be programmed, along with music to sing original songs. Back to wasting time.

Except. There are folks in this subculture who buy the vocaloid software and create covers of the original songs. And then there are others who download these covers and mash them up to create an original “chorus.” Before I knew it, my daughter was a Vocaloid Chorus author with her own YouTube channel and hundreds of followers.

That was when she connected with other authors online who were not just doing choruses but also creating original covers. This inspired her to do the same. Recently, she has added writing fan fiction to her repetoire.

What is interesting to me about all this is that I have completely ignored my daughter’s work other than to listen when she wants to share and to provide the digital tools that make it possible. As she tells me about this passion I learn about the skills she has developed on her own:

  • She is very sophisticated in managing her community. She answers every comment, immediately responds to requests for certain choruses or covers, always comments on the work her followers post on their own channels, and keeps things positive when the trolls come out.
  • She is gaining interesting literary knowledge. She told me the other day about how difficult it is to provide back story for her character without doing an exposition dump. She had the idea of creating a second story from the point of view of the irritating girl from the first story – to see if that created empathy for the character from her readers.
  • She is studying psychology to understand why people do what they do, so she can make her stories more realistic.
  • She is better than I am at video editing tools even though I try to use them for my work on occasion.
  • She is watching videos in the original Japanese and beginning to pick up the language.

In other words, my daughter has taken ownership of her informal learning in an area she is passionate about. The digital resources and communities of interest available to her through the iInternet means she is able to independently pursue her interests without waiting for an adult to mediate her learning. And as a side effect of doing what she loves, she is gaining both cognitive and non-cognitive skills that will serve her in college, work, and life.

So what is a parent to do when it appears a child is wasting time, yet passionate?

  • First relax and think of it as play or downtime. Perhaps it will never develop into anything, but we all have our own ways to wind down and cope with a busy schedule.
  • Second, be patient. It can take up to a year for these time-wasters to develop into productive hobbies or work.
  • Third, be observant. Let yourself look past the apparent waste of time and see what characteristics your child is exhibiting. Patience? Perseverance? Problem-solving?
  • Finally, talk with your child about what it is that makes this pass-time so compelling. It can be a wonderful way to connect with a child and learn what matters to him or her. It may also let you see an unexpected depth in how they interact with their passion – and for any parent, that is a true gift.

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1 Comment

John Bennett

Thanks for this feedback! I hope more parents find it supportive of the decisions they face. I'm a firm believer in self-control as well as the importance of both formal and informal education. I am also passionate about innovation / creativity in response to curiosity. Each of these will feed off each other deepening the learning for sure. Your feedback regarding your daughter is primarily in the informal learning - important in and of itself and likely to impact the formal learning in some way I believe.

Many will ask about or suggest a more likely scenario: the young person never evolves from the waste of time. I expect such cases are more likely if the young person is rarely curious and probably not comfortable / skilled with self-control. As a parent OR educator, help with effective learning skill, encourage / facilitate self- control, and encourage young peoples' curiosity (through their control aided by our questions.

Supporting this thinking is a favorite quote from Albert Einstein: "Of imagination and knowledge, imagination is far more important!"

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