Internet games: the great time-suck of this generation. They’re more accessible than ever before. Many people—adults and teenagers alike—carry their games around in their pockets with them. This isn’t just restricted to “gamer” kids anymore, either. Just a few years ago, it was considered “antisocial” to sit with your nose buried in a game system while you were at a social event. Now? Half of the teenagers in any given crowd probably check their phones at least half a dozen times over the course of an evening, and many of those aren’t just texting: they’re checking Facebook, browsing the web, or playing games.
And those are teenagers who are at events that are supposed to be enjoyable for them.
Now take a virtual schooling student, who is sitting behind a computer screen day after day with the entire internet at their fingertips. It’s the effort of a few button clicks to be completely off-task: watching videos, playing games, browsing websites that have absolutely nothing to do with the work that they’re supposed to be completing.
For some children, this is a vague temptation that very rarely materializes. They have other activities that they’d rather be doing, so they go ahead and get done with their schoolwork so that they can move on to those activities. For others, the internet is a great time-suck, dragging them in and getting them involved with a dozen different games. As soon as you block one site, they find another…and another…and another. Getting them to actually do schoolwork at all is a huge challenge, and getting them to stay off of the websites that they aren’t supposed to be on is an even bigger one.
Monitor, monitor, monitor. This might mean installing software on the computer that will check every website your child has been to. It might mean checking internet history at the end of every day. It might mean keeping your child in a room where you can see what they’re doing constantly. Obviously, you can’t look over their shoulder every minute of every day; but keeping them close will certainly minimize the amount of time they spend doing things that they shouldn’t.
Set strict guidelines in place. Decide for yourself whether you’re going to allow game time at all. You might trade off console time for computer time—if your child completes his schoolwork without visiting a game site, he can then play a more complex game that will be more enjoyable. You might set time restrictions—schoolwork must be done at a certain time, and if it doesn’t get done, then your child doesn’t get to participate in other activities. Be sure that all of you know what the guidelines are, and what the consequences will be if they aren’t followed—and be consistent!
Be mindful. There is an attitude that a child has when they have been engaged in a game that isn’t present when they are doing schoolwork. They will be hunched closer to the computer screen, eyes fixed on it, clicking faster and more often than they would be otherwise. When this attitude appears, it’s time for mom to take a look at what’s going on.
Be honest. Do you spend half of your computer time doing things that you really shouldn’t be (for example, playing mindless Facebook games or getting lost in hours of videos)? What kind of attitude are you modeling for your child? If you want them to focus, to use the computer for schoolwork instead of as a boredom-buster and a constant source of entertainment, then you have to model similar behaviors. Put down the phone. Stop playing games during “work” hours, whether that’s while they’re doing schoolwork or when you’re supposed to be doing something else. Be careful about sending your child away so that you can finish another level of a game instead of taking care of whatever they need right then.
Are you guilty of being more interested in Facebook or YouTube or Twitter than you are what is going on in your own home? It’s an easy trap for homeschooling and virtual schooling parents, who are isolated from other interaction and often behind the computer for greater portions of the day, to fall into. You may also have longer stretches of time to fill and naturally turn to internet games or other activities to fill them.
What could you be doing instead? Could you be checking a child’s assignment in more detail? Taking care of some advance prep? Doing a household chore (or three)? What is it that you really ought to be responsible for?
And if you’re not able to be completely responsible—if you’re modeling behavior that says that game-playing is normal, expected, and a privilege that you should have—then how can you expect anything else of your child?