Wednesday 21 March 2018

Training Your Child Part 4 - The Interview with Vicki Tillman, Part 2

Continuing my series on career exploration, here is the second part of the interview with Vicki Tillman.

Be sure to pop over to 7 Sisters Homeschooling's "Homeschool High School podcast" for my interview with Vicki about teaching Shakespeare. It's scheduled to air on 3rd April 2018 as episode 104.

It's never too early - nor too late - to think about teen careers.

Your website asks the question on your Career Bundles page about what to do with a child who loves everything: this describes me perfectly and I still feel adrift sometimes, so what advice would you have given “younger me”?

I know, right?! Some teens DO love everything, and what’s “worse”…they are good at just about everything. It is so much harder for those teens to feel settled in one career. That’s why providing lots of role models, experiences, service and prayer is important. AND a good Career Exploration course. AND maybe a mentor or coach. AND they may end up having several college majors/degrees and careers over the years (not so unusual with millennials- careers for them are a journey, not a destination!). I wouldn’t be surprised by the multi-career experience- God gave them much to do!

What part does faith play in career exploration?

A LOT! It is so good for teens and parents to know that they can roll their work on the Lord and he’ll direct them. Teens who are familiar with God’s character and leading through their experiences with prayer, Scripture knowledge and watching Godly role models and mentors generally are much more at peace with the Career Exploration process.

Follow up to that: How can you follow a faith-based exploration with a teen who’s not a believer?

For teens who are not believers, it’s not too useful to preach at them. On the other hand, allowing them to have the experience of learning from mentors and role models can take them a long way.

Is it easier to coach someone else (ie, other students) on their vocational goals than it is to guide your own children?

Well, to be honest, I might have enjoyed watching the process than a couple of my kids liked going through the process. I just LOVE the process of self-discovery…when you see the lightbulb turn on in a teen’s brain: “I UNDERSTAND the way God made me!”

But for a lot of kids, it’s a scary process. It is hard for them to believe that they are unique and loved and created on purpose for purpose by God. They might know it theologically, but it is hard to believe it for themselves. I’ve just been around long enough to know that, whether it is my teen or someone else’s teen, God’s got things in mind for them!

Should students go to college even if their vocational goal doesn’t require a degree?
The answer to that question is a conditional “no”. (Does that sound like equivocation?)

There are teens who are absolutely not called to go to college, whether this is due to ability or attitude or interest. For those teens, vocational training is perfect! Vocational training can occur through trade schools, community colleges, apprenticeships, military or other options.

However, there are more and more jobs that require certification or college degree of some kind in order to be able to advance. It is good to go to and read the job descriptions to find out more about careers of interest and the training required.

Somewhat related to the previous question: How much do you think vocational goals need to dictate what one studies or even majors in for their college degree, if they’re going to college?
That’s an interesting question! There are a number of careers that require a bachelors degree but it can be in just about any field. What some career fields are finding out is that young professionals who have a strong Liberal Arts background have better thinking skills, communication skills and other soft skills that help create an atmosphere for success. (Liberal Arts schools require courses in literature, philosophy, mathematics, and social and physical sciences.) I’ve heard this most often from the corporate and technology world.

Thinking about it that way, a good degree with good internships from a Liberal Arts college may be a great open door for being hired or climbing the career ladder. So the answer to the question: Sometimes it is not the major that is important, it’s the Liberal Arts training that’s important.

Is there any mileage at all in advising girls differently from boys - I know on the one hand that I should think “no way - everyone should have equal chance”, but if we believe and hope that our daughters will become wives and mothers some day, and stay home with the kids (and homeschool them!), then do we really want them to spend ten years and $$$$$$ to become a doctor, only to leave it all for nurturing the next generation?

That’s a difficult question! Is education ever wasted? Is networking ever wasted? Is enriched life experience ever wasted?

To look at it another way: I personally know a couple of families that did not allow their college-capable girls to go to college because they wanted the girls to stay home, settle down and become wives and mothers. The only difficulty was that to be a wife and mother required a marriage, which required a healthy, willing and Godly young man. These families lived in small towns with small churches and no available males. Hard to achieve the goal if one of the necessities is missing.

On the other hand, I’ve known families whose daughters did not want to go to college but instead spend some years in missions, service or the military. All of these daughters had a few years of service and adventure, got “education” by living life- and met their future husbands as they were serving.

Many thanks to Vicki for taking the time to answer all my probing questions. If you want to avail yourself of Vicki's wisdom for your own child, then why not look at her careers curriculum that's available as an ebook on 7 Sisters Homeschooling:

Thursday 14 September 2017

Training Your Child Part 3 - The Interview with Vicki Tillman, Part 1

As promised a few weeks ago, I am publishing the results of a long-distance interview with Vicki Tillman, one of the "7 Sisters" at and a professional life coach.

"Our Vicki" at Seven Sisters and Homeschool High School Helps

She was kind enough to agree to help me in my term-long exploration of my children's own career paths, something originally sparked by our reading Chris Hadfield's An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth.

So here is the first part of that interview, basically copied and pasted from our notes. They make excellent reading and Vicki is full of great advice.

Kat, this was fun! Thanks for the opportunity!- Vicki

1. Judging from the timeline on your website profile, I’m assuming you explored your own mid-life career change before helping your homeschooled children work through theirs - what advantages do you think homeschooling parents would gain from re-visiting their own career goals before nurturing their teens’ goals? How should they do this? Good question, Kat! I did actually go back to work after being a stay-at-home homeschooling mom. I homeschooled and worked. In order to do that sanely, I needed to work in a career that would be life-giving to me so that I wasn’t too drained to enjoy my time with my family. It took prayer and an honest look at what God had created me to do. At that time, I wasn’t trained in Career Exploration but that’s what I did for myself: I evaluated my God-given strengths (people have always come to me with their problems, I’m a good listener, I’m intuitive). I evaluated my weaknesses (I can’t count, I’m not great at details). I evaluated my family’s needs (homeschool schedule, support systems/activities involvement, budget). I evaluated my values (time with family/flexible schedule, time to homeschool and go to church). All these put together pointed to one career for me: Counseling (which eventually naturally added Life and Career Coaching).

2. I’m rather assuming in question 1 that career goals are first explored during the high school years, but are there things one can do with one’s children prior to that?
Oh my, yes. When children are young:
  • We read biographies of great role models 
  • We introduce them to leaders and good people and diverse kinds of people 
  • We teach them life skills, manners, service and good character
  • We teach them awareness of God, themselves, the world God made
  • We give them many different experiences (like field trips and choirs and science experiments and history projects and writing assignments…)

All of these are early Career Exploration because the basis of Career Exploration is self-knowledge and experiences!

3. I’ve been watching my own children for a long time - a bit like Jesus’s mother, Mary, who treasured up things in her heart when Jesus was a boy - however, most of what I’m seeing is children with weird, whacky, and impractical career goals. One of them wants to be a frog! How do you discern the dross from the gold?
Ha! One of my kids wanted to grow up and be a lizard. He’s now working on his PhD in Comparative Literature. My advice is to hold the idea of careers lightly until they enter high school. Let them enjoy learning about themselves, God, people and the world around them. If you see a strength, give them opportunities to develop that strength without taking the joy out of it. 

In high school, I definitely suggest teens do a Career Exploration course. Every teen is different:

  • Some of my kids have done this in 9th grade just to get the ideas flowing (but not making a career decision). Then they repeat the course in 11th grade. 
  • Some of my kids only needed Career Exploration in 11th grade because they had some sense of direction early on (at 11th grade they simply needed to clarify and solidify their decisions).

4. You advocate a wide swathe of experiences for teens as part of their career exploration, but what about the teen who knows exactly what he or she wants to be at a young age?
Yes, every teen is different. I had one teen who wanted to be a photographer from the time she entered high school. I still had her do a Career Exploration course to help her solidify her decision (so that she would not feel regrets 1/2 way through college). I also gave her a few non-photography electives in high school that could broaden her experiences. However, the bulk of her Fine Arts and elective credits were Art and Photography related. (BTW- she is a college graduate now and a successful full-time photographer.)

5. Is there a clear step-wise approach to career exploration, or is it a more organic experience?
There’s not one right way to do Career Exploration. However, the steps I’ve done with my teens have been based on: 
  • Self-knowledge (What are their God-given strengths, weaknesses and personality?)
  • Knowledge of God’s leading (What are their experiences, role models, understanding of God’s working in them- through understanding God’s workings, listening to others’ input, knowing self?)
  • Clarification of values (What is important to them in career/lifestyle: time, leisure, community/church involvement, family, finances?)
  • Knowing what’s out there (What can they learn from career interest tests and exploration of career descriptions/outlook/education/salary?)
  • Trying on hats (Can they shadow, interview or apprentice?)
  • Development of job search skills (Help them create mission statements, resumes, cover letters and learn interview skills.) 
(BTW- This is exactly what I’ve done with my kids and hundreds of local homeschool high schoolers… and what is available in’s Career Exploration Bundle.

6. What happens when your child is desperate to be, say, a rock star and … ahem … they really can’t sing or play an instrument?
Yeah…I’ve run into that a few times over the years. Failure is a good learning experience. If you can allow them to have some experiences during high school in their “want-to” field, the lack of giftedness usually becomes clear to them. Then, you can lovingly help them explore something more realistic. 
However, if you give them the opportunity to fail and they still want to pursue, you can talk to them, tell them what you’re willing to help fund or not and then see how hard they are willing to pursue that dream on their own. I know one mediocre guitarist who scraped through a music major in college thinking he would be a rock star…and he did end up in the music industry in a totally different job. He planned his way but God directed his path.

7. Along the same lines, what about a child who wants to be a receptionist when they grow up, which I think of as the kind of job that teens have part-time in the summer because they’re not really careers?
That’s when you go to (US Department of Labor) and explore that career’s training requirements and income. Then do a good Financial Literacy course with them… On the other hand, Office Managers (upscaled receptionist/admin) make some pretty decent money.

This is the end of Part 1 of Vicki's interview. Be sure to subscribe to the blog so you can get Part 2 of the interview sent straight to your inbox.

NB: Vicki and her colleagues invited me onto their Homeschool High School podcast back in June. You can still hear our discussion about the US vs the UK homeschooling scene at this link here.

Saturday 26 August 2017

Our Eclipse Trip 2017

Usually my blog posts on Boyschooling are about lessons learned from nature or other homeschooling insights, but this one is just a plain ol’ show-and-tell of our trip to see the total eclipse on the 21st of August.

The best my iphone could do!

If you’re anywhere between Texas and Maine in 2024, please block out a chance to get to a place of totality for yourself. Though we had to drive a total of 32 hours in three days to see it, we all feel it was wholly worth the trouble.

The main reason is this: you cannot fathom what a total eclipse looks like until you see it - my pictures can’t do it justice, and certainly, when I tried to take photos of it before the sun was completely covered, there was very little indication that the sun was almost fully covered.

The sun just basically looked like the same sun!

You can't tell the moon has almost
covered the sun in this photo.

Well, just indulge me a bit as I give you more of a photo montage of our journey and exploration: I think you’ll like it, especially if you are a nature-study-kind of person.

First of all, we had to drive from Round Rock, Texas, to Steelville, Missouri - that’s 731 miles each way via the shortest route. We went in two cars because there were eight of us: my hubby and 3 of my kids (one stayed behind because she hates road trips, and she wanted to help grandma who had just had surgery), and my friend from England with her two children.

One of the four states we visited

We took frequent stops for gas and snacks, bathroom breaks, and just because drivers should stop to refresh every two hours. With daylight fading, my friend and my hubby - both mathematicians - got into a big philosophical debate about the origins of the universe. I swear this delayed us by half an hour!

No ... but yes ... but no ... but ...

Finally, we arrived at our cabin in the woods near the Meramec River. This place was absolutely heavenly. Four bedrooms that slept 9, two covered porches with tons of bird feeders, frequented by all kinds of birds from woodpeckers to goldfinches to hummingbirds, a large dining room, utility room, three bathrooms, and two living rooms.

Definitely the queen at her palace!

Our big worry on the eclipse day was cloud cover. Weather reports were worrying, but long story short, we had the most glorious weather. In fact, for about the first hour as the moon crept across the sky, it was hot, hot, hot! We couldn’t sit in the shade because — well, it’s obvious if you think about it — you can’t see the sun if you’re shaded!

Making use of the eclipse glasses

Partway through, the temperature noticeably dropped. Everything got a weird gloaming glow about it: like sunset but with short, high-angled shadows. When the moon finally blocked the sun altogether, the cicadas stopped whirring but the crickets started chirping and the tree frogs started their serenade. That last all of about 2 minutes, but it was like time stood still.

Teens looks at the big screen in the sky

Then as the moon started receding, the sunshine came back on like flipping a switch, and the temperatures started to climb again, most of us lost interest in watching the second half.

Before long, we were hiking to the river and introducing our British friends to “tubing” - that is, sitting in an innertube and floating down the river. I didn’t want to reveal to them that I was stalking upstream in search for the tell-tale s-shaped ripples that one sees as a snake meanders down the current.

I thought that information was best kept to myself.

There's a flaw in his technique

We also skipped a lot of rocks. I mention this because I was the winner with 17 skips. My husband couldn’t even do one. That’s growing up in the UK for you (Just joking)

Timmy came second. SECOND!
Just want to make sure you get that.

Later, we went into Steelville to a little ma-and-pa country diner, the kind I used to go to as a kid: chicken-friend steak, catfish, bbq ribs, porkchops. 

Trying to eat ribs in a dainty way???

We literally closed the place down, but they loved all our accents so agreed to a group photo in celebration of my friend’s birthday.

Great end to a birthday of a lifetime!

We would have taken to the road nice and early the next morning, but a band of heavy rain was pushing through the area we’d be driving through for about 2 hours, so we lingered, watched the birds, drank coffee. My hubby and friend argued more about the universe.

What's the middle bit?

Finally, the rain moved on, so more or less retracing our path from Sunday, we arrived home early Wednesday morning about 1:30 am.

Still a loooong way to go

My friend wants me to add something here. When we left on Sunday, the day was cloudy. When we returned on Tuesday, the day was cloudy. All week since, it has been cloudy with showers, or as it is while I’m writing this, bucketing with the deluge from Hurricane Harvey.

Only Monday during the eclipse was a bright and beautiful day, and say it’s a coincidence all you want, but my friend had traveled over 5000 miles to see it for her birthday, and God made sure she got the present she was hoping for. What a good God!

Happy Birthday, Friend!
(PS Near totality: see how gloomy it is?)

Friday 18 August 2017

Training Your Child Part 2 - The Coffeeshop

While I'm waiting for Vicki to complete the questionnaire from the viewpoint of a careers' advisor, I decided to take my 9th grader to coffee and talk about his future as Part 2 of my exploration of careers for my teens.

You may recall in Part 1, my eldest who's in 11th grade was inspired by a book to decide her career with no further discussion.

The last time I had a chat with "Killer", my number 2, he said he was thinking of going into animation for NASA. That was in 2015 as we hiked for 10 miles for my Moon Walk training.

London Moon Walk: with Kim and Jenny

I thought it was time - now that he's 14 - to re-visit the topic, and it's interesting how differently the discussion went this time around.

Killer has done a lot of growing up in the past two years. He has been accepted onto the youth group's leadership training course and completed its first year of it; he volunteers weekly for the library, trains in our swim club's highest squad, and recently was promoted to First Officer in his Trail Life troop.

The highest "boy" office in a TL group

We had some time to kill after his dermatology appointment today, so I took him to the local cafe for a chat.

I did not order a large latte - it was a mistake by the waiter!

We first brainstormed about things that interested him: guitar, animation, computer programming, building computers, careers associated with his lovely voice and English accent such as radio DJ, event announcer, director of films, lighting specialist. Some of these, he thought, were hobbies and not careers. Some of these might be his job. Which ones for a career? He wasn't yet sure.

Then I wanted to establish some ground rules. Given his academic strengths, I wanted him to consider a degree in something "solid" like English, math, science, history, etc. It's best, I said, to be sure to make good grades and to finish, not necessarily to worry about which subject you do it in as long as, at least at this stage when you're not really sure what to do, it's a broad and traditional one.

Next we talked about the God-oriented view: God has made us with certain strengths. He knit us in our mother's wombs to do something. There are seven mountains of influence, one of which we are probably gifted to work in.

And then we had a revelation together: Killer feels called to the mountain of arts and entertainment. This is a complete shock to me: a child who just loves electronics, who can hug a computer to make it work, who knows which buttons of a thousand to press to get the right responses from a machine, an introvert of introverts, and he wants to produce things that make people happy and bring them joy.

For an introvert, he can be quite the comedian!

So with this in mind, I have suggested to him that he has a great opportunity as a 9th grader to spend the next four years in exploration, but not just random exploration: intentional exploration; otherwise, there's a likelihood of frittering away these opportunities by time-consuming use of electronics.

He's a checklist kind of guy, so we'll be looking into creating a checklist of careers to look into this year, and in the meantime, keeping our spiritual ears attuned to what circumstantial opportunities that God might put in our path.

When was the last time you had a "date" with your high schooler to talk about their future? Why not put one on your calendar right now?

In the meantime, put your best guess in the comment box about what you THINK your child wants to do, then update with what he or she ended up surprising you with! We will all enjoy the broad opportunities available to our children.

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Planning for 2017 - Step One

I'm cutting it really, really fine. We're less than a month before we're going to start school, and I haven't really made my plans for the year.

Looking for inspiration in the stars

I thought it might be fun - perhaps instructional - for other homeschoolers to watch me fumble through my plan for 2017-2018.

As you may have gathered if you've followed me for any time, I have four children aged between 10 and 17, and I teach them all together using the Charlotte Mason method.

aka Killer, Rocky, Phoenix, and Timmy

There are shades of interpretation for the CM method, and while there are a lot of purists out there, I'm not one of them. To my mind, Charlotte Mason - genius as she was - was still a classroom teacher and planned, implemented, and managed her philosophy via the lens of being a classroom teacher.

I know ... sacrilege, right?

Well, I'm a former classroom teacher, too, and know for a fact that what one does in a classroom is not what one necessarily needs to do in their living room with their own children.

So, I have taken to heart CM's short lessons, living books, narration/copywork/dictation, while devising my own plan of subjects and scope/sequence.

We always study the Bible, memorize Bible verses, use a math curriculum for each child such as Life of Fred or Shillermath, and then have a stack of books for English literature, philosophy, science, biography, spiritual lives, history, economics, and geography. We work through our stack a little each day, reading in 15-20 minute intervals, and by this step-wise approach, we will usually complete many of the books we start out with in September. (If we don't, we just let them carry over till the next year).

Here's a book that took us over 2 years: celebration!

Added to this, we have a weekly co-op in my house. Last year, we studied Texas History and Biology. Tomorrow, I'm going to discuss with my colleague about this year's plan, but it looks like it will be US Government and Chemistry.

My high schoolers have also been attending outsourced online courses for five years now: both have completed four years of English, and now are working their way through Ancient History and Spanish. All these are undertaken with Dreaming Spires Home Learning, my own international tutorial company where I'm in charge of the English.

Online doesn't have to mean isolated

But what will be our book list for our morning time together? And how am I going to implement my new planning approach with simple spiral notebooks?

These are the questions I'm seeking to answer over the next two weeks, and you're invited to join me on my journey.

Even homeschoolers with more than a decade of experience will have their confusions, uncertainties, and conundrums. What we probably also have is an overall vision for our kids, and an underlying routine.

Saturday 12 August 2017

Training Your Child for their Career

As my eldest is getting near the end of her homeschooling journey, I’m turning attention more and more toward supporting her to become who she is meant to be.

As teens, they are starting to spread their wings

Back in March of 2016, I wrote a blog post that sort of touched on this (see 

What I didn’t make clear is that these thoughts had started out from a place of fear - fear that cookie-cutter education was going to try to shape her into something she wasn’t created for. I’d seen glimpses of it already at nursery, where her personality was clashing with “the way things are done”, and the pressure to conform one’s behaviour to make the least possible waves was being frequently impressed upon her and the other children in her class.

So, like I said in the earlier blog post, sometimes we may begin down a path because we’re running away from something, only to discover that it’s actually the better journey.

In this case, I suppose I’m talking about purpose. Or vision. Or even career.

The first time I realised that homeschooling entailed the unearthing of a pre-designed, perfect path for each of my children was upon reading one of the greatest homeschooling books of all time: the Clarksons’ Educating the Wholehearted Child.

Some of Sally's best homeschooling books

I’m so glad this was one of the first books about homeschooling I ever stumbled upon in the book store. Chapter 1 is called “The Christian Home”, and my original edition from 2001 is simply coloured yellow because I highlighted every single sentence and verse in the margins. (I’ve since bought the 2011 edition when Sally herself was having lunch in my home, and told me the 3rd edition had new chapters in it about high school. My chapter 1 is now highlighted in blue!).

It was here that I was struck by Proverbs 22 about training your children the way they should go. The more I looked into the verse, the more I came to understand that it didn’t mean you should make sure they go to church when they’re young so they stay a Christian all their lives, but that you should nurture their natural tendencies - their God-given personalities and talents - and then see them succeed at what God has designed for them all along.

Of course, that’s more easily said than done. You know how it is when they’re 8 and want to be a police doctor who rides a motorcycle; or a daddy of 11 children who lives at home with you and calls the children AJ, BJ, CJ, DJ, etc; or they just want to be a frog.

But here’s the thing … there comes a time when your children will be 15 or 16 or 17, and something is blossoming inside them that you can see is a yearning, a burning, a passion.

Something just starts to bloom in a teen

For my eldest, this happened in September of 2015 while we were reading the opening of Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. I picked it as our “inspirational book” for the year because she was talking about going to university to study astronomy.

I did not know it would be the most life-changing book for her that we’ve ever read.

Hadfield was the first Canadian in space. The book is a thought-provoking look at the lessons he learned while being an astronaut that can be helpfully applied in our mundane lives here on earth: issues like sweating the small stuff (because being inattentive can cause havoc); or why aiming to be a zero can be a good thing; or how to carry on after “mountain top” experiences.

The fact that Hadfield ever got on the “mountain top” of space exploration is a miracle: when he first decided he wanted to be an astronaut in 1969, there was no Canadian space program, and NASA took no foreign astronauts.

Basically, the dream was nothing more than a fantasy.

Except for one thing: Hadfield wasn’t going to give up. He started to live his life as though he would one day be an astronaut: he made choices at school, university, in his job, all focused on getting him ready to be an astronaut, even with everything stacked against him.

This point about an early life focus is made in the book about page 4: “From that night [of the Apollo 11 landing], my dream provided direction to my life. I recognized even as a 9-year-old that I had a lot of choices and my decisions mattered.”

It was upon reading that sentence that my eldest burst into tears. I’ll spare you the histrionics that followed, but eventually, I got out of her that she didn’t want to be an astronaut or a scientist or a linguist or any of the choices ahead of her, but a writer. 

She always dreamed of being a writer, she was writing at the moment, she was going to keep writing and become a writer. In fact, she vowed that very day that she was going to live her life from then on as though she IS a writer, not a wannabe, not a dreamer, but despite the odds, a bona fide author.

Helping her achieve her dream is a great privilege

The way this decision has influenced her path ever since is clear. She is doing what every successful author has done - she writes and writes and writes. She studies the craft, she reads, she networks, she gets mentored and she mentors others, and slowly, the efforts are starting to pay off, even now.

I’m still waiting for the a-ha moment for my other three children (to be honest, I think I’m waiting for it for myself, too!), but just knowing and believing that these people, these human beings, are created for unique callings, I’m on the look out for clues. 

This one may be a long-time in the process!

If we have one job that we should do well as homeschooling parents, it’s exploring and trying to discern what their paths are.

In the next blog post, I’m going to share with you some ideas from Vicki Tillman of Seven Sisters Homeschool. She is a career- and life-transition coach, who will have tips and ideas for how we parents can support our children in this essential endeavour.

Tuesday 27 June 2017

New Interview of Kat on National Podcast

In 2016, my family was featured in a national UK newspaper about our homeschooling journey (see this link here:
Today, I appear on a national podcast in the US, focusing on the differences and changes when homeschooling in the UK and now US.

Please share the link to it - Vicki Tillman and the gang at offer a wonderful support group for homeschoolers at all stages, being veterans with many years of experience under their belts.

You can even subscribe to their podcasts, and their recent series about reading and writing for high schoolers was very interesting.

Thursday 16 March 2017

Boy and Computers - Our 21st-Century Dilemma

This is a post that I’ve been meaning to write for a long time - probably for four years or more — and it’s about computer use, particular when homeschooling boys.

We all recognize there’s a problem. It may not be your child, but you know that Facebook is full of moms (and it’s almost always moms) who write SOS messages about their child’s obsessive focus on some kind of screen, be it tv, computer, laptop, tablet, or gaming device.

I know all about this. I’ve been there … in spades!

When my eldest son, who is now 14, was about ten years old, we went through a period where he was exhausted all the time. We soon learned that it was because he was setting his alarm for 2 am so he could sneak down and play Minecraft all night.

Little Boys and their Games

Ever since then, I have been a loud voice on the internet for vigilance and caution when it comes to screens. I have read just about every book there is on the subject. Some titles that come to mind are Boys Adrift, Wired Child, several titles by Michael Gurian, and numerous scientific studies where changes in white and gray matter in brain scans make for some very uncomfortable reading.

Further, we had an au pair for a season when my children were younger, a Spanish student who was improving her English in order to start graduate studies in optometry (where all the reference books are written in English). She stressed to me almost daily that children need to limit their screen time for the sake of their far vision. Numerous studies backed up her assertions: myopia is on the rise because kids don’t get outside enough and flex those far-vision muscles.

Even with all my research and my vigiliance, I’m still struggling to keep my boy off screens. One reason is that he clearly is a “technopath” (a term borrowed from the delightful super-hero film called “Sky High”). Honestly, if your computer is acting up, he’ll come over and hug it, and it will work again!

He even took an MIT course about computer coding when he was 12, and received an A.

It’s tough. What to do? He’s good at this! 

Got a problem? Let me fix it!

I posed this question to Richard Freed, the psychologist who wrote Wired Child. He said to me in a private email that children need to have screens limited in their young lives for a whole host of reasons. He suggested to me that I have my son pursue a broad-ranged academic path of study rather than focus too much on technology itself, and to ensure that any computer use is productive rather than simply gaming, with an emphasis, perhaps, on coding. He added:

  • “Future tech use will continue to pose risks of addiction as your son has already been there, and because it makes it harder for kids to use tech productively as they get older.” (private correspondence)

All these years of concern and suspicion came to a head this week. He was supposedly doing his homework for an online class, but he was acting especially secretive when his siblings were walking into the room, so I decided to secretly film him. The 35-minute video was very telling.

As I thought: it was 25 minutes of swapping between windows - Reddit social media threads, pop-up windows of games, notifications from his buddies on Steam, chat boards with classmates - and, mixed among these numerous and frequent distractions, he probably managed ten minutes of reading an online summary of his book and re-wording it for his assignment.

Thirty-five minutes of screen time where five, at most, was productive. (Although I would argue that even that five minutes was also unproductive because he read a summary instead of the book - since I teach this class, I can tell you that the teacher is MOST UNIMPRESSED!)

So you know what happened, don’t you? Time for confrontation.

"I'm comin' after you, Boy!"

But here’s where things go a different path than you probably expect. A fourteen-year-old is a much different animal to a ten-year-old, and he actually stated his case. 

Sure, he says — summary and not book? Bad. Sorry. Swapping back and forth between work and play? Could do better. 

However, he notes that he swims up to 2 1/2 hours every day for swim team; he contributes to jobs around the house like mowing the lawn. That day, he had cooked lunch for everyone; walked the dogs with me; wanted to go on a bike ride to the shops but I said he couldn’t (not exactly what I said, but the bottom line is the same - I talked him out of it); he had showered and played guitar and helped my younger son fix something on the computer game he was being allowed to play, and that night, he was going to his friend’s house for a night of socializing. He had even done some of his homework even though it was Spring Break.

In the course of a normal week, he went on, he had youth group one night, a leadership class every other week, a 3-hour slot for volunteering in the library, an academic co-op, Trail Life (a group like Boy Scouts), and church. He had spent the weekend camping. In the pouring rain.

"I'm really a sensible guy."

Where in there, he asked me, was his life not well-rounded?

Suddenly, I felt a bit foolish.

So I have re-evaluated what it is that I’m so concerned about, because I still have an uneasiness about the length of time he’s on the computer, especially if it’s going to be lop-sided against his academic things. 

I’ve boiled it down to this: I would like more reading from a hard copy of a book and more writing by hand. I think these are media and skills he still needs to cultivate, and I realize that to be reasonable, I’ll have to give him a check-list of exactly what and for how long. We can both measure the progress then, and I won’t have a leg to stand on after that. 

Further, I still feel he needs to limit the time he’s looking at a brightly lit screen. if we could negotiate no more than 2 hours on the screen a day, plus some time for him to do social media on his wifi-only smart phone, and no screens at all between 9 pm at night and 9 am in the morning, then I think I would be fully satisfied that his life was balanced.

Judging from our reasoned conversation this week, I have every confidence that we’ll come to this mutually acceptable arrangement, and we will have both moved forward in our relationship, especially in terms of honoring each other.

Most of all, I've learned something really important: this teen-parenting stuff isn't all bad.

My lovable teen!