This is the portal that in so many ways is even more difficult than television screens, because phones that are everything (GPS, email, Internet, clocks) are everywhere, and many friends and family outside the immediate family of a child who know of a family’s “no screen” wishes may still feel very comfortable sharing something off their phone or laptop or camera.
I would like to run through first what many Waldorf Schools outline as developmentally appropriate by age for children and some other areas of media, what I often see in Waldorf homeschooling communities who have both OLDER and younger children (I think if Waldorf homeschool communities have just children grades kindergarten through second grade, for example, some of these issues will not be as front and center as those who have a large proportion of children grades six and up. Things become more difficult with those older children!). Please do take what resonates with you, know that families make decisions and do things counter to these recommendations, but that these ideas are food for thought and discussion within your own family.
Music and Plays: Live concerts and plays are strongly encouraged. Listening to music through headphones as on an IPod or an MP3 player is typically seen as a sixth grade and up activity.
Photography, Movies and Filmmaking: Small children under the age of nine have an accelerated awakening by being shown many photographs and home videos of themselves. I encourage families to mindfully determine how much of these images they want to share with a child who is still so very young and whose self-image is still being Please take what resonates with you, but I think constant picture taking and photography really starts out life for the small child as being really self-focused instead of just being part of the family ship.
Some Waldorf Schools will say that a middle school aged child could enjoy making movies or using a camera. Again, I know many Waldorf homeschooling families whose children use a camera and who are not middle school aged, so I think that is something for you to think about and see what resonates with you.
Skype: I don’t know of any school or Waldorf homeschooling group with a specific policy on Skype. If you are using Skype to connect with long-distance relatives, I really feel this is different than a child using Skype to “talk with friends”. Long-term readers know how I feel about family connections and how that really, to me, outweighs many concerns. However, please don’t also forget a good old fashioned telephone or best of all, letters! What a wonderful opportunity for children to be able to write or send drawings to relatives and receive something back in the mail! So often, we are reluctant to make our children wait for anything, and in this digital age we rarely do have to wait for things…yet what a joy anticipation can bring! So, as always, balance is key. Skyping and texting friends, or even emailing friends in constant peer contact is more of a high school activity. I know that is not popular, but there it is. Many parents of middle school and high school aged children have talked to me about the fact that peer orientation has always been present in a sense, but with the advent of 24/7 access to peer connection, the need for strong boundaries around texting, emailing, skyping friends is really important. Again, think of high school for this type of peer interaction, but even high schoolers need help with limits and boundaries on this.
Computer Skills: The last area of comment is computer skills. Students in a Waldorf school generally begin computer usage in the seventh and eighth grades. In a Waldorf School, eighth grade students typically will have typed reports to do for homework on home computers. Video games are strongly discouraged until high school. Emailing peers is also seen as a high school activity (again, as well as texting and Skyping friends).
I think one thing to think about in all of this is what you and the other adults in your household are modeling for your children in terms of the use of technology. Technology is a tool, it is an end to a means, not the end in and of itself. You can wear a watch instead of constantly checking your cell phone. You can leave your phone in the car when you attend a family gathering or a place of worship. You can check your email at night after the children are in bed. You can put limits on how often you are on Facebook and other social networking sites.
I find some mothers are really on the computer or their phone a lot as a form of not being present, honestly. Being with children 24/7 in homeschooling, or just parenting small children 24/7, can be difficult if you don’t have real in-person support. I remember when my oldest two children were really small, a Dutch neighbor and I had tea and chocolates every afternoon outside whilst our children played. That in-person support helped me so much in my early stages of mothering. I wonder if I hadn’t had that, would I have been looking for support on-line?
Besides our own boundaries in what we model for our children, this is a portal that requires boundaries when we interact with those outside the family. Maybe you decide asking Aunt Flossie to stop showing your child pictures on her cell phone is okay because Aunt Flossie is 98 year old and you see her twice a year isn’t worth the battle, or maybe you decide you really do need to talk to Grandpa Joe whom you see far more frequently and offer up some other ways to spend time. Oddly enough, I see some of those who are aged sixty and above really into Facebook and other media sites, so it really is something to think about in terms of how to handle those boundaries. To me, one of the simplest ways to provide boundaries for ourselves and other people is to know what we want instead and also to involve our bodies in other things. Our children, and ourselves, need to move far more than we are in our society, for the most part. How often we ourselves are walking, outside playing with our children, playing catch in the yard, going hiking, sometimes can have a strong link into how much we are on-line or plugged in.
But most of all, act in love and out of consideration for fostering good relationships between you and other people, your child and their relatives. That spirit of love will help you guide the situation in the best way. If you approach it from a very dogmatic, “I am better than you” attitude, I think nothing will happen but hard feelings and a general backfiring of what you intended.
This is all just food for thought, but I encourage you to think about your media choices for your children and why you are doing something (or not) and how to approach these issues sensibly within your own family and with others. Our next portal will be dealing with friends/peers.