On Feeling Inadequate as a Parent

As I watch my sweet oldest boy turn more and more into what some might call an angsty teenager – I recall mySelf at his age.

Not so long ago, I was his age….and not long after that, I was pregnant and giving birth to him.  I was 18 the year he was born.  The only child of only children, I’d never been around kids, never babysat.  I only ever held a baby once, briefly and awkwardly, before I held my own precious child.

I tried my best at the time, but I knew I felt deeply inadequate for the task I was up against – raising another human being, when I had barely even begun to become my own true Self…

I comforted my completely befuddled teen-mom-self with thoughts like, “At least when he’s a teen, we’ll get along great, cause I won’t be so out of touch with him like my parents are with me…  It will be great – we’ll bond over music and I won’t force him to do things he hates, and I will welcome his friends…and I will have peace then, if not now.”

Not only did I miss the point of Living in the Moment, then…but I recognize now, how so absurdly naive it was for me to think that way:

Again and again, every moment, every phase of development – I realize more and more how very little I know.

How presumptuous of me, to ever think that I could “learn it all in time”…

But also, I’ve learned that It’s Okay.

His path is not mine to control, whether by threat & force, or by leading him with stifling, sugar-coated coercion down the road that looks most promising…least painful. I have to recognize, the older he gets, that his path may very well include a foray into what, in my opinion, looks like dire misery – but his lessons and his choices are not mine, and do not define me as a person.

I can lead him, guide him, love him so much it hurts – but I cannot ultimately make his choices for him.

It doesn’t get easier as they get older.

I dunno who made up that lie.. You trade diapers and sleep deprivation for much deeper, more profound, less tangible worries, the older they get. You have to make peace with who they’re becoming, and realize that so much of it is out of your hands, by the time they are 10+ years old. The million moments of babyhood and toddlerhood, whether you manage to keep the exasperation out of your voice as you read The Runaway Bunny for the 30th time…they add up to huge things, somewhere down the line.

But we can’t know what, or where.

Our kids know us better than we know ourselves, and sometimes that in itself can trigger us. As they grow, they might have memories of profound, pivotal, defining moments in their lives….that we are unaware of. What seems insignificant to us might be Earth-shattering for our child – and we won’t always be aware of it.

So if you’re feeling unprepared for this huge, monumental task of parenthood – feeling like nobody told you exactly what would be required of you….feeling often, like you’re not quite up to the task? Well, that’s good. Nobody can ever prepare themselves for parenthood “enough”.

There is no such thing as enough.

You give it your all, and then, incredibly, again and again – you find that more is required of you – so you discover more of yourSelf, and learn and grow alongside your children.

They don’t need you to be perfect – they just need you to be real, and willing to grow alongside them.

Image

Parenting is the most immense personal growth journey you can embark upon, in my opinion.

You just have to be open and willing to let it transform you.

Inspired by my friend, Cherise.

Advertisements

misconceptions about unschooling, and choosing connection

I think many parents tend to view their kids as an extension of themselves, as an embodiment of their values, or evidence that they believe/do/feel the right things.. but that’s not really healthy or fair to think of kids that way.  they are unique beings from day one.

if other people think that your child not knowing how to do fractions yet or disliking their hair to be combed MEANS SOMETHING NEGATIVE about you as a parent, well, let them think. their opinions of you as a parent or of your children do not matter.

forcing your child to do something against his will is not going to foster connection and harmony between you. You are free to prioritize the relationship with your child instead of how society may judge you and your parenting, because of what your child knows, or how he acts/looks.

they’re dependent on you, absolutely, but they must be allowed to make their own conclusions in the world–with the “safety net” of our non-judgmental, unconditional love and support when they do make mistakes. too often we think our job is to soften every blow and “help” them make (what we believe are the) “correct” choices–but really we’re keeping them dependent on us–on others, experts, to tell them what’s right and wrong, instead of listening to their own inner guidance.

this is the underlying lesson of all forced schooling:

you are too stupid to know what’s best for you + what you need to know–here, let US tell you what you need to know

it creates a culture of dependency and docility.

if a child doesn’t want to learn to read, for example, we must trust that eventually they will have one or more experiences that convince them that, actually–it’d be so nice to know how to read–and then we can help them in the way that they want to be helped. what if they don’t? well, with something as universal as reading, i can’t imagine how it wouldn’t happen, truly. can you imagine any child wanting to be illiterate?

jokes aside, sometime before they reach adulthood, they will be interested–compelled–to want to know how to read. and that desire will fuel genius-level comprehension and fervor.

we all have the potential for genius–it’s less a state of being and more of a verb.

if something’s important, your child will recognize that. my son did it at age five when he really wanted to know exactly how to play his video games–so he delved into those manuals with zeal. other kids won’t take an interest until later–occasionally much later. but contrary to popular belief, reading young, or doing anything else young, doesn’t give a child any edge in life by the time they reach adulthood.

a child who reads at 2 and a child who reads at 11 will, all other issues aside, be impossible to tell apart by age 14. i read at age 2–and i mean everything, newspapers, greeting cards, etc. i’ve always been a writer and a reader. my German-born hubby learned English at age 16, from television, and learned to read English even later than that. he’s never cared for grammar, spelling, etc–jokes that he can misspell two languages. Yet he reads much faster than me.

it only takes about 100 hours of focused, dedicated effort to go from learning the alphabet to learning to read. desire is the key for results! a child that’s internally motivated and focused on something of his own choosing can learn almost anything, thoroughly and quickly. that is an experience that hardly ever happens in the current system, and is inhibited even in school-at-home situations.

kids are intensely interested in the way their parents view and interact with the world, but to reject the possibility that they may make different choices than we do (even before they reach adulthood!) is not choosing love and connection, and can become a huge problem in your relationship, especially if you present your opinions as “correct”.

for example, vegetarianism used to be a very dear value to me. i knew i’d never allow my children to eat meat–it was just unthinkable. then i met my husband, an omnivore–and we fought bitterly about whether or not our child(ren) would be allowed to eat meat. in the end, i decided that one parent eating meat and one parent abstaining was actually going to present a very fair set of choices to the kids–even moreso than both parents being veg or both parents eating meat. no judgment, no shame, no coercion.

i strive to uphold this in all my interactions with my kids now: no judgment, shame, or coercion for their choices. i don’t make things a battleground when i can choose understanding, curiosity, and connection instead:

“Tell me what you like about that chicken …”

I don’t agree with the idea that it’s “my house, my way” until my kids are 18. I think they need the freedom to learn from their own choices as much as possible–that way they’ll be even better prepared for missteps, because they’re able to learn from many of those as a child, under the safety of our roof, as opposed to having free reign for the first time at age 18 or 21 or later, whenever they move out into their own place.

whether it’s wearing short sleeves in winter (i bring their jacket, just in case), eating something that i don’t think is the healthiest choice, or buying the heavily advertised, pricey toy that i’m sure will break within two days of purchase, i let them learn lessons from these sorts of things as much as is feasible.

that’s not to say my kids run the show–but there are many situations where i CAN give them autonomy and relinquish arbitrary control without harming others, myself/them included.

Also–unschooling is about respect. Some people take that to mean that instead of kids being forced to respect the parents, as per mainstream parenting models, the parents defer to the kids… In my opinion that’s not sustainable in the long run or fair. Respect is extended to and encouraged between every member of the family–yourSelf included. Your freedom ends where another person’s begins–no one should have the right to bulldoze or disregard another.

it’s about continually striking a balance, modeling respect for others and for ourselves, and gently intervening when necessary. for example, my 13 year old’s desire to fight with weapons does not mean that he gets to do battle with unwilling participants! my 10 year old’s desire to sing doesn’t mean she should do it in the room where others are watching a show or listening to the radio.

find ways to say YES while accommodating everyone’s comfort and desires–not just the “squeakiest wheel”–and that includes yourself!

unschooling is a family affair–so pick up that hobby you’ve always wanted to start, or read the books that you’ve been wanting to read. do what makes your heart sing–reconnect with your own desires. not because it’s good for your kids, or because they might see you doing X and want to join you (“ooh, they might learn something!”)–but simply because it’s healthy for you to take care of yourSelf–body and mind.

choosing connection and trust over coercion and fear is the basis of an unschooling lifestyle.

What is unschooling?

First off, let me clear up any confusion by saying that we are not simply homeschoolers, but unschoolers. We have always been unschoolers.

I realize that for many people reading this, the confusion has only just begun!

Many people have no idea what unschooling is–and a lot of people think they have it all figured out, but are actually in varying states of misinformation. Even among homeschoolers, there’s a lot of confusion about what the point and aim of unschooling is, and what it might look like on a daily basis.

So I’m going to give you one perspective–my own.

Unschoolers tend to believe similar broad concepts about the nature of children and of learning, that set us slightly apart from other people. There are plenty of unschoolers who may disagree on some of the finer points, but the core beliefs are, in my opinion, fairly common ground:

Unschoolers believe strongly in the innate capabilities and curiosity of the human spirit from birth. We do not see children as inferior to adults, and we strive to treat people of all ages as primarily competent, well-intentioned individuals who possess sufficient internal motivation and drive to learn and grow throughout life. In short, we believe positive, life-affirming things about human nature, and we have (or cultivate) a large amount of trust in our children as people. We honor our children’s feelings, needs, and capabilities as much as feasible, and we strive to balance these legitimate needs with the needs of the rest of our family.

We do not use punishment or try to control our children, and we strive to create an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect in our homes and families. Of course we’re human, and we don’t pretend otherwise. Sometimes we yell, or lose our tempers, as do our kids. But when we’ve overreacted or are wrong, we apologize and make amends. Everyone in our family is deserving of mutual respect, and we work daily on facilitating cooperation, understanding, and love.

Unschoolers believe that absolutely everything–every interest and experience–has value, and that learning happens best when it’s not confined to a classroom or a book. We believe that the desire to learn is nearly insatiable, inherent in a child’s being, and if left to develop naturally (without the use of coersion, punishments, bribery, grades, gold stars and the like), it will flourish and continue throughout one’s life. Unschoolers believe that grades and rewards dampen one’s internal motivation to learn for the sake of wanting or needing to know. We believe that dividing life up into subjects – and then labeling some of those subjects as universally important to know, and others as trivial or irrelevant – is a terrible disruption and hinderance to the natural flow of learning.

The end goal of unschooling is to raise children adults who are “succesful” in the sense that they have the tools necessary to make their way in the world, of course. But there’s a deeper meaning of success that’s also applied here, versus what’s applied to society in general.

Unschoolers are more likely to measure success in non-quantifiable terms.

We want our kids to grow up knowing what it means to live for themselves. To be truly happy and fulfilled, however they choose to define that. To not be afraid to go against the grain in some circumstances, yet flexible enough to go with the flow in others. In short, we strive to give our kids the tools and the opportunities to be freethinkers. To carve out their own destinies instead of being bound by expectations or someone else’s life plans for them.

Unschoolers can and do do “schoolwork”, and they can and do go to college and beyond–if they desire to. They are much more likely to possess the rare gift of believing in themselves, instead of believing what others (“experts”) have told them about themselves throughout their childhoods. They have been trusted enough that trusting themselves comes naturally. They have been able to experiment and follow the threads of their interests deeply and often, and those threads are likely to lead to consuming passions with unique, marketable skill sets.

They are often in the uncommon position, by young adulthood, of being able to create abundance by following the natural flow of their passions, having boundless enthusiasm to learn new skills, and honing skills they already possess.

I will be writing much more on unschooling theory and thought in future posts. I have kept silent long enough–the world needs to hear about this.

Claire’s Rainbow Bridge Story

Telling a Rainbow Bridge birthday story is a Waldorf tradition that can be really fun and special as your child grows.  It’s sort of like a birth story, but told in fantasy or myth-form.  The Rainbow Bridge is the passage to Earth from the ether, spirit world, heaven, or whatever your beliefs may call it.  These stories can be written to include any religious tradition, or none at all.  This is the story I wrote for Claire, my precious middle child, who turned 5 today.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Once upon a time, in a land of time unchanging, there lived a spirit child.  She lived with the moon and sun, amidst the stars, with many spirit-beings–and she was peaceful and happy.  One day, she happened to notice a beautiful blue orb, far away–yet somehow, not so far.  The orb seemed to call to her, and so she asked the spirits about it.  “That orb is the world, our Mother Earth.”  “May I go there?” the child asked.  “In time,” the spirits replied.  “The world is not yet ready for you.”  So the child waited.

Time passed, and the spirit child thought about the world.  As she imagined what Earth would be like, she pictured trees and flowers, rivers and mountains, animals and people…as if from a distant memory.  And she longed to go there.  She asked the spirit-beings again, “May I go to Mother Earth yet?”  And they replied gently, patiently, “No, dear one.  The stars are not yet aligned in favor of your journey.”  So the child waited.

Finally, a time came when the spirit child dreamed about earth so vividly that it was almost like she had been transported there.  She walked amidst many, many people, and found a man whom she felt she had known before, and loved before, and so she asked him, “Will you be my Daddy?”  And the man said, “Of course.”  Then she found a woman with whom she felt safe and welcomed.  “Will you be my Mama?”  the spirit child asked.  And the woman said, “Yes.”  Then, she met two Earth-children whom she just knew were special, somehow; and they whispered to her, “We love you!  Will you be our sister?”

The spirit child awoke, excitedly, and told her spirit-guides about her beautiful dream.  “Ah,” they said. “Now it is time for you to begin your journey to Mother Earth.”  “Do I have to go alone?”  the child asked.  “Yes,” said her spirit-guides, “But we will always be near you…”  And with that, the child began her journey toward Mother Earth.

While ten moons waxed and waned, she rocked gently in a little boat.  As the journey went on, the child grew fearful, and did not want to leave this place-between-places.  But then, she felt surrounded by love, warmth, and light like never before, and finally peeked out of her boat to see the most glorious sight:  A beautiful rainbow had stretched from the edge of her boat, all the way to Mother Earth.  And so the spirit child traveled across the rainbow bridge, through the veil–and on that day our precious baby Claire was born!

Everyone was so happy that she was finally here, and we loved her and cuddled her.  And Claire began to laugh and crawl, talk and walk, and then she was ONE year old!

Then Claire discovered butterflies, learned to dance, got to know her grandparents, and read books with her siblings, and then she was TWO years old!

Then Claire’s hair got longer, and she learned to say ALL sorts of things, and to go down the big slide at the playground, and she met her brother Nik–and then she was THREE years old!

Then Claire got to go to the beach, and the mountains in New Mexico; she said goodbye as her Grandma passed through the veil, and became good friends with Lexe–and then she was FOUR years old!

Then Claire got to visit a big hotel, learned to ride a scooter, and met her baby brother, Oliver.  She grew and learned and changed even more–and NOW she is FIVE years old!  Happy birthday to our wonderful daughter, Claire!

Why I Don’t Like Rewards and Punishments

Gentle discipline. That sounds pretty progressive, right? Not spanking or hitting children IS still a pretty progressive concept in our society. In my opinion, it’s disheartening that we’re still not collectively as a culture at the place where hitting kids is just accepted as absurd, archaic, and wrong for any reason…

But I digress. This post isn’t about non-gentle discipline. It’s about the ways in which we are moving forward, but in very small, still-misguided ways. Not that I’m the perfect parent, as if there is such a thing–but I am willing to admit that there’s still plenty of room for positive change. I am willing to acknowledge the ways in which we (collectively and personally) are still held back from relating to our kids from a place of love and trust, instead of fear and control.

One of the things–tools, if you will–that parents often turn to, or use more heavily, when they are working toward a more gentle way of relating to their kids, is using rewards and consequences. “Hey, the kids did what I told them to, there was no yelling or hitting (which is spanking, don’t kid yourself), and everything is great!”

Well, yes. But no. There is much more going on with rewards and consequences than just the immediate behavior changes that are effected. For many parents, the question of whether rewards and consequences “work” is rather a moot point. We don’t care whether they “work”, because we are more concerned with the long-term behavioral and psychological consequences of using such techniques.

Incidentally, of course they “work”. Pavlov proved that with doggies in the 1890s–but I deeply question the integrity of behaviorism as a school of thought when applied to human beings–in other words, beings who are intrinsically motivated to think critically and to make decisions based on internal judgments, not external carrots and sticks. For more on this, please check out Unconditional Parenting, by Alfie Kohn. You can read the first chapter, which goes into behaviorism and why it’s not appropriate for parenting, here.

The thing is, the concepts of rewards and punishment are so ingrained in our culture and our thinking that it’s at first hard to see how it might be damaging. Think of it this way: We are putting out little fires again and again, instead of investing a lot of time and money to create a fire-resistant structure. And we’re neglecting to notice all the little scorched spots adding up…

I am not merely interested in changing the day-to-day behavior of my kids–and I believe that that’s all rewards and punishments really do. Behavior is really just a symptom of the way that the child is currently perceiving the world to operate.

Behavior is like the mushroom (incidental), while the essential substance of belief/worldview (which manifests behaviors of all sorts) is the mycelium–invisible, yet vast and essential. Just stamping out the mushroom won’t get of the mycelium from which it sprung.

Punishing “bad’ behavior might get rid of the behavior, but punishment does not help the child to internalize why the behavior is being labeled as “bad”–WHY he shouldn’t do it. He is learning that the adults in the world around him don’t like when he does X, so he learns to avoid doing x when they’re around, or until he’s grown up.

Or–perhaps just as bad–he learns that pleasing the people in his external world is what’s important in life, and he dissociates from or subverts those parts of himself that display as “bad” in the opinion of the people around him. Never questioning why x is “bad” is the first place, what circumstances make x “bad,” or whether x is indeed “bad” at all.

Punishments create a worldview in which the child learns to look to others for what’s right and wrong, and critically thinking about WHY things are the way they are is not emphasized. Even the laws of the land, ideally, are followed because they make sense, because there is a rhyme and reason to them that we generally agree with. We don’t all drive on the right side of the road solely because we’re afraid we’ll get a traffic fine or go to jail if we don’t.

There are plenty of things in life with natural negative consequences–we don’t need to arbitrarily create more of them to teach kids about actions having consequences. If your kiddo leaves his skates out in the rain, and they get mildewed, he will likely learn from that without any additional negativity imposed by you. He’ll have to scrub the mildew off, or the skates will need to be thrown out, or he’ll have to save his money or wait until you can buy another pair for him. He might miss out on skating with his friends for awhile, etc.

Incidentally, this is not the same thing as purposely cleaning up the rest of the yard but leaving his skates there to “teach him a lesson”. There’s a line between natural consequences and on-purpose consequences–and you also don’t want to miss an opportunity to be nice for the sake of niceness. Next time he might remember, and bring your garden tools in along with his skates, for niceness… Think the best of your child–giving the benefit of the doubt to him will teach him to do the same with others…eventually.

That’s not to say we should embrace and encourage tantrums at the grocery store–but we’d certainly do well to recognize that children don’t WANT to lose control, or make us angry, etc. If they do something that makes us angry, most likely they had a need that they were trying to meet (in their not-yet-developed, immature way), that precluded our opinion about what they were doing.

One caveat here, however–if there’s already a controlling/manipulative, adversarial relationship firmly in place, an older child might actually be retaliating with his behavior–i.e, trying to make his parents angry. By the time I was about 8 years old, I did sometimes try to make my parents angry–becasue I felt like I had no way to make them understand me, so i wanted to get back at them for making up arbitrary punishments and “consequences”, and never believing me when I explained the reason why I’d done something “wrong”. Kids can be hurt so much more deeply than most parents realize. We say kids are resilient, and they are, but that’s no reason to treat them as if their emotions are trifling.

We can apply this concept of whether the child is “trying” to make us angry to this common scenario: The two year old who tells bald-faced lies. You see them unroll the toilet paper.

“Did you just unroll the toilet paper?!”

“No,” they say.

Most parenting “experts” would say the child should be punished for lying AND unrolling the toilet paper, at this point.

Here’s an alternative interpretation of what’s going on, which I believe is much more plausible:

The two-yr old has poor impulse control (incidentally, impulse control is not fully developed in humans until somewhere between 18 and 22 years old), and also has a magical and/or very subjective (i.e. what HE believes is what IS) view of reality. He saw the toilet paper and thought it would be fun (educational!) to unroll it! Whee!

Then he saw your face and heard your tone of voice, and realized that he’d upset you. Ohh–oops. He wishes he hadn’t done it, so he says “No” when you ask him if he did it. He is responding to your question in accordance with what he *wishes* were true, now that he realizes he upset you. Further, the two year old knows fully well that you saw him do it.

So, it’s setting him up for confusion and asking him to displease you even more, when you ask him a question that he knows you already know the answer to!

It’s much more helpful to just clean up the toilet paper mess together and calmly talk about why we don’t play with toilet paper (it hurts trees, that’s not how we use it, it’s expensive, etc etc)–or even better, just laugh with your child about it–delight in his delight! Then, make sure the toilet paper is not available for playtime in the future.

I already hear the objections: “That’s not feasible/convenient for everyone!” But of course, nobody said that mindfully raising a child was going to be even close to convenient 😉

So we’ve talked about punishments and consequences–now, rewards.

I know, I know. When I was first introduced to the concept of rewards as harmful, I felt frustrated! I’d already come so far from hitting and yelling–even rewards are harmful?

“I give him chocolate, he pees in the potty! I let him watch TV with me for an hour, after he eats all his dinner! How can this be wrong?”

The research of behaviorist psychologists has found again and again that introducing rewards for certain activities actually decreases motivation for those activities, compared to before rewards were introduced. So even if we do succeed in getting rid of a negative behavior by offering rewards, we are actually reinforcing the desire to do something if, and only if, a reward is involved–still not addressing the underlying cause of the “bad” behavior.

I put “bad” in quotes because often we label behaviors of children as bad or good, when really we aren’t aware of the underlying reasons why a child is acting the way he or she is.

If we provide rewards for our children reading books, doing chores, or other “desirable” behaviors, then we actually dampen the natural desire and instinct of children, which is to learn and interact with their environments. Rewards interfere with the natural process, which is to derive joy from learning, helping, or otherwise participating in daily life.

I understand that offering rewards is a really hard habit to break! My mother raised me on a steady diet of “good job!”, presents for good grades, and chore charts–and it just created apathy and distrust.

“She said my drawing was awesome when I barely even tried. Does she really even look at my art? If I get a dollar for “doing the laundry”, what if I can’t fold the sheets? How much less can I get away with?”

Incidentally, it’s the same with grading work in school:

“If I know I can get an A with minimal effort, why waste my time doing more? If I don’t do the report at all, I can still pass with a B? How many days can I miss and still pass the class?”

These are the sorts of questions I think virtually every opportunistic teenager asks in junior high and high school–because schools especially train kids to focus on “getting the grade” rather than actually challenging their mind or pushing to learn and try new, difficult tasks. Hyper-focus on grades is a big part of the reason why I think our schools are failing. We are looking at education as a product to be prepared, instead of a process to be explored and savored.

If the goal in school is to get the grade, then minimal effort is going to be expended to achieve maximum grade percentage. Kids usually aren’t willing to risk a lower grade for going out on a limb and pushing themselves to improve upon their personal best. If they can get a 90% (i.e, a “reward”) with moderate effort and few mistakes, why would they risk getting a lower grade (i.e. getting “punished”)–even if the alternative assignment is more challenging, interesting, or mind-expanding?

Ultimately, what it comes down to is your underlying beliefs about human nature. Are we self-destructive, hapless beings who naturally gravitate toward negativity in our relationships with self/others/environment if not for artificial constructs keeping us in line (rewards, punishments, rules, laws, etc)? Or are we naturally self-affirming and growth-oriented, naturally inclined to meet our needs, and in need of only minimal, gentle guidance to help us learn to do so in ways that are respectful and helpful to the world/others?

I believe the latter, without a doubt.

What do you think?

Rethinking “TV-free”: Why I don’t censor television-watching

Earlier today, I was watching Disney channel with my kids, and we got to talking about childism in action on that channel. In particular, the show Good Luck Charlie. It’s about a “big” family (four kids), but the parents are self-absorbed, hapless idiots and they are constantly making comments that indicate that they would rather not have had kids. I am all for jokes and sarcasm, but IMO there’s a line that these shows cross, and I think it’s hurtful. Why do we want to perpetuate a cultural opinion of kids as a hassle or an inconvenience? How is that helping the relationships between parents and children?

These sorts of things are what my kids and I talk about as we watch TV. I think we get about 100 channels–maybe 200, I don’t know. We regularly watch less than ten of them. Personally, I think a lot of what’s on TV is garbage: disrespectful, overly commercialized, superficial, designed to get you to behave and think (and shop!) in certain ways that are not necessarily desirable, etc.

I don’t censor the things my kids watch, however. TV is a mixed bag. I want my kids to be able to discern programming that they feel comfortable watching for themselves, without my hovering and censorship.

I didn’t always feel this way. I was very limited in what I could watch as a kid. By the time I had my first child, I was very anti-TV/anti-media. I didn’t have cable in our home, and only allowed certain, approved-by-me videos to be watched. I was a big fan of books like The Plug-In Drug: Television, Computers, and Family Life, which harshly criticize “screen time” of any kind, for kids and adults alike.

Then I discovered unschooling, and my thinking started to shift.

Once, when my oldest was 4 or 5, he wanted to watch Lord of the Rings with his dad. I did not want him to be scared–I knew he was going to see Gollum and get freaked out. But he REALLY wanted to watch, even when I warned him that it would probably be scary. (I also probably got mad at his dad for wanting to watch a movie like that before I’d put him to bed–which, if it had happened now, I wouldn’t be–but I digress. This was at the very beginning of our unschooling journey.)

Frustrated, I sat down and watched with them both for awhile, and my son sat there happily–until Gollum came onscreen. Immediately my son hopped right off the couch, turned to me and said, “Okay, I’m ready for bed now! Let’s read a story!” At the time, I was scared that moment had traumatized him, but actually he had been able to decide for himself when his comfort level was surpassed, and this empowered him. I didn’t say anything, didn’t “rub it in” that I was right. I just let him make his own conclusions about that experience, and we read some nice bedtime stories together.

Kids who are not allowed to choose for themselves what feels like *too much* will often sit through things that make them uncomfortable, against their own inner judgment, just to exercise their own autonomy! If you tell someone they’re too young or they don’t understand, they will often try to prove you wrong once given the opportunity.

If you help a child to choose their own comfort levels with media (and other things), without judgment or “I told you so”s, there will be collaboration, trust, and ultimately a strengthening of the child’s own inner judgment–calibration of his comfort levels. This is essential for growing up–yet many kids aren’t permitted to start this sort of self-exploration and learning until they’re teenagers or older.

Many unschoolers embrace TV, but many others, like Laurie A. Couture, have consciously and cooperatively chosen to forego TV and media. This article talks about her and her teenage son’s mutual decision to stop gaming and watching TV.

Incidentally, Laurie’s an excellent speaker, visionary, author of Instead of Medicating and Punishing, and a passionate advocate of children’ rights. Her whole blog is very illuminating.

Like Laurie, I am a big advocate of deciding things together (explained further in this article, by Alfie Kohn)–and for us, right now, that means we watch TV.

There are things on the TV that are really, really world-expanding, in a good way. My kids have watched things on TV and then ran off on tangents of exploration, reading, pretend play, and more–all from the result of a 30-minute show. We’ve watched cooking shows and they’ve learned about new ingredients, or different foods that other people eat. We’ve also gotten up and cooked what they were cooking! We’ve watched cartoons and talked about how animation works, and how drawings can be exaggerated to show emotion or character.

We’ve watched HGTV and talked about different design styles, or how homes can look nice but actually be falling apart, or dangerous, due to faulty construction. We talk a lot about advertisements–how they’re convincing, or stupid, or exaggerated, or what techniques they use to compel people to buy their product; why sales and offers work, and what the manufacturer’s motivation or goal really is. We might hear a reference that the kids or I don’t get, and so we google it, and that leads to other thought-tangents.

I am not a wealthy mom, able to bring my kids to Europe or on multi-state vacations five times a year. TV brings the world to us in ways that I can’t necessarily replicate in the real world–at least, not yet! The internet is amazing, because you can find exactly what you’re interested in.

TV is amazing because it opens doors that you never even knew you didn’t know about, until you caught 15 minutes of this or that show.. 🙂