Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Unschooling the TV

Life is going along as usual. A bit of poker here and there, a bit of playing at the park, a bit of cooking, and more Dora the Explorer than seems sane. Not that I exactly dislike Dora...it's more that we've been overhearing the same episode long enough for K to now know all the words to the entire episode and repeat them along with Dora. What's worse, is that N and I aren't too far behind!

We started giving K unlimited access to shows back in Hawaii when he would have been around 18 months old. At first, it bothered me; He developed an infatuation with Caillou (an animated show about a little 4 year old boy and his family), to the point that he would refuse to leave the house in favor of watching Caillou. Once this show began interfering with his daily life and activities that I KNEW he enjoyed, I started to feel that there needed to be limits surrounding his show exposure.

It was right about this time that I stumbled upon 'radical unschooling', which basically suggests that children be given the same freedoms as adults and that our role as parents is to foster their autonomy as much as possible. As with all parenting movements, not everyone who calls themselves radical unschoolers  fits one mold. Some families will limit tv exposure but allow full freedom in all other areas of life...others will keep a few boundary rules and expect their children to respect them. But, what's pertinent to this blog post is that a majority of radical unschoolers feel that their is no need for limits to shows/tv.

It's a radical idea. Yes, lots of children zone in front of the tv to an unhealthy extent, but if you take a closer look, you'll find that most of these children attend structured schools. They spend 8+ hours a day in a structured environment that, at times, can be very stressful. When they come home, they look to the tv as a form of relaxation. Unless we go out of our way to avoid this interaction, we all are guilty of having done this at some point in our lives. We treat movies, videos, tv, as a visual form of relaxation...a de-stressor from our lives. And children who are growing and developing in rigid, authoritative environments have the same need for relaxation. It just so happens that they center around the tv.

To contrast, most unschooling families find that their children (even the very young) merely go through phases of interest in the tv or computer...wherever they are able to watch shows. Given the freedom to do whatever they would like (within doable reason!) whenever they like, these children often have no NEED for tv. Instead, they are attracted to it merely as a viable form of entertainment. They will fall in and out of love with shows and videos purely for their entertainment value. So, when K was obsessed with Caillou, he found it more interesting and entertaining than the park, than the beach, than shopping for groceries. It was wrong of me to assume that the park was still the more entertaining alternative!

Sure enough, once he had had his fill of Caillou, the computer became lonely in its corner as K found life around him to, once more, be more entertaining and fulfilling. We would occasionally introduce him to new shows we happened upon and thought he might like, and of course, he was welcome to request anything, but it wasn't until we found shows of Kipper the Dog that he really retained an interest in sitting for a show.

That phase lasted for a month or two, and then K (once again) abandoned his computer. It's actually been a while since he's gone through any similar phase. He prefers to play with his train track, or paint, or be read to than sit for a show. But, yesterday he watched one particular episode of Dora (which he requested rather out of the blue) over and over. He's still watching the same episode with the same amount of fervor, but he's already beginning to bounce around the house again, or bring toys into his tent to play with as he watches.

It's just fascinating to see such a clear example of how giving your child the maximum amount of freedom and autonomy over himself can lead him to make the very choices you, as a parent, might prefer. (after all, you are hoping your child makes the choices in life that will give him the maximum happiness and BEST quality of life, right?)

I like that K likes his shows. (Mostly, I like anything he likes, because I like to see him happy.) But, at the same time, I am older, I know that sitting all day in front of a screen does not present the best quality of life. I want K to gain enjoyment from the outdoors, from reading, from exploring physical manipulations, ect... and by allowing him free and unlimited access to the tv/computer, I DO get a child who does all those other thing I prefer. WithOUT the tears, or conflicts, or punishments, or boundaries, or rules, that might otherwise seem necessary.


  1. We have never limited tv/video games/computer etc...
    You are right they go in spurts and a natural rhythm, they know they can leave it and come back. When kids are limited they will sit there and get every minute they can out of it because they know it will be taken away.

  2. Exactly. And yet, this still remains a novel idea to most parents! lol


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