Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Unschooling TV and Two Year Olds

When I encountered unschooling, I found the idea of unlimited television most scary. The theory is, TV binges are an outlet to decompress after a hard day of work or school. So if a child or adolescent isn't forced into a structured, stressful environment, they'll only watch TV that's actually helpful to them in some way. Furthermore, parents should try not to judge what's helpful and what's not.

We don't own a TV, because I would likely watch TV all the time if we did. I hate that TV makes money by being a powerful force for making people buy stuff.

So what about ad-free seemingly innocent stuff? I clearly remember one day when Noah was a newborn and I was alone for the day with him for the first time. It was a big day in our Boston lives- Andrew's funeral and Saji and Charlene's wedding reception- and I was at risk of feeling as though I was missing out on life. I watched about six episodes of Grey's Anatomy on Hulu back to back. It presented tremendous comfort, even if not otherwise helpful to me.  The time passed, and that newborn hazy day passed blissfully with Noah in my arms and my mind on an imaginary story. Hulu was such a great thing in those times.

So the unschoolers sort of made sense to me- both in the sense that decompressing might sometimes helpful, even if not healthful, and in the sense that a forbidden fruit is all the more attractive. So we recently tried out freedom in screen time with unlimited Kipper on Youtube. I can see why parents would like TV. It was like having a babysitter while Eug made coffee or I made dinner. It made the journey easier these first weeks with Eli and renovations.

Yet rather than being excited about a little TV, Noah just wanted to watch Kipper all the time. While unschoolers suggest that there's benefit in not judging TV too harshly, watching so much Kipper doesn't quite feel right to me or Eug. We realized he wanted to watch partly because we were largely trying to figure out ways to get him out of our way the last several weeks. Whereas allowing a teenager to regulate his own screen time makes sense, it didn't feel like Noah, left to his own devices, would self-regulate in a way that was helpful to his development. So we're figuring out how to distract him towards other things and avoid having our computers around while we're caring for him. It's more work, but it seems to make sense. 

Although this means I'm still only dipping my toe into unschooling (and in this case, quickly pulling my toe out!), I want to get as much from unschooling philosophy as I can- around guiding natural curiosity rather than forcing learning and not trying to regulate behavior or control our children for the sake of control. I'm convinced that dealing with my own anger and control issues will improve my parenting immeasurably, and so I focus on those things first.

I liked this quote by John Holt about being two:
Even in the kindest and most loving families two year olds must be reminded a hundred times a day, perhaps by words and acts of their parents, perhaps by events, by Nature herself, that they are small, weak, clumsy, foolish, ignorant, untrustworthy, troublesome, destructive, dirty, smelly, even disgusting. They don't like it! Neither would I. Neither would you.


Darren said...

Hey Jo:

Can't really speak to the unschooling thing.

Johanna if left her own desires would probably watch all of the garbage on Disney and Nickelodeon (ie. Good Luck Chuck, I-Carly).

For myself, I remember watching "Our Gang" Black and White shorts. I had all of these fond memories of watching them as a kid. When I watched them as an adult and parent, I was horrified.

On the whole these shows, I-Carly, Good Luck Chuck and even Our Gang all show adults as total morons. In the first two shows, girls are often shown as obsessed with boys. Just terrible stuff.

As a result, I've taken a little more of an interventionalist route. Banning certain shows. Always try to give the kids better alternatives. Okay, you can't watch I-Carly, but you can watch PBS shows Cyberchase or Electric Company. Certain videos have also mysteriously disappeared. Don't know what happened to them. ;)

Just wondering how you might handle the whole age appropriate issue. Do you let your kids watch anything that's age appropriate, or anything regardless of its age appropriateness?

Concrete Gardener said...

Hi Darren,

I'm with you, actually. I don't think it came through too well in the post, but I'd say we've largely stepped back from our "unlimited Kipper" experiment. (though if Noah asks and it seems to be the way to have peace in the house during dinner or breakfast, then we go with it). Our starting point was no digital media whatsoever.

Kipper is a super-tame British cartoon from the 90s, and since we don't have TV Noah has only been exposed to Kipper thus far. We're trying to watch with him a little more, so he's not watching because we want to be able to ignore him.

I really don't know what we'll do when Noah (and Eli) get a little older- what we'll expose them too or shelter them from - or how we'll go about doing that (by outright banning or by discussion). At least in theory, I like the idea of being a bit flexible than is in my nature- maybe because I've been learning so much recently from giving up some of my strong grip on trying to have rules and outcomes set in stone. So I really appreciate more experienced parents like you and Carla's perspectives on this.

Darren said...

Hey Jo:

Can't say we have an expertise, maybe just lessons from all the things we did wrong.

I often have this ideal, where when we watch television, my kids and me will have deep discussions on life and moral decision-making. For example, we will discuss why things in a given movie are good or bad.

"Johanna, what do you think about the choice made by that little girl."

"It was terrible Papa, how that little girl talked to her Mama."

"Yes it was, honey."

I imagine myself having these kinds of conversations, but this is what happens instead.

"Johanna, what do you think about the choice made by that little girl."

"Can we just watch the show, Papa."

Anyway, we try, and sometimes we fail, but we're still trying.

Clare said...

I think that with unlimited TV, the point is not just to plonk them in front of it (although that is v useful too sometimes). I think it's to sit with them, to find out what they like and are interested in, which will then help guide your choices of what new ideas/places/books/toys/activities etc to present them with. If it's a shared activity and you're involved, they're less likely to binge.

I'm a new possibly-unschooler too, and my kids are still in the loving-their-tv-freedom stage. But that's what I've gleaned from reading about it.

Oh, and also, if it's a new thing, it helps just t say yes more when they ask for it (sounds like you're doing that anyway!) rather than just put it on and say right, now you can watch it all the time.

Good luck with your experiments!

Concrete Gardener said...

Hi Clare, Thanks so much for your comment- I loved browsing your blog. What a great resource!

I got the same thing from the unschooling sites- thanks!

When I think of saying "yes" more, one of my big fears is that I'll say "yes" in a way that is unsustainable, and I'll go crazy. Or that my saying "yes" will make Noah have an unrealistic view of his world. I'm praying for wisdom in this, because I actually think many positive responses don't drain me as much as an day in which Noah feels unfulfilled.

Thanks again for your comment- I'll definitely keep checking your blog as a resource of someone more experienced at parenting!

Unknown said...

May I suggest some Muppets if you're looking for variety? :) I'm not sure how age appropriate it is, or how wholesome, but it's really fun to watch for both kids and adults. Lots of Youtube clips of the old shows as well.

The Nickelodeon shows are gag-worthy in so many ways... As a kid I grew up on Pumpkin Patch, which I found awesome, sure maybe a bit cringe-worthy now, but not bad for a kid.

Haven't heard of Kipper, but it sounds good :)

Darren said...

Okay, you've inspired me. Here is our best of list for kids television. This list was compiled in conjunction with Carla. Others may differ in their list, but here is ours:

Kipper (yes, we liked the dog with slipper as well)
Sid the Science Kid
Pinky Dinky Doo
Super Why
Phineas and Ferb (maybe one of the funniest best written kids shows on TV)
Martha Speaks
Word Girl
Between the Lions
New Electric Company
Little House on the Prairie

I also have a special category of shows. These are shows that teach good lessons, have good values (for the most part), but if you chose to watch these shows with your children, could possibly drive you insane:

Dora the Explorer
Blues Clues
Sesame Street
Bernstein Bears

~*sim*~ said...

hi jo, just wanted to say that i love the john holt quote. it was such a pleasant shock into awareness to read: a single (complex) thought that suddenly shifted the focus from "how the world thinks about them" to "how they receive messages from the world". thanks for that. been enjoying reading about your adventures in school, parenting, and green(er) living.
sim thadani

Concrete Gardener said...

Thanks so much Sim, I really appreciated your comment. I've also been thinking about that quote a lot, and the way you summed it up helped me think some more.

Thanks again. Bless your life in SF!