Kids and television. There are a myriad of beliefs about how the two should go together – if at all. There are strong opinions on all sides. In my discussions with parents, most often their main concern is finding an approach that helps their kids the most, and harms them the least. There is so much information out there – studies by researchers, books by experts, conventional wisdom – that it can get overwhelming to sift through it all and come to an informed conclusion.
Like everybody else, unschooling parents have different opinions and approaches in this area. There is no one-size-fits-all policy about how unschoolers “should” handle television. But there are some things you can keep in mind as you’re exploring this issue.
What Are Your Underlying Beliefs about TV ?
Do you think of television as basically an asset or a potential danger? Do you believe it should be limited? Why or why not? How do you think a “good parent” handles television viewing? How about a “bad parent”? Do you have an image of how unschooled children interact with t.v.? How accurate do you think that image is?
Where Did Your Beliefs Come From?
Can you trace your basic beliefs back to what formed them? Have you adopted your parents’ opinions? Friends? Have you heard about certain studies, or read articles that contributed to your current views?
What Are Your Own Experiences with TV?
How do you utilize television? Is it a tool for decompressing? Something to do when you’re bored? Do you see it at as a vehicle for learning new things? Do you find it entertaining? Are there times it connects you to other people? Or times you feel it isolates you? Do you feel guilty for watching, like you’re wasting time, or do you see it as time well spent?
What Worries You?
Often our worries result in vague distress that we can’t really explain. Try naming your fears, no matter how “out there” they may sound. For example, “I worry that my child will become a violent person if he watches cartoons”. Or ” I worry her imagination will atrophy”. Or “What if her friends make fun of her because she’s not allowed to watch t.v.?” Articulating your fears allows you to critically examine them.
Whose Needs Are Being Met?
Whatever your approach, needs factor into it. If you decide to ban or limit television, is it to best meet your child’s needs, or because it meets your need to feel like a good parent? If you allow your child to watch shows that make you feel uncomfortable, are you trying to stretch yourself to better meet a perceived need of your child, or are you meeting a need of your own; perhaps to look like the “cool” parent, or because you just don’t have the energy to turn it into a battle? Gaining clarity about the needs you’re meeting can be really helpful.
What Does Your Instinct Tell You?
Try to turn off all the other “voices in your head” for a minute. Apart from all the outside influences, what does your “gut” say? What are your most basic feelings and beliefs? Sometimes we’re listening to so many competing voices that our own inner wisdom gets drowned out. Make sure you give listening to yourself equal time.
Finally, ask yourself how your approach lines up with basic unschooling philosophy. Until you view it through that filter, you may unknowingly be clinging to beliefs from your own upbringing, pervasive cultural attitudes, or future-based fears.
Incorporating unschooling philosophy into traditionally “non-academic” areas such as television-viewing requires intentionality. Be mindful. Be thoughtful. Be open to course correcting along the way. And remember to enjoy the process!