A reader asked me recently about how to encourage her child to watch less tv and spend more time actively learning. You know, in the tangible kind of way we mothers can measure and record. I quickly shot back a reply but I’ve been pondering the issue ever since. To be honest, I was already thinking about this a lot lately as I tried to figure out the balance in my own home. And this lady wasn’t the first person to bring the issue up either. I am often asked about unschooling, “If you let them choose for themselves, won’t they just watch TV all day?”
To be perfectly honest, unless you are a TV-less family, the answer is, “yes, they probably will”. The second part of my answer though is that it is only for a time, and only for a reason. But, and here is the tricky part, it’s your job to figure out the why and go from there. When you understand why your children make the choices they do, you can respond appropriately.
This isn’t always easy, and it’s an ongoing process. Unschooling really calls on a parent to become very aware, to observe carefully, to respond thoughtfully. It also requires a good deal of self-reflection and this can be uncomfortable. Necessary. Life-changingly beneficial. But uncomfortable nonetheless.
Look carefully at what is happening. Is the TV watching part of the de-schooling process you aren’t allowing for? Is it because you have inadvertently made it a reward or a forbidden fruit? Is it being utilised as a learning tool and you haven’t noticed? Is it because you aren’t as involved as your child needs in this moment?
None of the reasons are because the child is lazy, manipulative or addicted (although I personally think this last one can become a problem if the issue goes unchecked). It’s not even that there is something inheritantly wrong with TV. Each of the reasons actually come back to you. Told you this may be uncomfortable.
Think on what you and most other adults do at the end of a long, stressful day at work. We come home, turn on the box and relax a while. Children are the same. The come home from school after a long, stressful day and they want to use the tv to relax. De-schooling can be looked at in part as an extended period of relaxing after a period of stress (conventional schooling). Eventually they relax, realise they aren’t going to be forced to sit at their books for hours on end and then they feel free to re-engage with the world around them. Providing a rich environment to explore along with a peaceful atmosphere will go a long way in helping this transition.
Of course there is trust involved in the process and we wouldn’t be human if fear didn’t occasionally creep in. Fear is a part of the ‘new’ and the ‘different’. Fear can lead us to place arbitrary limits on TV but these limits can be counterproductive.
Imagine you are told you can only eat chocolate on a Saturday afternoon (substitute your favourite treat if you’re one of those odd people who doesn’t LOVE chocolate). You are going to think about it, talk about it, all week long, just waiting for that moment when you can have the chocolate. It’s the same with kids. We focus on the limits and they focus on the whinging. What happens when we stop talking about restricting tv and instead start offering our own time? The value shifts!
Sometimes with TV there is learning happening and we can’t see it. We become so focused on the perceived negatives that we can’t see what is actually happening. Jess from A Thoughtful Life wrote a great piece explaining how this happened in her family (read about it here). Look closely to see if this is what is happening and then help to support this learning. This may be the perfect time to try your hand at strewing.
In my home I have come to realise that TV watching increases as my level of involvement decreases. That isn’t easy for me to admit, but there you have it. My uncomfortable truth.
“Do you want to turn off the TV and go play outside? “ (I say as I am busy washing dishes/checking my phone/dressing the baby)
“No thanks, Mum”
But if I wander out into the garden you can be sure a certain someone will appear behind me, ready and eager to help and to learn.
“You’ve watched far too much TV. Turn it off and go play!”
“But this is my favourite!”
“There isn’t anything else to do!”
“But that’s boring! “
But if I ask if he would like to come play with me, or go to the library with me, or have project time with me, the answer is almost always a resounding, “Yes please, Mum! I’ll just turn the TV off”.
What he is really telling me here isn’t that he wants to spend all day watching TV, it’s that he wants me. He wants my time, my attention, my support and my encouragement. He wants me. He needs ME. So rather than focussing on restrictions, it is better for me to focus on fulfilling this need. It is better for me to stop focusing on what I don’t want him doing, and instead focus on what we could be doing together.
So answer honestly, do your kids just watch TV all day?