PAM: Hi, everyone. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Anna Brown. Hi, Anna!
PAM: Hey! Just so you guys know, we rescheduled the call twice because Anne really wanted to be here but, in the end, we couldn’t make it work. But, no worries. Anna and I are going to do our best to go through the questions and we will hear from Anne again next month, I’m sure.
So, would you like to get us started, Anna?
ANNA: I sure will! So, question one is from Amanda who is in Grand Rapids. We’ve edited this question a little because it was long.
Amanda’s Question (from Michigan, USA) [TIME: 5:59]
I’m a single mom to two people: one is 4.75-year-old and one is 17. They are both boys. The older one in school, the younger is not.
I’ve read the book Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, and the idea in a lot of the studies done by Wansink and his group is that choice about what to eat and how much to eat is subtly denied to us based on things like the location of the food and the size of the portions. Another theme is that companies that profit know how to encourage us to eat more of what they want us to so that they will make more money.
I’d like to encourage opportunities for the kids to choose their activity, without limiting activities by time or number (i.e. we stopped those controls on computer game time a couple years ago). It seems that the results of the Mindless Eating studies could be applied to other activities in which we are offered an endless feed.
So, to apply this to another activity, turning off the “autoplay” function in YouTube is a way to give ourselves the moment to make a choice about the next thing we’d like to do. I’m not judging the value of the activities we are choosing or spending our time on. I love food and YouTube. But I don’t want myself or my kids to be on a constant feed motivated by profit, without regard for our well-being or our actual curiosities.
Another example would be a computer game: choice-maximizing set-up would be that each time you finish a chunk, it would say, “Would you like to continue to the next level or save and quit?” Auto-feed set-up just keeps going until you take the initiative to quit out of it. There’s no problem with playing as many levels as you want, but Mindless Eating studies would seem to show you would CHOOSE to stop sooner if it weren’t on auto-feed.
I am not confusing a “feed” with flow. When I’m in the flow, it’s a special state, but I’m in charge of it. A “feed” is when I look up and think, “I can’t believe I just spent so much time on that: what a time-waster.”
What are some other things that you see on auto-feed that we could arrange to give the kids and ourselves more choice in how we spend our time?
ANNA: I find the intellectual aspects of this question interesting, looking at different areas of my life. But right off the bat, I need to say that I have no desire to “arrange” choices for other people—friends, spouse or children. I think it could be an interesting discussion to have with someone. My guess is there is about a 50/50 chance it’s interesting to them. But if it was then it could be something they choose to explore. I love exploring the way the mind works and how our environment influences us, I just keep in mind that I can only control my own behavior and not the behavior of others.
I also tend to take all “absolutes” with a grain of salt. Research have their own biases so I enjoy their perspective and see how I see it play out for me. In thinking about your examples, I watch YouTube. Typically, I’ve looked up something and I have no problem turning it off, when the autoplay starts. If I have time and the next thing or something on the side bar catches my eye, then I might take a look. There have been some very interesting rabbit holes started that way.
I don’t really see any time spent doing anything as “wasted.” Something drew me to the activity and I got something out of it—even if it might appear “mindless” to outside observers. That’s an external judgement of my internal process, and that isn’t something I want to do to another.
I trust that they are getting what they need and our connection is always there if there are questions or they are wanting to change their view. I guess I don’t want to turn my power over by saying that I don’t have the power and the corporations are controlling us. That doesn’t resonate with me and it’s not what I’ve seen in my family.
Just a few thoughts about that. It is a super interesting discussion. I’ll turn it over to Pam and see what she thought.
PAM: Hi Amanda, what a fascinating question! I really enjoyed the opportunity to consider this idea.
First, just a quick explanation of red Pringles for the listeners. Wansink found that inserting red coloured Pringles at serving size intervals in a can of Pringles helped curb overeating in the college students in the study.
To talk about this, I’d like to dig into the idea of flow vs feed. In his book, Finding Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes being in the flow as complete engagement in the activity:
“There is no space in consciousness for distracting thoughts, irrelevant feelings. Self-consciousness disappears, yet one feels stronger than usual. The sense of time is distorted: hours seem to pass by in minutes.”
The disappearance of self-consciousness is a key aspect of being in the flow. When we drop that layer of internal analysis—that real-time judgement of ourselves and how we are performing—we hit a deeper level of engagement. We feel freer to experiment, to think outside the box, to ask “dumb” questions—those questions that are on the tip of our tongue, whose answers will bring us the greatest clarity in the moment. Flow is where we find so much superb learning.
Now a feed seems to be defined as an activity where, after the person comes out of the flow, they look back and judge their time spent negatively, as a waste. As you talked about a time waster on Facebook or something. Either way, we make the choice to engage in the activity up front and we can take responsibility for ourselves—I don’t mean judge ourselves, trying to make ourselves feel bad for, say, staying on Facebook longer than we intended. But rather recognizing over time that it’s happening, deciding for ourselves what we’re okay with, and then setting up our environment to help us meet our own goals. And part of that exploration and conversation can include the ways companies design products or experiences to prolong our engagement.
Joseph and I have all kinds of interesting conversations about video games, that whole push and pull about enjoying it. The company wants you to enjoy it as long as possible but they also want the experience to be enjoyable or you are going to get frustrated if you feel manipulated and they’re going to lose you as well. It’s fascinating stuff and it’s learning about ourselves, but presupposing this will happen to our children and purposely interrupting their flow by, for example, turning off autoplay, takes away from their learning. It takes away their opportunity to develop the self-awareness to recognize a disconnect between their intentions when they start an activity, and how it turns out in the end. Did the outcome match their expectations?
Our actions, if we start putting these interruptions in, says, “I don’t trust you to figure this out, we need to prevent it in the first place.” Even if we tell them what we’re doing—we say, “let’s turn off auto-play so you don’t get pulled in and watch more than you want”—the underlying message of our actions is that we believe the tech (or whatever it is) is more powerful than we are because it “controls us,” making us do things we wouldn’t choose to do if we were “paying attention.” We create a climate of fear around the idea of flow—and that is where much of the best learning is!
So, say you have a child who says, “Wow, I didn’t mean to spend all day playing that video game,” this is not a failure on their part, or on our part. Or something that needs to be fixed. It’s life. It’s an observation. It’s learning about ourselves. It’s an invitation to conversation about the experience and the circumstances. It’s an opportunity to talk about whether it happens to them often, whether it’s something they want to change. It’s building self-awareness. It’s personal. It’s helping them develop their time management skills. Maybe the child will want to explore tools that remind them to check in with themselves once in awhile and see if they want to continue with the activity. Maybe not.
And part of that exploration would also include follow-up conversations about whether the reminders to check in with themselves are helping or whether they’ve had an unfavourable impact by taking them out of their flow—it can be hard to get back into an activity after being interrupted. Again, it’s so personal! It’s learning about themselves.
So, I don’t think the idea itself as a tool is a bad thing, I think pre-emptively imposing these kinds of interruptions on our children, effectively “red Pringling” them, before they have found it to be an issue, has the real potential to interfere with more learning than it encourages. The difference between choosing something and having it imposed on you is vast. It’s everything!
But it’s something to pull out when you’re finding you are having an issue, individually. When your child finds their having an issue with it, you can bring it up in conversion, see if it’s something they want to try.
PAM: So, question two is from Alisha.
Alisha’s Question (from California, US) [TIME: 17:24]
I have been listening to your podcast for awhile now (thanks to a friend for the referral:)) and I am so grateful for all of the information and support offered through the talks. I homeschool three children, ages 15, 14 and 9. I consider myself a relaxed homeschooler with the tendency to lean strongly to unschooling. My youngest is the force that steers me toward unschooling.
When I hear Anne O. in her talks in the Q&A episodes, I can really resonate with how she describes her son, Jacob. My youngest, from the get go, would not allow any teacherly stuff to happen. She knows what she wants and what she doesn’t want. It’s because of her that I have found solace in your podcasts. Her and I have shed many tears with my attempts to try and teach her. The moment I back off and let her lead the way, all seems to flow nicely in our household.
She’s highly sensitive and very active yet she refuses to do any outside classes/activities. We have tried to offer her fun classes either through our local community center, such as cooking (she loves to cook, but refuses to be taught or helped), gymnastics, martial arts, etc. I figure since she seems social and active and tends to get bored easily, that outside activities would help fulfill her. She refuses any of it and prefers to stay home. She loves to watch movies, occasionally she dives in and out of video games and she just loves to watch sitcoms/comedy with me. Her interests change daily but can include cooking, Legos, drawing, and playing with her toys.
My question is, should I continue to try to persuade her to take a class or two with the hopes of her finding something that she just might connect to? Or do I let her be. She does attend an indoor swimming lap pool, whenever she feels like it. Other than that, she wants nothing else. I tried to sign her up for an awesome cooking session, in a restaurant in San Francisco with a known chef, but she simply said no and that she doesn’t like classes. I am afraid that she just might miss out on things that she would otherwise not find without me seeking them out for her. I desperately want to fully unschool, and I see a huge difference when I lean into unschooling at home. The connection with all 3 of my children is so much stronger when I try to unschool. I don’t want to hinder any opportunities for her by not possibly encouraging her to try other outside activities. I hope I have made some sense!
PAM: Definitely, Alisha, your question makes sense. I can certainly tell where you’re coming from. I love how you’ve already realized that it’s your fear talking, that you’re afraid she might miss out on things she wouldn’t find if you didn’t seek them out for her. You mentioned that you’re thinking, “since she seems social and active and tends to get bored easily, that outside activities would help fulfill her.” But by saying no thanks to your offers, she’s telling you that, at least for now, she doesn’t agree.
You can trust her. And even if she changes her mind later and wants to go out more, she knows that stuff exists and can ask you. Changing her mind later, if she does, doesn’t mean she was “wrong” to stay home now—that’s how she’s going to discover whether reality meshes with her expectations.
She’s good, so, I think it would be helpful for you to dig into why you’re feeling stuck there.
Maybe ask yourself why you seem to be valuing outside activities over inside activities—I think that is something that many of us find ourselves working through at some point while we’re deschooling. Is it about the learning? Do you think learning is better face-to-face with an expert? Or is it the participation in a group environment? Society does seem to value extraversion over introversion in general. Or are you feeling responsible for “fixing” her feelings of boredom? Each of these roots has a fascinating, but very different, path to follow as you work on creating a supportive unschooling environment for your child.
Maybe your path will encompass learning more about how learning unfolds with unschooling. Or about introverted personalities and ways to support them and help them shine. Or mulling over the idea of feeling bored and how you might respond next time. I have a whole blog post just about the idea of boredom—I’ll put the link in the show notes.
And as you’re exploring those questions for yourself, what if, for the next while, you sought out things to share with her that you’re quite sure she’ll be thrilled to do right now. So often the things you’re bringing she’s saying ‘no’ to. So, if she loves to stay in, find YouTube videos about stuff she enjoys, or DVDs or books from the library, or bring home more supplies for the things she loves to do.
For the next 2-3 months, only share things that you think will be met with a resounding “YES!” Celebrate your daughter as the wonderful person she is right now. There is a ton of time. This is her exploring who she is as a real individual. You’re trying to build trust with her, to show her through your actions that you know and love her as she is by bringing her things that she is truly interested in.
If you’re suggesting things and she says, “Yes!” she’s going to say to herself, “my mom knows me, she understands me.” “She’s not going to try to convince me to do all these other things.” Once you have that solid trust built, you can bring wider-ranging suggestions—if you think she may be interested, not to soothe yourself. Not things you hope she’s interested in or you wish she was interested in. There’s a huge difference in the motivation behind those offerings.
And in the meantime, you’ll have learned to appreciate all the great learning that happens everywhere, in or out, in whatever environments the individual person enjoys, and that being bored needn’t be something that needs to be fixed immediately, but as an invitation to connect, or a quiet space to explore.
I do have some other links about boredom and busyness I’ll put in the show notes. There is also tons of information about what learning looks like through unschooling. And lots of stuff out there about more introverted personalities. So, depending on what you find at the root of your request or concern that she’s not saying yes to any outside activities, I think that will really help you to dive in about yourself and showing full support for her and what she chooses.
What do you think Anna?
ANNA: We found interest in outside activities ebbed and flowed. There were big stretches of interest and suddenly a time when, “Oh, let’s try this.”
Your question was, “Should I persuade?” I think persuade is the clue that it isn’t a good fit and could cause some disconnection. We shouldn’t be in a position of persuading because the next step is controlling and coercing.
I agree with Pam—after the trust is built you can share info that you find without agenda. I do that as things come up. Many things don’t spark but sometimes one does and we pursue it more. I have no attachment to them choosing a particular class or activity. It just may be something I saw that they mentioned and I let them know about it. My non-attachment gives then the freedom to really look inside and say, “oh, is that a spark” without a “mom wants me to do that.” If you can take that out of the equation it helps anyone refocus on their feelings are and to be guided internally which is just so much more helpful.
As Pam mentioned, I think it also helps to realize that learning doesn’t only happen in a classroom setting and it sounds like she is telling you loud and clear that classroom learning doesn’t suit her style. It sounds like she likes to explore on her own terms. Maybe you can help her find mentors or just other people who enjoy the same activities. But if she’s happy with how it’s going, then I would just enjoy that flow.
Her inner knowing is a beautiful gift. I love how she instinctively knows to follow her interests and doesn’t want outside influences messing with her process. If we look at cooking as an example. She has an idea she wants to do. I think you can find with classes they say there is a right way to do something, or you “have to” do it this way. But it’s the experimental process that leads to the next great discovery. I love that she gets that already.
There may come a time when that changes but her inner knowing about that at her age is very cool. She isn’t relying on experts and that is the exact personality that changes the world. They are going to stay from within, to explore and do something. When we have kids just sitting in classrooms, being told how it’s done or this is how it goes, it closes in that world. She sounds like a fresh spark for the world! I’m so excited to read about her. I think it’s awesome!
PAM: It’s awesome! I remember, too, when the kids first came home and Joseph was interested in drawing. I would see rec classes and mention them to him. He would say no, I don’t want someone else telling me something is wrong. He’s exploring. It’s just a mind shift for us that their own personal exploration is how they’re learning things. It is so much more valuable learning because they own it and they make deep connections, rather than just being stuffed in. That’s very fun, have fun with that!
23:47 – ANNA: I’ll go ahead with question three, from Rain in Rochester, NY.
Rain’s Question (from New York, US) [TIME: 29:01]
Hello Ladies. Thank you for your time, and answers.
My son, 9-years-old, has extreme anxiety disorder, and anger issues. Sometimes he is physically abusive friends and family and more frequently verbally abusive and disrespectful. We have chosen gentle parenting/radical unschooling. I have handled our issue in 2 ways #1 talking to him with no punishment, #2 Me yelling and sending him to his room and sometimes taking things away.
Nothing is working, I do not know what to do. Today he lost his last friend because of his name calling, this friend’s mother called me and made me feel like the worst parent with the worst child. I am so sad for my son, I do not know why he feels so negative so often.
Sorry it was long. Thank you.
ANNA: It sounds like today was really stressful for you both. It is certainly no fun when there is a conflict between friends and then adding the other parent’s upset is a lot.
I think it can be hard for kids when sometimes there is such a difference in our reaction—it’s hard to make sense of that and it’s hard to trust the “talking, no punishment” times when there are other times of yelling and taking things away, not really knowing which time is coming.
I think it would help to commit to always being his partner and to share that with him. Let him know that while there may be times when you get frustrated too, you don’t want to take that out on him and that you will step back and regroup—coming back to connecting with him to try to help him. I feel like if he can trust you as his partner, then you may get beyond some of these layers to find out where the anxiety is coming from—what need is being met by some of the behaviors you’re seeing.
I know many people found support in the book, The Explosive Child. It might be something to check out and see if anything resonates.
I tend to look at behavior as a clue to unmet needs. So, I like to peel back the layers, I don’t focus on addressing the behavior because it’s just a clue. It would help to have a more specific example so that we could help you reframe and look for the clues for the underlying need. But it’s typically things like needing food, too much stimulation, not feeling heard, needing space, needing connection etc. There could be things going on in the family so watch for those. Watch for patterns to see if it’s certain times, places, individuals, activities, etc. Understanding the environmental triggers can help you and your son work to recognize the stress before it becomes an outburst.
When my oldest was young, we found when she became overwhelmed she needed to take space alone, where she would process things to herself, that was critical to her because she could become overwhelmed easily. Together we helped her figure out ways to recognize she was becoming overwhelmed before she lashed out. She would then just say, “I need some space,” and I would help her find that if we were away.
When we would go somewhere, we would talk about options for space, even checking in with hosts to find a spot, a room, an area, inside or outside where we could have some time alone if she needs it. It was also important in those early years for me to be close by and ready to help. I couldn’t use that time to meet my social needs. I would meet those needs at other times. It was helpful to consider if I was being as engaged as I needed to be. As she got older, she had the tools to recognize and address the anxiety/stress and needed me less to be right there but that took a long time.
Not knowing the specifics makes it hard to give specific ideas but hopefully, there are some ideas that might spark something. In the end, it’s all about the connection. If you tend to that, the rest falls into place.
And as an aside, I see you are from Rochester—I’m coming to Rochester in May to speak to the Rochester Area Homeschoolers Association, maybe you are a part of that group and I’ll see you there.
PAM: I’ll definitely put that in the show notes! I love what you were talking about, digging into the clues ands patterns to see what’s happening. Your recommendation of The Explosive Child, I remember finding that helpful when we first started out. He’s got a newer book out as well that might help, Rain. Thanks so much for your question!
I’m sorry your son is having such a hard time. I know you’re going to be able to help, if you take the time to work through it. It’s not an impossible situation. I just want you to realize there are ways to move forward.
And I’m not quite sure from your question, but it seems you guys have recently chosen gentle parenting and radical unschooling. I’m inferring that because the two ways you describe handling your son’s challenges up to this point are both more conventional parenting approaches.
There are a couple of podcast episodes I’d recommend for you: Anna and I talked about parenting that supports unschooling back in episode 7, and a couple of weeks ago, episode 63 was actually titled, Gentle Parenting with Shannon Loucks. And in episode 61 I spoke with Emma Marie Forde about attachment parenting, and we talked about some of the ways unschooling parents work to develop secure attachments with their children and how they actively support unschooling.
I think what can help right now is to drop all expectations around his behaviour and cocoon for a while. Try not to put him in any situations with others where he might feel anxious and get angry. Help him feel as safe as possible, as often as possible. Safe and loved. Do the things that he loves to do as much as possible. Help him find his own equilibrium with himself first.
You wrote, “I do not know why he feels so negative so often.” What you want to do now is figure out that answer. That’s what Anna was talking about, digging into the clues. To get to know him so well that he becomes comfortable talking to you about it—comfortable because he’s not feeling judged by you and knows in his heart that you want to help him, because I’m sure these reactions don’t feel good to him either. Or, if he’s not able to express his underlying needs in words, you know him so well that you’re able to discern his needs and feelings through his actions and reactions.
It takes time to understand a person to that depth, but that is what’s going to help you develop a beautiful and trusting connection with him. And from that foundation, you can then begin to help him explore ways to engage more comfortably with other people.
I know we found that briefly setting up environments at different places, having come up with a plan before we went and making sure we all knew where that place was going to be. Like Anna said, it wasn’t going to be a social time for me, my main role was helping them to figure out how they can handle these moments.
One thing Emma and I talked about in the attachment parenting episode is that many of us coming to unschooling haven’t learned how to develop secure attachments with other people, and we’re stuck in the relationship patterns we know—like the ones you described having with your son up to this point. But it is possible to learn and to change our own patterns, and in turn develop secure attachments with our children. That often turns out to be a large part of our deschooling process.
Have a listen to the episode and see if that resonates with you—I’ll link to it in the show notes. Best of luck to you and your son. I think it’s great that you’re asking questions and looking for other ways. And check out that Rochester group, connecting with them might help, too.
34:12 – OK, question number four is from Sara in Israel.
Sara’s Question (from Israel) [TIME: 39:26]
Hi there, I wanted to ask a question about video games and other so called “screen time.”
Whilst per se, I have no objection with “screens”—obviously they are a big part of my life, I am looking at one as I write this. I do worry about my children being exposed to and violent and sexually explicit things that either don’t need to be part of their life or that they might not need to know about until later when they have tools to process it. Do you/other unschooling parents monitor what is on the inside of the screens? How do you do this without interfering with children’s freedoms and interests?
The reason this is so pressing has more to do with my own experience than with current catastrophising about screens. I have a photographic memory and vivid imagination. I am still haunted by gruesome, violent or sexually violent things I saw in movies and TV I was exposed to as a child. I can recall the scenes in intense detail and it is very unpleasant for me… although it is a low scale irritation at this stage and not the abject terror I used to feel as a child, I still wish my parents had done more to keep these kinds of things away from me.
We don’t have a TV in our house (our choice, we don’t like it) but we do use our laptops a lot for all kinds of things, including watching some shows. As my son gets older, I’d really be interested in hearing about how people do or don’t guide their children’s usage of technologies? Is there a boundary? What is it?
Thanks a lot 🙂
PAM: Thank you for your question, Sara! I wanted to dive into some of the ways you’ve described the situation, to talk a bit bigger picture about deschooling.
Your question of whether other unschooling parents monitor their children’s activities applies to your technology-focused question, but also to so many other situations. The use of the word “monitor” is interesting and suggests seeing the parents’ role as watching over their children rather than being engaged with them.
That can be such a hard distinction to understand and yet it’s a really valuable paradigm shift on the road to unschooling, so I wanted to dive into it a bit.
When we think of our parenting as “monitoring,” we’re taking in what our children are doing and judging it “okay” or “not okay” and reacting accordingly—even if, as an unschooling parent, we see the value and are okay with a lot more things, judging things “okay” is still judging things from our POV, it’s still coming at things from a control perspective, which of course means we want to know what to do when we judge something “not okay,” which is what’s behind your question. By asking if there’s a boundary, you’re contemplating where that line would be between “okay” and “not okay” for us, the parents.
But with unschooling, certainly with radical unschooling, what we’re doing is helping our children discover where that line is for them.
And it’s in releasing our hold on our “line” where fear often pops up, the fear that children free from their parents’ boundaries will want to do crazy things—yet what experienced unschooling parents are sharing is that that really isn’t true.
When we’re engaged with our children, we’re a level deeper than “monitoring,” we are beyond the “judgment” of them and are side-by-side with them—chatting with them, bouncing around ideas, making observations, again without judgment, as they make choices and develop their OWN sense of awareness; we know what makes us uncomfortable, and we’re helping them figure out what makes them uncomfortable.
That’s why in unschooling circles we so often talk about looking at things from our child’s perspective—whether it’s what they’re seeing on their laptops, on their phones, or as they walk around their neighbourhood. We meet them where they are so we can help them develop a deep level of self-awareness and explore ways to help them more comfortably navigate their world.
See the parallels with the first question we had today? If the child is uncomfortable with something—whether it’s unexpectedly coming across an upsetting visual or finding themselves slipping into the flow of an activity for longer than they are comfortable with—we help them find ways to arrange their environment so it better meets their needs and goals.
I remember when Joseph was playing more video games because he wasn’t going to school anymore, he specifically didn’t like blood in his video games. He didn’t like that aspect when he was nine, going on ten. That was something we looked out for. There was information on the game box or we could look up the game. That was something we did together to meet that need.
But we don’t presuppose their challenges and artificially restrict their environment beforehand because when we do that, we’re getting in the way of their learning about both themselves and their world. If they don’t experience it and see what’s going on, they can’t understand that piece of themselves. It’s about learning how they can set up their environment so they can do what they want to do.
You mentioned your parents. You knew this was something that bothered you but they weren’t helping you to arrange your environment so you didn’t continue to encounter it. That’s a different way of parenting. Instead of you drawing the line for your son wherever you think that might be, help him find where the line is for himself and help him set up his environment the way it’s going to work for him.
What do you think, Anna?
ANNA: I find that the relationships we have with our children as unschooling families really helps in these scenarios. Because we are so close and spending so much time together, I had a really good sense about what they were comfortable with and what might be too much. So, we would just talk about things. Sometimes I read or watch ahead and let them know what was coming. Sometimes they would just choose to close their eyes or leave the room. I found they didn’t really seek out things that were outside of their comfort zone.
My oldest has HSAM—which is a type of autobiographical memory. This incredible memory makes it really challenging when something traumatic happens because she will remember it in intense details years and years later. Knowing this about her helped us be extra cautious. I’m sure it still wasn’t enough at times because when you can remember everything and the emotion of it with such detail, it can be very tricky. I’m just saying that to say I appreciate how hard that must have been for you. And I certainly understand your concerns.
I think it would be helpful for your children to hear your story and understand that your hope is to help them explore but to also help them avoid things that might be unsettling. Hearing about your experience may help them articulate their boundaries and they will know you are there to partner with them, not attempt to control.
If you come in monitoring, like Pam was talking about, you run the risk of it becoming a divisive issue. Why is she trying to control this? Kind of short circuiting their chance to learn. If you can share where you’re coming from, they can see you as a partner. That you are not going to impose your will on them. I think you’ll find it flows a lot easier than it did in your childhood because there’s a connection and the time we have when we’re unschooling.
PAM: I really love that point about sharing her story because that is part of the partnership. It’s not a one-way communication. My kids know what I don’t like to see and they will tell me when to close my eyes. That’s the definition of partnership! We’re all living together, helping each other feel comfortable.
ANNA: That’s so true. That comes up a lot here. There are certain types of comedy I don’t like because I feel it’s mean-spirited but other people in the family are comfortable with that. They will tell me, “Oh, you’re not going to like that.”
PAM: My husband knows to just watch some shows himself because I don’t like them. Those are the kinds of conversations we have. I’m not passing judgement—I just know what I’m comfortable with and they know what they’re comfortable with. There’s just an environment of openness.
ANNA: This is our last question and it comes from Jana from South Africa.
Jana’s Question (South Africa) [TIME: 54:44]
I am loving unschooling and my child 5.8 is thriving. We’ve been through the binge phase following our relaxation of TV restriction. My son still watches hours of TV and I try to leave him to it. However, I am concerned about the physiological effects on his developing brain. Medical professionals suggest less is more for young ones. We do try to talk to him about this, but he seldom responds from a kind of “self-care” basis. How do you deal with parental concerns about health without enforcing cut-off times?! Many thanks!
ANNA: With any kind of health concern, I share information but I also watch my child because I know my child more than any “expert” who has never met them. As we talked in one of the earlier questions, there’s research and science and a lot of bias there.
One study shows one thing, another study shows another thing. Instead of getting wrapped up in that, get back in the moment, get back in your family. Watch your child, how they are responding, see what’s happening in the environment. Trust that, instead of handing over power to people who have never met your children or know anything about your situation.
As for TV with young children, I always found that my kids wanted to be with me. So, if I was ready to engage in a game, adventure, walk outside, that’s what they chose over TV. So, if I noticed a lot of TV, I took a look at what was going on with me and my presence. What was my role, had I been distracted? Sometimes it’s just enjoying TV time and decompressing. Just look at it more specifically to your child versus a general rule that rarely applies when you look at it through the filter of everyone.
PAM: That’s a great way of digging into it!
What I’m going to start to do (it seems to be what I’m doing this month) let’s look again at how you’re describing the situation. You talk about your son watching hours of TV and you leaving him to it. And when you do say something, you talk to him, and he doesn’t respond in a way that you would describe as “self-care.” So, he’s not meeting your expectations around the situation.
When I pull those bits out like that, what do you hear? Can you see how disconnecting those snapshots seem? They don’t describe an engaged partnership. Even the term “self-care” seems to imply “hands-off.” To me, the concept of self-care is really about developing self-awareness and making choices accordingly. And developing that level of self-awareness takes time and experience.
I love that there’s been quite a theme developing around most of the questions, this month: the way through our fears is through connecting with our children.
The image that kept going through my mind as I was making notes about these questions was of a parent going from standing up beside their child looking down at them, to crouching down to their level and looking them in the eye. Going from seeing the situation from our perspective, to being open to discovering what things look like from the child’s perspective. And then helping them take the next step forward that they want to take.
So, not talking to him, but talking with him. Not having your vision of “self-care” be the measure, but helping him explore how he feels as he’s watching. Helping him check in with himself to see what’s up. You might do that by bringing a drink or a snack and staying with him a while—giving him the opportunity to mention things he’s noticing or thinking, and for you to share anything you notice, without judgment or expectation. It’s all information for him to learn more about himself. And its information for you to learn so much more about him.
The more you know about him, the more you can connect and engage with him in meaningful ways, and the more you can enrich his days with things he’s likely to enjoy. Even if it’s another show you think he’ll love. We were talking earlier about the child who doesn’t want to go out but wants to stay in. Show support that you trust the choices they’re making; support them in the choices they’re making. Whether it’s right or wrong, it’s all about what it is for them. That’s what they are exploring.
Shannon shared a couple weeks ago, in her gentle parenting episode, of moving their joy into the kitchen to whip up a drink concoction mentioned in a favourite show. She knew about this and could make that connection to a bigger focus on their life. It’s not like you’re trying to cut it out, imagining TV as something separate, and then there’s the rest of their life. Their real life. Using it as a jumping off spot to bring new things into their world.
Even saying your son “watches hours of TV” is a disconnected way of talking about what is happening. It’s not the TV they’re watching—it’s the shows on the TV they are watching. If the TV was off, I don’t think they’d be watching it for very long! That may seem a bit facetious, but it helps make the distinction. It’s not so likely that the TV itself is the interest, so dig deeper and find out what is. What kinds of shows is he watching? What is he enjoying about them? Share his joy. Get to know him better.
And what being engaged with our children does is allow us to see what’s really happening. To see our children as whole beings. To see the learning and the connections that are happening in each moment—because they are.
Medical professionals suggest less is more. Educational professionals say curriculum is necessary. These are conventional ideas we can choose to question, so dive in with an open mind and enthusiasm and see if they really are true in your family. Observe and see what’s real. And then trust your own experience over studies done on groups of children whose lives do not at all resemble your children’s free unschooling lives.
They are so different, the things they do with technology, how they approach TV watching. It’s not always about decompressing. They actively engage with what they are doing in the moment—that is a beautiful thing to watch. We need to get in and really understand it. It’s not just about “TV or not TV,” or technology, or “screens.” That is such a superficial level that it’s not going to help us understand our child and expand their world in ways that will have meaning for them.
ANNA: We saw that a lot where the TV was a jumping off point and sometimes it was about other shows on the same topic or it was books, fiction or nonfiction, making something in the kitchen, or a scavenger hunt outside. Animals were a big thing for us. They enjoyed animal shows. It wasn’t even about educating them about animals, we just filled our environment with things we loved. Those shows were just part of that. It’s just being a part of it and understanding, it instead of distancing, “Oh he’s watching TV so we’ll leave him to it.” There’s definitely a different feel to that.
PAM: It always seems to me that what a child is keenly interested in really can be a whole window into the world. People worry they just watch hours and hours of TV. Or play hours of games. Or they read for hours. Whatever it is they are deeply engaged in, parents worry that is so limiting. But in truth, when you get in there with them, you see so many different things. It’s just their preferred window—the one that has so many connections for them. It all has meaning because it’s related to what they are passionate about.
And that was the last question! It was so fun!
ANNA: I know Anne missed being here. She loves cardinals and there was one out my window the whole time. I was thinking, “Anne is here with us!”
PAM: That’s beautiful! We kept rescheduling because I know how much she wanted to be here.
As a reminder, there will be links in the show notes on everything we mentioned!