PAM: Hi everyone. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca, and today I’m here with Teri DeMarco. Hi Teri!
TERI: Hi there!
PAM: Hello, hello. I was lucky enough to meet Teri in person last year at the Childhood Redefined conference in New York, and when I decided I wanted to do an episode focused on technology, I knew she would be a great person to chat with. We’ve got a lot to talk about, so to get us started Teri …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family and how you discovered unschooling?
TERI: Yeah, sure. So, I live outside of Boston, in Massachusetts. I have twin sons who are now 10, and a daughter who is eight, and a husband, and we used to have a cat but we no longer do.
But when my sons were preschool age, we had investigated homeschooling them because we weren’t quite sure what we were going to do. And we lived really close to Sudbury Valley School, the original one in Framingham, Massachusetts, at the time. And I looked into that and I kind of got scared away when someone said, “Yeah, but what about math?” (laughs)
And so I kind of set that aside and decided to look into other options.
And then we happened to move, weeks before my sons were about ready to start kindergarten. And we happened to move to a town called Newton, which is one of the best school districts in Massachusetts. And so, we decided to give school a try, which I think for us, we kind of needed to do. And after kindergarten we pretty much recognized that school was not going to be great for our family—for my husband or I, and for the kids.
And, you know, my sons didn’t have a good time; they had different issues there. So we kind of knew we needed to come up with another plan, our plan B, and we went to an unschooling conference in New Hampshire in April of 2013, that lasted about five days, and I think the third day in my husband looked at me and said, “So, the kids aren’t going back to school, are they?” (laughs)
I looked at him and said, “No, they are not.”
So, we were pretty convinced that we had no idea what was going to be in our future, we just knew that school really couldn’t be. And we unenrolled our kids right when we got back.
But you know, when we sat there and really thought about it, for us, we looked at what we were both successful in, in our careers. I was in technology sales, my husband is a software engineer, and neither of us was formally trained in our career of choice and what we did successfully and were able to make money at. And we both loved what we did, and we recognized that, you know, if we learned that on the fly and kind of unschooled ourselves, to be kind of at the top of our game in our respective careers, then why couldn’t our kids do that too?
And the one thing that I got a great example of is my husband works in his passion. And if you’ve ever heard of people who work in their passion, they would do the job whether they got paid or not. And he’s one of those. I was not. So, I was really good at what I did, but it really took a toll on me, because it wasn’t my passion. And I figured that if we could give our kids the ability to, number one, know their passion, and then the opportunity to either work in it or work to support their passion, that we would be ahead of the game and our kids would live a much happier life than many of the adults that I see around here in the Boston area.
So, our kids never went back to school and we dove in head first, and it’s been a wonderful choice and something that we look back on and know that it was the right thing to do. And it’s changed our lives forever, so we’re pretty excited about it.
PAM: That’s really awesome. I love that story. And I love the way you said you want to help your kids to know their passion and work in their passion or work to support their passion. Because I think that’s such a great way to look at it.
Just because somebody’s interested in something doesn’t mean they have to work in that, or that they should be earning their income through that particular passion. Choosing to keep it as your hobby, as your passion, and choosing other ways to get an income to support it, is still a great way of looking at it, right?
TERI: Right, and I think that if you have a passion that you’re supporting through what you do, you never take on all of the stress of that job, right? You know that it’s a means to an end, so you probably work at that job at the best possible balance, being able to kind of do well, but never take on the stress of the actual work of it, right?
And I happen to be an older mom. I had my kids when I was 39, my first kids, and I see many friends here in their 40’s who are trained as doctors, lawyers, you know, huge college bills, right? And they would never have done that job, in looking back. And I think they’re kind of at a loss in their 40-plus life, recognizing that they now have a mortgage, they have all these commitments, that they can’t make a shift in their career path, because they’ve essentially cemented their feet. And I think that that’s taken a toll on their happiness.
And I’m really happy that we have had some ability to kind of shift ourselves. And because my husband works in his passion, he never feels that way. I mean, sometimes there’s things at work that are not fun, but, in general, the work he actually does, writing software, he gets excited about to this day. And I’ve known him 17 years, and it just lights him up. So, I love watching it.
PAM: That’s awesome.
When it comes to technology, the conventional term that gets thrown around a lot, and we all hear it a lot, is “screen time,” right? And I personally don’t like the term for a couple of reasons, and I think I’ve spoken before on the podcast about that, but I’m interested to hear your take on the term.
TERI: Yeah, well, it’s interesting. I think as humans it’s our nature to categorize things. Because I think, number one, especially if it’s something that we might fear, it’s easier to lump it together and just kind of put it off to the side.
And parents have historically demonized stuff that their kids do, right? You know, the whole rock-and-roll, and what are those long-haired kids into. And for conventional parents I think that saying “screens” as a mono-name absolves them of looking further into what’s actually going on. They can kind of sit with their fear, and not really have any responsibility to kind of peel the onion on that at all.
But unschoolers, we’re already doing something unconventional. So, I think it’s incumbent upon us to look more closely at what that means. So, when I see the conventional world say the term “screens,” I generally won’t call them on it. I’ll just say my piece with what I think is a worthwhile way to look at it.
But if an unschooler is saying “screens,” I’m certainly going to peel the onion and kind of come at it saying, “Well, what exactly do you mean? Is it television, is it iPads, is it computers, is it video game consoles, is it virtual reality systems?” Right? I mean there’s so many things that we might use.
And I think that whenever we have a fear we have to acknowledge the reality of the fear. That’s just unschooling. That’s part of the deschooling process that we all have to go through. We have to break it down to know exactly what’s causing us the fear, and then we have to decide if it’s real, if it’s caused by society or influences outside of us, or if it’s something we actually need to fear—that’s possible too. And I’m not sure, in my experience, that many of my fears, when I first have them, have a lot of meat to them, once I kind of unpack them a bit.
We live in a world where kids are not really respected so much. And I think that we have this common wisdom, at least here in the U.S., that kids can’t be trusted. You know, they can’t be trusted to self-regulate, they can’t be trusted to be responsible with things, with ideas, with time. And I’m not sure that that’s correct, but parents often step in and try to control or judge their kids’ time or monitor their time, believing that they need to have systems in place to force the right behaviors. So, I think that when we start talking about “screen time,” that’s kind of the way people attack it.
I bristle when I hear about earning screen time or losing screen time, because to me it looks like a reward and punishment system. And I kind of don’t view technology in any way as something that should be held as a carrot, because it kind of seems like, “Oh well, you have to do all this stuff you don’t like for a long time, and then in some point in time you get to have this benefit or this reward of doing something fun, which is television or computer or video game.”
And it seems to me that all learning should be fun, and we unschoolers know that play is how kids learn, that inherently in play is fun, because if it’s not fun then kids don’t do it, right?
We shouldn’t dangle screen time or screens over kids’ heads at all. And when I hear that coming in the unschooling conversations it just reeks of conventional ideas, right? It means that we’re letting some external influence control us when in fact we should just be looking at our kids and seeing what they’re actually doing, and trying to understand what value they see in it.
And I get it, I mean one of my sons watched shows from beginning to end, numerous times, right? You know, like the seasons. And one of them is Total Drama Island. And it’s essentially a cartoon of the reality show Survivor, and so it’s just an odd thing, right? And I never could quite understand what he got out of it. And then I sat down with him, and what he loved was the competition and the challenges that were in it.
And so, he went from that to watching cooking challenges, like Chopped, or Guys Grocery Wars, you know, the different types of challenge shows. And he just loves anything that’s a competition. So, to him, Total Drama Island had nothing to do with the reality show aspect of Survivor or that whole idea, it was really about the competition. And so, I could really respect that because as a kid who does a lot in gaming and plays a lot of console video games, he loves the competition of these games. And for him, it’s just how people attack and strategize about how they’re going to win and how they spend their time and where do they go first and all that stuff. And so that’s a very different piece of learning than I think you might see if you didn’t take a look, right? I could judge it and say, “Ugh, who would watch Survivor?” Because I never would have, right? But that’s not what he was getting out of it.
But to come back to the question, I think at a minimum unschoolers need to be very clear about what they mean when they say “screens,” and that means they have to break it down. And they have to figure out what’s important to their family and then how each one of these systems, number one, is part of play, and number two, how it can be used to augment learning.
I’ll talk about it later but I think you had produced a mind map of your son Joseph in his technology learning that he had done at one point, and I mean I’ve done that with my sons, and it is amazing the side effect learning that happens when on any technology, but the computer has been probably our main screen, so to speak. So, does that answer your question?
PAM: Yeah, you dove into that really nicely, because I find when somebody is using, most often—not all the time, but most often—when somebody uses the term “screen time,” it’s very derogatory. They’re always looking down on it. When I see it used, like you said, you know that they haven’t taken the time to look further.
And absolutely, we all have that fear, we’ve all processed through that fear, or we’re in the middle of it, but like you said, that’s how we’re going to learn. All those things you learned about your son and competition, and for me, Joseph and stories, it just means so much more if you can dig into it a bit and see what actually it is that they’re doing and what they’re getting out of it.
And I think that’s just a huge piece, being able to recognize our fear and say, “Okay,” but taking that next step to dive deeper into it and just be curious about it, right? That’s where I started—I was just so curious about what Joseph found so interesting and engaging about the games that he was playing. The same thing that you did with your son and watching that show. And it’s not like sitting them down to interrogate them, right? (laughs)
TERI: A lot of us who come to this life tend to have been peaceful parents, so we might have come from the attachment parenting background, and I say that just because we all generally are pretty attached to our children, like our kids are really attached to us. We have good attachment. And when we have bad energy about something, we don’t have to say a word and our kids know, right?
PAM: Yeah. Exactly.
TERI: I mean, I always say that I minimize myself. And I don’t minimize “Mom,” I minimize my attitudes or my agendas. And I think that it’s really important to do that because if I sat next to my kid or if you sat next to Joseph or Lissy or anyone, and had like a kind of like a, “Ugh, so what is this all about?” You don’t even have to say that and they aren’t going to show you, right? They’re going to be somewhat on edge, they won’t be in their flow, because they’re picking up a negative energy.
And I see that sometimes in the forums in which we participate, you know, just the terminology is very pejorative. And if that terminology is what people have chosen to use to describe a problem, then that agenda likely is coming through to the child. And the older the child is, the more able they will be to separate from you to not show you what they’re doing, right?
PAM: Yup. Exactly. And just put yourself in that situation for a moment. Because we’ve all had a family member or friend come and question our unschooling choices, where we’re feeling defensive because the attitude with which they’re asking, you can already see their agenda behind it, and we feel defensive.
So, imagine just recreating that kind of atmosphere with your child. You’re not going to learn anything, because remember how flustered you are trying to answer the question the first few times, right, when you’re just choosing it and you’re not quite sure what’s going on or how to answer those more direct questions? Your child is going to feel that same thing, “Oh geez, Mom’s quizzing me about this. I don’t know what’s going to make her happy,” or, “I don’t want to share that part of me because I’ll be devastated if she judges it negatively.” You know, there’s so many things and emotions that will go through their head that you can’t get a real, connected conversation going.
That was a big thing for me, like you said, I love that term, you know, minimized your agenda or your feelings about it. I would talk about it, about being open and curious. So yeah, minimizing that part of it, it’s like, “Okay, I’m fearful or I don’t know what’s going on, so I’m going to explore.” But yeah, you have to get rid of that negative piece, because it can impact what’s going on as you’re exploring and chatting with them. And it can even stop you from seeing things, because it’s a filter you put in front that you’re already judging things before it gets to your mind to connect with other pieces, even if you’re just observing.
PAM: It’s fascinating. (laughs)
TERI: Right. Unconscious bias is real, right?
PAM: Yeah, yeah. That’s great.
So, one of the first steps in pulling apart and examining the technology issue is recognizing all the learning that is happening, and all the joy and fun. So that’s what we were talking about, getting to that open and curious attitude, to start to be able to see all this. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about what your journey with this has looked like?
TERI: Sure. So, I had an interesting awakening to technology initially when my kids were still in school. You know, we had just—I think when they were six—put a computer into the family room, just to kind of investigate and look at Minecraft, I think, at the time. And the kids were interested in it. I think Cole would play on it and be most interested at the time.
And while he was in school he started asking for playdates with all these kids that he was not friends with, but he specifically wanted to go to their houses because they had gaming consoles. Like, you know, this is not even something that I had quite figured out, “Hey, what do we have, Xbox and PlayStation and all these things in our house.” I was still very much in a conventional thought.
And I thought about it. I said, “I so want to make sure I have a house where my kids want to hang, and to want to play here, and where other kids want to come.” As opposed to my kids feeling that they aren’t getting something here and wanting to go somewhere else, especially when it’s someone that I have no real connection with. I mean, they weren’t traditionally friends of his, they were just kids in his class that happened to have a gaming console. And so, by kind of coming into this with slightly of a limiting mindset—I don’t think we were really strong in our limits at that point, but just having that created that situation—I had an unintended consequence, right? My son was willing to go play elsewhere to get his need met. And that, by far, was something that I had said when I became a mom I never wanted to have happen. I wanted to make my house a welcoming place where the kids wanted to come to, as opposed to, be the one where, they wanted to leave and go somewhere else.
So once the kids left school, we immediately bought laptops, and they were on Minecraft pretty much nonstop all day. And we dove in, as many of the unschooling forums talk about, you know, we kind of can step into it a little bit? Well we certainly did not. We went right in. And I guess, hard as it might have been for my husband and I, it was great for us because it forced us to really deschool our attitudes about technology fast. And you know, we had to recognize that life was going to be dominated, our first year of unschooling at least, was going to be dominated by technology, right? Mostly by computers at that time. We didn’t have many other things to use.
But I immediately started playing with them. I got on Minecraft and I played with them and I can’t tell you how fun it was. Like, I love Minecraft. I think it is one of the best applications in the world. I play it by myself. I play it with my kids. We play on servers. We play in so many different ways. And I got to see what my kids loved about it. And so, I immediately could understand their point of view. And I had no problem with it.
Like, there were certainly other things that I had to unschool; like they learned about Minecraft through YouTube. So, they would go online and they would watch Sky or they’d watch—who else … I mean, at the time, I think Stampy Longhead. And you know, there was swearing in these YouTube videos, right?
So now, not only do I have my kids on computers, they’re on these YouTube channels. And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, and you’re listening to all these words, and, you know, whatever.” And they’d start picking up the words. And so, I decided that I’d just use it as a great opportunity to dialogue about swearing. And it wasn’t anything in our house that we disallowed. I’d guide my kids and say, “Hey, if you use these words outside of the house, it is likely that you will have people look at you askance,” right? (laughs)
PAM: Yeah, yeah. (laughs)
TERI: Or be really mad. If you don’t want to make people mad, you know, you might want to just be really aware of where you’re using these words and how you’re using it. So, I think for the first three months they probably swore all the time and it was kind of funny. And then they got past their need to do it and it really kind of mellowed out.
And then my son, when we had people here or when we were out, he would just bleep himself when he wanted to swear. So, he would be talking and he would go, “Bleep!” And it was really funny. But I loved it because they, number one, at age six, had a real awareness of the fact of how to handle these types of things that, my gosh, I think most parents would say, “Your kids swore at six?” You know, they’d be appalled. But they had a very mature attitude about it. And I was really impressed.
And that actually, was a great lesson for me, in recognizing that kids are really capable of handling a lot of mature subjects at young ages. And they just need guidance. They need someone to normalize it for them, they need someone to help them understand any pitfalls or quicksand they might end up in. And then it’s they’re choice. You know, I don’t disallow it. But it’s their choice then. And in general, they respect me, I respect them, and so they usually take what I say as something important, because I don’t say “no” very often. So, when it’s something where I’m really like, “Hey, this is kind of important, let’s talk about this,” they generally know that it probably has more weight than most other things. So, as I said, then I had to deschool some of that.
We also kind of gave up strict bedtimes at the same time. I mean, I say we dove into unschooling, we dove into radical unschooling. And because they were having so much fun it was really hard to find end times, and I tend to go to bed early. So, we kind of dealt with that. We had to deal with the fact that they’d be laughing and screaming in the middle of the night and waking us up. You know, well geez, okay, now we have to talk about how we have to respect others in the house. You know, in my mind these are all just amazing opportunities for dialogue and for learning. So, as much as it was a little bit of a pain for a number of months, luckily, I’m at home with them, so if I don’t get a good night’s sleep it’s not the end of the world. You know, my husband maybe, that’s not the case. But we were able to work through a lot of these issues. And so, we saw that.
And then, I think we’ve already talked to this, but I just learned to look at my kids whenever I would have a fear about technology or anything like that. I looked at my kids and I sat down and played with them or watched them. And the nice part is that they love it when I sit and watch.
So, for our family, I call them concentric circles. For the inner concentric circle of family, we were good and solid on our use of technology. As we started expanding out to family and friends, the other concentric circles, it took longer for us to kind of be comfortable with the fact that our kids were on technology and computers or gaming, games, whatever, for a good portion of their day. And we lost friends because of it. We have had homeschooling families not want to come to our house because they don’t allow technology. And even if my kids chose not to use the technology while those kids were here, all of their discussions would be about gaming, or about something they saw in Minecraft or something they saw in a YouTube video. And so, we had to recognize that hey, we’re kind of in this space where technology is very free here, and that kind of sets us slightly apart from any of the other homeschoolers locally. So, we had to kind of recognize some of that.
But I think in general I am extremely happy that my kids have taken to the technology that they have, because the amount of learning that we’ve done in the four years that they’ve been doing this is probably well beyond anything they would’ve gotten in school, as we all know. And it’s sparked interests that I could never have anticipated. One son was really interested in the Japanese language because he was really interested in anime, and he was really interested in Attack on Titan, different games on Roblox. And so, he started speaking Japanese words. And he still knows a ton of Japanese words just because he was into these YouTubers who were really into anime. And you could see all these connections being made that, you know, how would you ever anticipate that they’d have an interest in any of this?
PAM: I know, that is one of the most amazing things, and that’s kind of what sparked me to make that original map of the things that I had seen Joseph get into, in those first six months or so that I paid attention instead of limiting. (laughs)
And involved—like your point about playing with them, that’s so important—being with them so that you can see what’s going on. Anyway, your Japanese thing reminded me: years ago Joseph and I were watching some, I don’t know if it was E3, but it was some gaming convention, and they were interviewing somebody in Japanese, and they had the subtitles up. And he was telling me where they got them wrong. (laughs)
TERI: Oh my gosh, how funny.
PAM: I was like, “What?!?” (laughs)
TERI: That’s awesome.
PAM: Yeah! You know, when they’re interested, you’re just amazed by how quickly they learn what comes across their path. And, like you said, we could never predict, or even try to put our agenda or a framework of what we think they should learn in front of them. It is just so much smaller than what they actually do, isn’t it?
TERI: Well, right. And even in the unschooling community—I always kind of chuckle at this, but—there’s always families who value certain types of learning. They talk about their kids in the library and the books, or they talk about being in nature and being outside, and for those of us who have kids who are into technology, we don’t tend to talk about it as much, because it’s judged so frequently by everyone as being not the best way to attack it. And people have so many preconceived notions about it. But I kind of believe that kids gravitate toward the medium that works for them.
So, given the equal choice of all, a lot of kids would go to technology, don’t get me wrong. But I think some kids just love being outside and they’re tactile and they love that. I think some kids, you know, maybe the library and books, really, they gravitate to that for their learning. But when I look at technology and computers specifically, and the internet, I mean, it’s the best book possible, right? Because you can be looking at something, or on a video with some YouTuber and they start talking about World War II and how Hitler came to power, and you can pop out and do a search and look at a wiki that tells you that information so you can verify what’s being said. You then can, like, “Oh, and what about the Reichstag Fire?” You can dive in even further into these other things.
And this is how my kids do it, because I’m just flabbergasted most days when I hear them talk about things that I never learned in school, but like, to me, it’s an endless portal into knowledge. And the best part about it, as we know because we’ve watched kids do this, kids don’t learn everything about everything all at once. So, they kind of pick little pieces that satisfy the need that’s presented them right now, and then they step back and usually think about that.
And then they go and they’ll do something else and then they’ll find another piece that may not even look related, but it’s kind of informing the other, and the internet’s really well suited to that. When they come and ask me questions and I look up a wiki, I’ll start talking and I’ll give them their answer, and then I’ll do two more sentences and they’ve walked away already. Because they’re done. They’re like, “Yeah I already got the answer. I don’t care about the rest of that.”
And it’s helped me a ton, recognizing for us, strewing is not something that really happens here. For us, my kids self-strew, if that makes sense. They’re so curious and so interested in so many things that they tend to deep-dive in their own areas, and when I get too excited about something, I can put the damper on their interest pretty quickly. So, I have to be really careful. But I think that’s just because they’ve really been given a ton of freedom about it. And so, they know their own mind. And often times my own assessment of what they want to know is not correct. They want something else. And so, they just need to go get that.
PAM: Yeah, and I think that’s something that I found as well, was that what was most important was for me to stay open and available, rather than trying to anticipate too much. Sure, if I found things I would share them, but yeah, without any expectation that they would want to go in that direction.
And I’d be careful, again, minimizing, not sharing any kind of agenda at all behind it, because I didn’t want to knock them off the path that they were following. I just wanted to say, “Oh, I came across this.” Maybe it’s a little bit of a turn, a little bit of an angle. Just so that they knew that it existed, but it didn’t matter at all if they were going to take that turn. Because mostly it was about being open to help them, like if they wanted to make this jump, this connection, and they needed a little bit of something from me, I wanted to be able to satisfy that as quickly as possible so they could keep going. Because it was just amazing watching them make all these connections and fly through it, right?
TERI: Right. And I think, you know, here each kid does it differently. But one of my sons, around dinner time, comes and brain dumps on you. Like he just starts talking. So, he just starts going. And sometimes it’s a cohesive step to step, sometimes it’s just information coming at you. And what he’s really doing is testing his theories, right? So he’s saying, “This is this way,” and if you nod and say, “Yeah, that sounds right,” he’s great; moves on.
And then if it sounds like it’s something that might need a little bit more, or, “Hey, did you look at this way?” Like I might say, “Hey, you know, you could also look at it in this way.” He’s just culling his mind map, right? He’s saying, “Okay,” and he’s moving things from one bucket to another and he’s just like, “Okay.” And then, it’s not a huge conversation. A lot of it is him coming at me in more of a monologue. But he’s really testing his hypotheses, right? And it’s from the whole day of what he’s been doing.
And his daily process is amazing. I mean he has two hours of YouTube videos in the morning, about. And then he’ll eat breakfast. And then he starts playing Roblox, which is one of his main areas of playing, and he has numerous games there. And then he’s on Steam to do Subnautica or some other game. And then sometimes in the afternoon he’s like, “Hey mom you want to go and play blah blah blah?” We’ll play a game together. Sometimes we do board games. So, you know, you watch. And their day is very uniform.
But if I were to just say, “Hey, it’s screens,” I would miss all of that. But they have an amazing daily process, right? And I’m impressed by it, because they really don’t veer from it. And it helps me when we schedule things or when we have things outside of the house. I have to be very respectful of their daily process. Doctor’s appointments don’t happen here until the afternoon or late morning, because if my son doesn’t get his two hours to kind of catch up on all the new YouTube videos out there, he’s very unhappy and does not want to leave the house. So, we have to be really respectful of the fact that, hey, you know what, I would want someone to grant me that same respect.
PAM: Yeah, no, that’s awesome. Yeah, I know. And it’s all about, like you said, how the different personalities, different children, process things, right? Joseph’s very much a verbal kind of processor, and we would have those conversations just about daily. And we’re connected enough in our relationship that if I think it’s a conversation where he’s looking for my input, I start saying something and he can say, “No mom, I’m just saying, I don’t want to hear right now.” And I’m like, “Yeah, no problem.” And I can just absorb.
And other times we’re bouncing things back and forth and we can end up in an hour and a half conversation that I’m sure nobody listening would understand, right? Because we just jump from here—we know where the connections went for each of us, but nobody else would ever be able to tell how we got from A to B to C, right?
And we’ve also learned that it’s very important for each of us to finish our thoughts, because we can’t move on until we’ve finished. Although, I mean, we’re quick, but we still need to close it before we make the next jump. So, we’re like, putting our hands up, you know, so that they know that I have something to add when you’re done. (laughs)
And then there’s another child who’s like me for my personal stuff, who does a lot of that processing internally, and once we’ve kind of figured it out, then we’re ready to move on and chat with other people. So, when he comes asking for something, he doesn’t need a conversation about it. He just wants to do it. Because he’s already had all that conversation in his head, figured it out, and now he’s ready to move on.
This is the kind of stuff that you learn by getting deeply engaged with your kids and seeing what they’re doing, just seeing how they process information, seeing what’s interesting to them.
I guess we should move on to the next question, but it’s all very fascinating. (laughs)
And I think we might have hit this, but let’s just make sure …
If a parent is concerned about the amount of time a child is spending, say watching TV or playing video games, instead of immediately imposing limits to fit the parent’s comfort zone, how might they explore the situation to discover what’s up?
TERI: Yeah, so I think we have talked about a bunch of this, but I would say it’s deschooling.
And it’s really about playing with them or sitting next to them and watching. You know, write down the learning if it makes you feel better. And I think also, sometimes sharing that with your partner or spouse, as we kind of talked about before. Because a lot of times it’s not the parent who’s home with the kids who has as many of the questions about the use of technology in general. It may be the parent who’s coming home and saying, “Gee, is this all you did all day?” You know, my husband’s really thankful when I share that stuff with him, because he’s like, “Yeah, I wouldn’t have known.” And he’s appreciative because he doesn’t want to sit in judgment when it’s unfair, right?
But one thing that I have learned, and it’s because I’ve been open, is that games are steeped in science, history, mythology, fantasy, math, problem solving, critical thought, strategy, research. Like, everything about what we want our kids to be capable of, they get through games.
And the main reason being is that gaming companies hire people who are really well versed, I mean PhD’s in education. And the learning processes, right? So, they know exactly how to hand information so that it’s easily absorbable.
And they talk a lot about the regime of competence. You’re capable for certain things, when you’re a noob, right? And then when you move on to the next level, in general, when you first go in to that level you realize that you’re missing some key piece of knowledge. So, you can still fight, if you’re fighting a battle of some sort, you can still fight in the same way, but it’s not netting you the same results as quickly. So, you realize you have to learn something, or you have to get better gear, or you have to do something, and sometimes that information is obvious, or sometimes you actually find helpful people along the way who tell you that. You know, these are all life lessons, right? And you then can realize, “Ah! So I need to do this…” So, the information is handed to you in an incremental fashion that makes it extremely easy to assimilate, and to move on.
And this is unlike school, completely. This is where school has it wrong. (laughs) You know, completely has it wrong. And if school was set up like a video game, it would be amazing to see how engaged kids were, right? Because it would be all about that keeping kids within the regime of competence, and every kid’s regime of competence is going to be slightly different. And then making sure that they’re getting incremental adds, so that they can kind of level up, so to speak. And I think that that is really important for people to understand, that the reason—and we’ll talk about this on the addiction side, you know, when people say it’s addiction—you know I think the reality is, is that this is how all humans learn, and the reason that we all like gaming in general, and why we play on our iPhones all the time is because it feeds us in a way that is just inherent in the human condition.
And it feels good to do well at things, and to constantly get feedback.
PAM: I’m going to jump in there, if I could.
It reminded me when you were talking about that, the definition of flow in Finding Flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about that feeling of flow when time passes and you don’t realize it, when you’re so into it, is when you’re sitting right at the edge of your level of competence. You have just enough skill that you know you’re close, so you’re super keen to learn all those last little bits.
It’s hard to get in the flow of something that’s entirely repetitive, because you already know how to do it, you’re already skilled at it; that’s boring. And if it’s too, too hard, it’s too challenging, you can’t figure it out, it’s completely hard to stay engaged in that as well. But when you’re right at that level where you know enough to keep going and keep going, but there’s still lots to learn and figure out, that’s where all the exciting learning is, and that’s where you sink into the flow of the activity.
So yeah, that’s just really exciting. And yes, that is something that games are really good at, and they’ve spent so much time figuring out through levels. Joseph and I would talk about this all the time, how you can gather that one piece of information that you need to move on, and how as you level up and as you move from world to world, as you progress in the story, all the different pieces that come together, that flow, that whole story comes together—it’s really interesting.
And then yeah, I mean, finding games or any kind of activity that’s within a person’s interest, that environment for that interest is a great way to learn and play. And like you said, there are just so many aspects to manage that the skills that they pick up in doing this are transferable skills. I mean, the ability to take in multiple things, analyze it and choose a path forward, just because it’s virtual, those skills are still transferable into the real world, into a situation where you have three things coming at you and you want to decide what your best next step is. It’s totally useful.
TERI: Right, and I think there’s tons of side effect learning. You know, side effect learning is where it’s all at. So, I always thought unschooling was like, hey, you know, kids will be exposed to all this learning and (in my earliest stages) they’ll pick up all their school learning because it’s just fun when they pick it up.
And what I realized is that all of the schoolish learning that they get is side effect learning from gaming. So, all the math they’ve gotten and all the reading and writing and history and science has come just because games are steeped with all this stuff. So, it’s not like they have had somebody say, “What’s two plus two?” They conceptually get it because they’ve played all these games.
You know, Minecraft—perfect example—if you have three players playing and you want to do iron armor for everyone, it’s 72 pieces of iron. And my kids knew that before—you could never ask them, “Well what’s 24 times 3?” They wouldn’t be able to tell you. But they know how much iron they need to make three sets of armor. If you can take away that need to control it in the schoolish way, they get to the point where they do understand multiplication and factoring and all that stuff. But initially they just know that they need X number of whatever it is to do something. It could just be X number of gold to go buy that next sword that gives them better hit rates or something.
You know I laugh because I have a son who loves first person shooter games on Xbox—this is the son that likes the challenges and the competition—and he’s a CEO in Grand Theft Auto. He has his own crew, he pulls people in, he has to deal with giving them cuts of the loot that they get, he has to then pay for all of the upfront cost of the guns and the whatever. (laughs) And he’s running a business. And when he’s really into that, he recognizes that sometimes in order to get the good—you know, his friends that are better at the heists—to come, he has to give them a larger cut of the pie. Or, he’s got a friend that really needs some cash so he’s willing to give him a bigger cut. You know, those types of things. But that’s all negotiation, right? That is a huge life skill, and just recognizing that hey, people have to be somewhat motivated to want to help you out, and you have to take on costs to do these types of jobs. It’s just interesting—whereas most people would say, “Oh, GTA, I’d never let my kid play that.” Well, my goodness, I’m so glad I let my kid play that, you know what I mean? There’s huge learning there.
PAM: Yeah, it’s so fun. Once you’ve got that relationship where they’ll come and chat with you about what they’re playing and what they’re doing and what they’re figuring out, you just sit there and listen and go, “Wow!” You have to know enough to be able to understand what they’re sharing so that you can see what it really means. But yeah, it’s fascinating stuff.
Okay, we better move on!
Something that can unnerve parents is when their child gets angry when asked to stop playing a video game or watching TV. Fear can quickly have them interpreting that behavior as addicted, and blaming the technology, as we were alluding to earlier. When we look at the situation from the child’s perspective, things can look really different though, can’t they? Like you were talking about with your son, who wants his YouTube videos in the morning to get caught up and see what’s happening.
TERI: Mm-hmm. So, I think it was because I was in sales for my career, but, I’m really good at putting myself in other people’s shoes. And I’ve always kind of done that.
I know when I’m in the flow, and I’m doing something—doing research or a task that I particularly enjoy—I bristle at interruptions. Sometimes I’m nice about it, sometimes I’m not nice about it. (laughs) But it doesn’t take much to realize that kids are having the same thing. And I think that it’s even worse if the limits are arbitrarily assigned. “Oh! You’ve had your hour!” Right? So, you know, number one, I never impose a rule on my children that I wouldn’t want imposed on myself. And that’s been a good guide marker for me.
But I also think that, you know, we’ve always had the rule here that when we’re transitioning into something else—like we do have to go to a dentist appointment or go do something—you know, my kids are always allowed to finish what they’re doing before we move. So, it requires me to be a little bit more ahead of the game, like give them a half an hour, 45 minutes notice, that we have something coming up. But we always have given them the respect to say, “Hey, finish what you’re doing.” So, they can finish the game, they can finish the project, they can finish the call, whatever it might be. And we’re pretty flexible with that. So, we tend not to see a lot of anger coming off when we do have to come off. But we also, our kids really manage their own time on computers. So at least I understand where that comes from.
But again, I think this comes back to deschooling, right? You know, really thinking about, instead of just assuming. Like, I think the only people who might say, “Hey, my kid’s addicted to this,” are people who already have issues with the use of technology in their house. And I think that, again, we chatted about it before, but if I have an agenda or if I have an energy about the use of technology, my kids feel it, and I don’t have to say a word, but they get it, right? So, I think we have to own our own energy.
But you know, the values in our society are about balance and moderation, and technology generally, when you see it used by kids, is not that, right? They tend to deep-dive and are very happy and joyful. So, I think that for those of us that were brought up with balance and moderation as kind of a family value, we get uncomfortable with excess. You know, excess in anything. Excess in food, excess in joy, you know, when kids are too happy? I think people get uncomfortable sometimes. And I think kids are just trying to figure out, they always want to come to the stasis of joy, or happiness. And they’ll get there, sometimes even they’ll force themselves there, because they always seem to want to get to that equilibrium. And if we just let them get there, they chill out. They relax a lot.
PAM: That’s a cool way to look at it. Yeah, that’s true. And when you think about it too, because technology—there was a couple of things—because technology is so new to us, even, as adults—we didn’t grow up with it—we can even take those messages around us of balance and fear of too much technology and slam ourselves with it too, right?
Part of this, at least part of it for me, was first coming to terms with it in my own use, and realizing no, I’m choosing this because I’m getting A, B, C, D out of it, and this is what I’m doing.
And the other piece is, when we talked about screen time in general, how that is composed of so many different things, is also realizing that okay, yeah, you could say “screen time” and you could say “hours” but I was communicating on my phone—so I was texting with my kids, because my kids are older—and maybe I was watching a DVD for some research, and looking up recipes on the computer. Like, we’re using it now for so many different things that that’s one of the challenges of putting it all under this misnomer of “screen time,” because then all of a sudden it looks powerful, rather than taking a moment to actually dive in and recognize all the multiple ways that we’re using different technology.
TERI: Well right, and I think, you know, I don’t see this maybe much in the unschooling space, but in the conventional world where parents are sitting on their computer and yet telling their kids they can only use an hour.
PAM: Yeah. (laughs)
TERI: And I think that that’s disingenuous, right? We shouldn’t have double standards. That if I truly have an issue with my children using technology, then I should really be owning how much I’m using it. But I also think that greatness comes from passion, right? And I’ve met people through my husband —and because I think he works in his passion, and he has many friends who also are somewhat passionate about what they do—and they all tend to excel at the things that they’re passionate about.
I think greatness comes from passion. And passion in general, when you meet someone who has had great success or is very passionate, they rarely have balance. You know, you don’t see, like, Michael Jordan, you know, basketball player. I doubt he had a lot of balance in his life, right? Or a lot of moderation. From what Carol Dweck says in her book, he practiced basketball all the time.
And I see that with Ed. He codes a lot, he’s on the computer a lot, it’s just what he does. But he’s really good at what he does. And I think that when I’ve met people—musicians who are really good at what they do—they play their instrument a lot. So, if my children are going to be really good at technology or really good at researching and learning from technology, then they’re probably going to spend a bunch of time on it. And it’s important to respect it. Because in disrespecting it, you then end up sending the message that you disrespect the child. And I think that’s not worthwhile in any family, but certainly not in unschooling families.
PAM: Yeah, and over the years I’ve never found balance to be something that was really useful as a goal, because balance seemed to be a framework I was trying to put on top of myself or my kids.
TERI: Yeah, it tamps down joy, right?
PAM: Yeah, exactly. If we did, instead, follow our joy, oh my gosh! Everything was always so much better. We were so much more engaged, we were just having so much more fun, and trying to put balance on top of that just really screwed it all up. And that’s why I ended up calling my website Living Joyfully—not Living Balanced Lives. (laughs)
TERI: (laughs) Exactly.
PAM: Because, it was just such a better goal. (laughs)
PAM: Yup. Yay!
TERI: Well, and I think that that’s hard for a lot of people, right? I mean, you know, we get messages all day long growing up. The question is, when do you break that chain? Living to joy is something that very few people have the opportunity to do. However, in our family in the last four years of our unschooling life, we as a family have made that choice, and everything has gotten better. Everything. My relationship with my husband has gotten better. My health has gotten better. I now exercise because I want to be my best self, physically. My kids, I love hearing them laugh. When I hear conventional parents talk about their kids and all of the stuff they have to do, honestly, it makes me very sad. Because number one, I’m like, where’s the joy? Right? (laughs) There’s no joy there.
PAM: Yup. (laughs)
TERI: I mean, I wouldn’t want to come home to that house, right? You know, whereas most people, most kids when they walk in our house don’t want to leave. Because, number one, you’re respected for who you are; you have agency over what you want to do; and number three, in general it’s fun. There’s a trampoline in the family room, there’s a swing in the basement, there’s rings, there’s computers all over the place, there’s music. You know, whatever you want to do is pretty much available at any time.
PAM: And, you see, by taking that time—especially through your deschooling time—to dive in and really watch what’s going on and watch your kids. You realize that, oh, if my goal was control and school, and for them to learn, if my ultimate goal was for them to learn, look at they’re doing so much more learning, so much more fascinating learning, and they’re happier and the whole place is happier. Our lives are happier. And I’m ultimately getting what I originally thought my goal was in the first place, you know what I mean?
TERI: Oh yeah. And it’s not hard. Nothing is hard.
TERI: You know, there’s no friction. I mean yeah, there’s some days you wake up and you’re just like, “Ugh,” you know? But honestly there just isn’t friction. And I don’t create friction on purpose. (laughs)
TERI: There’s very few swords on which I will fall. It just runs counter to joy, and it’s not worth it. And as I said, just from like a relationship standpoint between my husband and I, I mean we might say something to each other in a nagging way, and then in like three minutes we’re laughing at each other because we’re like, “Yeah that was kind of funny.”
You just get to a point where it’s just—it’s outside of your normal being. And for folks who believe in the power of universal energy, when you live joyfully, pretty much anything you want in your life you can manifest in, right? So, if you understand Law of Attraction and how to get things and how to get your life into a situation where good things happen a lot, joy is the first step of that. It’s really living where you believe everything is possible. And I love that my kids are seeing this, right? You know, how powerful will that be as they grow up.
PAM: Yeah, no, exactly. That’s awesome. Next question:
One of the big a-ha moments for me when I was examining my attitude toward technology was the realization that my children learn so much more about weaving technology into their lives through actual experience. You know, like we were talking about, instead of the framework of trying to impose it, by letting them experience it and follow it to their own needs. They learned so much more that way. And it’s the same way they’ve learned so many other things through unschooling, through all the other more academic stuff that originally was quite easy to understand, of course they’d learn more if they were interested in what they were engaged in.
So, what are some of the things that you’ve seen your children learn about life with digital tech?
TERI: Yeah, so, we have many.
You know I think for us, and I speak on deschooling, so I kind of come up with the social messages that we often hear—societal messages that we often hear, and one of the ones that commonly comes up, and you see it a lot, is “grit and mettle.” You know, like, how will a kid develop grit and mettle and stick-to-it-iveness, if they aren’t forced to kind of stay in something. And I have to say, I love what gaming has brought to our family—the recognition that kids stick in to things that are important, and they walk away from things that aren’t. And often times the things they walk away from, is not a permanent walk away, it’s just walking away for a period of time until they’re better prepared to step back in.
So what I’ve seen is my kids will start a game and be like, “Eh, I’m just not capable of doing what I want to do in it so I’m going to set it aside for a while.” And then three or four months later they’ll come back and they’ll have finished the story line of the whole thing within 24 hours. So that’s kind of the stepping back in.
But what I’ve also seen is that they have amazing grit to stick in, and, like, prime example—at around the holidays my son had gotten Pokémon Ruby, I think, and it was on the DS. And he wanted to finish the game, and there’s a Pokémon, a Legendary, that you can get at the end. You beat it, and then I think you get it as part of your benefit. And he played the game no less than five times all the way through, because he recognized as he got to the final battle that he needed to have certain capabilities in his Pokémon that were not going to allow him to win, or get that Legendary. And so, he would play through, and it took about 27 hours, I think, for him to play through, from beginning to end. And he did it five times. (laughs)
I mean, I’m in awe because I would have been like, “Oh my gosh, I would never do that.” Right? And he stuck in it. And I have to say—so if anybody knows about Pokemon on the DS, the big feedback that they’ve gotten is that their cut scenes are too long and you can’t skip them. (laughs) You know, the dialogue parts? So, he was complaining the whole time he was in the fourth and fifth round of—like these cut scenes are brutal—but he had to stick in it because he was trying to get through. And he did finally get through and he got the Legendary that he was shooting for. But that’s, you know, you think about the amount of hours that he had to sit there and play that—to me, that’s grit. That is recognizing that it was important enough.
I think the challenge with the conventional world and grit and mettle is that we want kids to do stuff that’s no fun, and then we wonder why they want to quit, and we don’t want to let them. Well, it’s because they’re not bought in. So, if you give a kid something, an interest they really want to focus on, they will focus on it, they’ll hold on to it very tightly. And so that was a real a-ha moment for me in all of this, because you don’t always know whether, when you’re starting out in this life, you know, “Gee, am I doing the right thing?” You kind of always take litmus tests here and there just to check in. You know, are these kids going to be well-suited to live in the conventional world some day? And that one was a real big a-ha for me.
You know, the quitting and re-engaging was really important. We’ve always allowed our kids to quit, even if there’s money on the line, because I want that—I always say that I never impose something on my kids that I wouldn’t allow myself to do, or that I allow myself to do. I want to be able to quit something if it wasn’t quite what I was anticipating or hoping for. So, I would let my kids do that too.
But some other side effect learning that we’ve had is just navigating social interactions. So, we do a lot of Skyping with our gaming. All of my kids’ closest friends, except for one—my daughter’s friends—are all Skype and gaming friends. And these are solid, strong relationships. We’ve gotten to know some of these kids IRL—in real life. And one of our close Skype friends comes and visits periodically from Connecticut.
But I’ve listened to them when they’re dealing with the social interactions, and they’re just the same as if these kids were playing on the playground. They have a kid who’s being a little bit nudge-y, and no one likes it, and they put up with it for a little while, and then they figure out ways that they can tell that kid, “Hey, if you keep acting nudge-y we aren’t going to play with you anymore.” This is perfect social learning that’s happening. I see that they kind of self-select amongst, you know, who are the kids that are more like me to play with.
And they manage conflict really well. Like, I am just impressed, even to the point where one of my sons was online with this kid playing GTA, and the kid was like, “Hey there’s this player online. I want to go give her a hard time and harass her and blah blah blah.” And my son just said to him, he goes, “Well, why do you want to do that?” And he was just like, “Ah, because it’ll be fun, you know, let’s make fun of her and just mess with her.” And Cole said, “Well, you know, that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun to me. So just call me back when you’re ready to play again.” (laughs) It didn’t even stress him out.
He was just like, yeah that doesn’t sound like fun—going to bully a girl just because she’s online—I have no interest in doing that. And he was just like, yeah, it doesn’t sound like fun to me. It didn’t make him upset in any way. He was just like, “Yeah, I’m not doing that.” So, in my mind, I can’t ask for better, in terms of social learning for my kids. To be able to know themselves so well that they recognize when something doesn’t fit with their own moral temperature.
PAM: We found that too. It was so interesting to me, because Lissy would be out with her local friends, with Girl Guides and Pathfinders, all those kinds of situations, and she would talk to me about the issues and we’d go through some of the situations. And then Joseph would be gaming online and at other times I’d be talking to him. And it’s the same thing. They’re all learning to navigate the same kind of situations—one was online and one was face-to-face, but it was still the same things. It wasn’t that social outcast in the basement gaming. It was all the same. (laughs) Just a different environment.
TERI: Right. Well, and I think we’ve also learned about the dark side of the internet. I think people are fearful of some of the bad things that can happen. You know, I will say, straight up, we really have had no problems with predators in any way. So, I think that’s important to say. I mean, my kids have been online non-stop for four years, and there’s none of that.
There certainly is some inappropriate behavior, where in some of the role-playing games there are kids who are like, “Hey, wanna date?” and saying things that they probably shouldn’t, and stuff. They certainly have run across scammers, and nothing better about learning a lesson than to have something happen to you when the stakes are very low. So, you lose some Robux or something. You know, it’s not the end of the world. That’s something that can be easily rectified. But it’s a really good lesson to learn early, and the younger the better.
Hacking—my kids have never been hacked but they’ve had friend who’ve been hacked. Where, they always have these, like, “Hey, send us your login and we’ll send you 1,000 in-game dollars” or something. And that’s just a way to get your account. So, my kids know—like, they’re smarter than I am on some of these things. They’ve delved into, like, the kids online are really good—you know, they call things racist and sexist. And sometimes it’s a little too often. You know, like, “Oh, I don’t know, if you say the word ‘leprechaun’ on St. Patty’s Day, I’m not sure that’s considered racist.” You know, they’re hyper-aware of some of these things, so we get to chat about okay, well, what is racist, and where are the lines drawn, because some of this is gray area.
PAM: So many conversations, right? I mean, all of that.
And, I think that’s another piece I don’t think quite comes up often, but these are the tools of our culture now, right? And for them to be very familiar with, and to understand the ins and outs, while we’re there to help them figure it all out, is amazing. Rather than being controlled and, out of fear, not being able to engage enough to discover all these aspects of the environment, and then being caught by surprise when they’re older and on their own and, like you said, when these things probably have a much greater impact in their lives and in their days. I think that’s so important.
TERI: And I think about it because, it’s very likely at some point my kids will be like, “Hey I want to put my computer in my room.” (laughs) We don’t have that right now, although they may not, you know, who knows.
I love the fact that I really know their whole online persona and how they interact online because I don’t have any fears about them online. Like, they’re cautious and aware, and I’m always impressed by the choices and decisions they make when hard things come up. And I think that’s part of being a parent who’s around. And you can’t help but trust your kids because you spent so many years of watching them make decisions. Sometimes they’re good decisions, sometimes they’re decisions that may not have gone their way, but you see how they come to those decisions, and so you can’t help but trust them, because you’ve witnessed the good head on their shoulders. And you’ve been there to kind of guide here and there when things are less sure.
But the last a-ha moment I’d written down here is just that my kids can make mistakes and re-try. And in our culture, that’s not common. My kids make mistakes all day long. They spent sixty bucks on a game that they don’t particularly like. Well that’s an expensive mistake, right, for someone whose allowance doesn’t really allow them to accrue that money pretty quick. So, you know, they made those mistakes.
PAM: I think that’s such a huge one.
TERI: Or they had a scammer.
PAM: Yeah, because it’s all learning, and because they haven’t been shamed so much. Mistakes aren’t big red X’s that you’re scared to make. They’re like, “Oh, gee, that didn’t go the way I expected.” And sometimes there’s real disappointment mixed up in there too, but you can see them incorporating all that the next time they make a decision, the next time they make a choice. So, you can just see them learning, adapting, and making another decision, and making another decision, and that trust just grows so much, just from seeing them in action.
TERI: Well, right. And gaming is the land of mistakes and re-tries. Every single game, whether you’re in a battle, you die, you regen. (laughs)
PAM: Exactly, right?
TERI: It’s inherent in the system. Mistakes are part of how you progress. So, my kids do not fear mistakes at all. And we kind of always said, “How do you get good at something? It’s through practice.” You’re never good at something right out the gate. I mean, it just doesn’t happen.
PAM: Yeah, and that’s one of the many things they learn, that whole gaming environment is built on that—is built on figuring things out, making mistakes, “Oh, I learned that bit, I learned that bit, moving on.” (laughs)
TERI: Yeah, iterative. Everything is iterative, right? I mean –
PAM: Iterative. That’s a great word.
TERI: If we think of the way that we have lived as adults, everything in our adulthood is iterative. We learn to be parents in an iterative fashion. (laughs) I mean, we didn’t come out knowing how to parent teens. I mean, you didn’t know how to parent adults, right? It’s an iterative process.
PAM: Yeah, no, that’s awesome. (laughs) Okay, last question.
As always with unschooling, it’s important to be engaged with our children, whatever their interest or passion. And one of the concerns I hear regularly is that parents feel disconnected from their children because they are engaged in their interests through technology. “He’s always watching TV” or “he’s always gaming.” I wanted to talk about some of the ways that we can engage with our children even when they’re using digital tools.
TERI: Well, and I think we alluded to this in the last part, but I think the younger you start with your kids on the computer or on video games, it’s almost better, because it’s an evolution. You understand how they play really well, and so as they get older and some of the harder questions come up, or the harder social stuff might come up, or the stakes seem to be higher in some way, they have a lot of foundational knowledge that really just sets them up to be pretty well capable of making decisions or sitting inside of that.
So, my office was always next to where my kids’ computers are. That’s been for four years. I may be doing my own thing, and they may be doing their own thing, but I always have my ear to what’s happening. Early on they didn’t have headphones so I kind of just heard everybody’s conversations and stuff. And so, I could kind of get a feel for how they were handling stress. I could hear if something was getting stressful and I could just walk over and say, “Hey, do you want some food,” or, “Hey is there anything I could do to help?” And sometimes a kid could be mean—
PAM: Exactly. “Can I look up that walk through?” (laughs)
TERI: Right, exactly. “Can I look up a cheat for you?” Because they’re getting frustrated. “Hey, you want me to help?” And so, I always just kind of knew that. And I never had judgment about what they were doing, so they had no problem telling me anything that’s going on.
I mean, to the point now where we play Cards Against Humanity together. And my kids are still relatively young. But, like, nothing is off the table in terms of what comes up. And we’ve had quite a few laughs playing that game, because of funny things that have come up. But I think my kids just don’t feel that there’s any taboo subject here. And I’m pretty excited about that, because I didn’t grow up with that. I wouldn’t say there were taboo subjects, but as a kid I would never have discussed many things with my parents. It just wouldn’t have come up. And so, I can do that.
But when things do get stressful, you bring food, or you try and figure out a way to help. If certain friendships are changing or shifting, I try to use unschooling gamers to try and find new folks to maybe connect with. And at this point, my son Cole meets most of his friends via internet, Xbox, online. So, it’s not even like people that we happen to know who unschool anymore. These are just straight kids out in the world.
And I’m really impressed with his willingness to cut bait on the ones that aren’t good gaming partners, and to embrace the ones who are. And I listen in on those conversations, just so I can make sure that it’s not anything weird going on. And he’s got a great sense about people, just because he’s done it for a long time. And he’ll pull himself out of something that doesn’t feel right. So, I’m pretty psyched about that.
But I think other parents—just knowing the lingo, know who the cool YouTubers are, laugh when you hear them saying their funny stuff, watch with them.
PAM: Yeah, it really is—like we were saying before—it’s about digging in and actually engaging with them, right? It’s getting past that whole “technology,” “screen,” “I’m going to leave them to…” You know, even with the greatest intention you say, “Okay, I understand, it’s really important, I’m going to leave them to it.” That’s going to lead you to those disconnected feelings because, like you said, they know our energy. Okay, yeah, we’re accepting enough to let them do it, but we’re not excited about it and engaged with them, so they’re not going to come and share x, y, and z—also out of consideration for you, because they figure you’re not interested in x, y and z details about it.
So, it really is about showing that interest and that openness and that willingness to engage with them on the topics that they’re interested in, whether it’s the TV shows itself, what it is that makes them laugh, the YouTubers that they like to follow.
Michael sent me a YouTube link a couple of months ago and said, “I think you might like this.” So I actually watched a couple of them, so that next time I saw him I could say, “Hey, yeah, I watched that, I loved this.” We had a conversation. And that led me to seeing what it was that he enjoyed about it. Just more information that we both—and I shared what I liked—and now we knew each other a little bit better in that aspect.
TERI: But isn’t that just being a good, like that’s just good social work, right? It’s what we have to do with our spouses.
PAM: It’s that shift.
TERI: Yup. You have to show interest. You know, I chuckle because my husband is a software engineer. He works on compilers. I mean, compilers are really esoteric. Like, you can’t really get your head around what a compiler really does. It’s way low in the stack. And Ed will often talk to me about what he’s doing, and I really try to understand. And I do, from a top-level, macro level, understand what he’s talking about. But it’s something that’s really important to him. It’s really important to me to make sure that I understand enough to be able to have a conversation with him and not just stand there with my eyes rolling back in my head. And so, I do that for him. And as he’s gotten more and more deep on his technology, it’s harder and harder for me to jam with him on that stuff.
But I view that with my kids, that’s the same job. And it’s about connecting, because when you have a connection with someone, when you have that deep connection with people, that’s the essence of human existence. And you don’t get it with everyone you walk across. You might say you have hundreds of friends, but there’s only going to be a handful that you can really connect with in that way. And I love that I have four people in this house that I have those relationships with. Because there’s a flow in just the relationship that’s quite fun to experience.
PAM: Yeah, I think—we say all the time—but this is the essence, is that shift away from that parent-child relationship. Even if you don’t think there’s power involved, if you’re still up there looking down, that adds a layer that gets in the way in your relationship. It’s about being with them, just as people, just respecting them as a human being, as a person, and wanting to know what they’re interested in.
TERI: Right, and you just reminded me—even if you have a lens of “What is the educational value? What are they learning?” That is a layer that goes in front of that relationship. And it doesn’t need to be there, because your kids will reveal to you all that they’re learning when they are in the flow of the relationship. Because they’re excited, and they’re happy, and you’ll be introduced to all of their wonder just by being open.
PAM: Yup. I got goosebumps, because that’s exactly it. It’s getting to a place where they know you’re open and interested in whatever it is that they’re excited about. If they know you’re there and will celebrate that excitement with them, they want to share.
Just like when we get excited about something we want to share. We want to share with somebody who’d be interested in it too, because it’s exciting and interesting to us. And I love that point about being in the house with people, with your family that you’re that connected with. I would say, and I still say, I don’t need more relationships. I’ve got four other people here that I’m so deeply and wonderfully connected with. That fills me up. I don’t need to go searching for that elsewhere. (laughs)
TERI: Right. And that really comes with agency. It’s when you have respect for all, and they respect you, and everybody kind of owns controlling themselves, and there is no hierarchical authority. It’s when everybody’s on equal footing, as odd as that may sound to some people who are not quite as far along. It really is, it is that.
PAM: It really is that. And then, people think, “Oh, do I have to act like a kid?” No, that’s not the point at all. You’re still your person, you still have your life experiences and everything to bring to the table, because that’s who you are. It’s everybody being uniquely themselves and connecting with each other.
PAM: Well, okay. I gotta say, we went really long but it was so worth it, and I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Teri. It was a lot of fun.
TERI: It was a lot of fun! Thank you so much for having me.
PAM: And before we go, where’s the best place for people to connect with you online?
TERI: Let’s see—so I have a blog that I have been sorely remiss in keeping up to date, of late. Mainly because I focus on exercising too much these days. But I will get back. It is www.urbanunschooler.com. And you can go, there are writings there where I kind of talk about some of these ideas and deschooling.
And then I can be found on Facebook. I’m not sure if people can search me there, but through many of the different unschooling pages, forums, on Facebook, they can find me. And then I have an email address which is teridemarco67 at gmail.com, and that will come directly to me as well.
PAM: Awesome. Thank you so much for your time, Teri! Have a great day.
TERI: Thanks a lot, Pam. Take care.