On depriving kids of screens

“Deprive” is such a loaded word.

It came up this week in an online thread about technology, a long and winding discussion in response to a mom expressing concern about allowing her child unlimited screen time.

Many unschoolers feel that limiting screen time does not mesh with unschooling philosophy, and said so. I shared my own story, about limiting screens via lifestyle choices my husband and I made.

We don’t have a television. We made the decision to get rid of it when my son was nearly ten and my younger daughters weren’t born yet. We did have computers but back then they weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now, and my daughters didn’t gravitate to them.

They spent most of their time with books, music, art supplies, dress up, and the great outdoors. We read to them often, cooked together, went to the park, walked in the woods, biked around town. We took them to plays, concerts, outdoor festivals. They tagged along to our adult activities such as community meetings, my husband’s band rehearsals, and even my job.

Yesterday, under my comment describing our choice to limit screens in our lives, someone used the word “deprive.” Technology is the tool of our kids’ generation, and she wouldn’t want to deprive her child of that tool.

Did I bristle? Yes, indeed. When we are told we are depriving our children, it touches something deep in the parental psyche. Fortunately, this time it was a brief twinge. My kids are grown, and I’m past the point of caring all that much.

Despite not having been brought up with television, smart phones, or regular computer use as young children, my kids are quite comfortable with technology. By the time they were teens they acquired their own computers and smart phones, and had little trouble figuring out how to get what they wanted from them, which included, in my son’s case, building websites for his various pursuits.

When my kids were younger, it wasn’t uncommon to deal with judgment about our choice not to have television. My mother used the word “deprive.” Some unschoolers did, too. As homeschoolers, we were used to being judged. We felt good about our choices, but in a culture that scrutinizes parents and holds them responsible for how their kids “turn out,” insecurity is difficult to escape.

Which is one reason “deprive” is such a loaded word. It reeks of judgment, and goes right to vulnerabilities many parents feel, particularly those who are making unconventional choices. Homeschoolers and unschoolers tend to have strong opinions. I don’t exclude myself from that characterization, but sometimes I think the vociferous way those opinions can be expressed is, ironically, part of the defense mechanism we develop against being judged ourselves. We are, after all, “depriving” our children of one of the cornerstones of our society–school.

The result can be that homeschoolers and unschoolers spend as much time judging each other as society spends judging their choices, and that’s too bad, because what we need from each other is support.

Support is what helps empower people to create the lives they want. For us, that life was one without a plethora of screens, but our kids got other things. It wasn’t a matter of depriving–rather, to us, it was about giving. I’m sure that’s also what it’s about for the mom who wants to provide her kids with technology, and that’s just fine with me.

Unschooling is about trusting our kids’ innate ability to learn, but as anyone who’s done it knows, it’s also about finding what works for your family. The more we can support each other in that process, the better.

 

 

Unschooling: All you need is love

This week I attended a screening of Clara Bellar’s film Being and Becoming.

The movie portrays the filmmaker’s process of learning about unschooling in order to determine whether to choose it for her own family. It’s a personal journey that takes us to the United States, France, England, and Germany. One of the movie’s strengths is that it sticks to unschooling, inviting viewers to stretch their viewpoints about children and learning and entertain the possibilities unlocked by an unschooling lifestyle. Rather than turning to experts or talking heads, Bellar wisely focuses on unschoolers themselves, letting their voices, images, and stories speak. The exception is a brief but welcome appearance by John Taylor Gatto, whose passion and life force are as inspiring as ever.

We see children learning through play, engaging with the world, enmeshed in the lives of their families and communities. Among the voices is an adult unschooler talking about his childhood, his experiences as an unschooler, and his views about being in the world, which include the necessity of meaningful work. Not surprisingly, he’s fashioned an unconventional work life that allows him to pursue professional instrument making along with his other interests.

It was fun to encounter the group of British theater kids, a parallel experience with my own unschooling community, which also has a thriving Shakespeare troupe. The footage from an annual gathering of unschoolers in Europe reminded me of the camaraderie, learning, and connection that happened during our annual camping trips.

Most especially, I appreciated the film’s focus on relationships and human connection. It’s radical, indeed, to propose that children’s most vital needs beyond a roof and food are security and love within their families, and that those basic ingredients are not merely enough, but can be keys to a life in which learning is inevitable, joyful, and unstoppable.

It can also be radical to see unschooling as a feminist act, but we hear from women in the film that feel it’s so, strong women who’ve made the choice to unschool because they’ve prioritized well-being and joy. They unashamedly embrace that being with their children is a fulfilling choice. It’s also meaningful work that can exist alongside other pursuits. As we see in the movie, the unschooling lifestyle is a holistic one–families consist of individuals that live and learn together but also support each other’s individual interests. Hence, unschooled children can observe firsthand the work of their parents, much the way Bellar’s small son must have observed his mother engaging in the work of making “Being and Becoming.”

Freedom is a big buzzword when people talk about unschooling. It’s certainly mentioned often in this film, but the freedom it talks about is really a byproduct of the love shining through the whole movie–an unconditional love that acknowledges and celebrates each person’s individuality and genius, and that allows for “Being and Becoming” to happen every moment, for all of us.