tv time

The house is so peaceful when I ban the tv, but the minute it comes back on the kids are screaming and fighting and hitting again. Should I just get rid of the tv?

One of the things to keep in mind is that most of us don't come into unschooling with very good skills or etiquette around video media because we don't have the experience. We, the adults, have a learning curve - and that's part of why we end up blaming crankiness on tv and video games, because we don't even realize there are skills to learn.

Take the idea of "tv" out of the picture and substitute some other activity or story or toy and what do you see? What are the Specific issues? And how would you solve those if the kids were doing something you considered valuable or beneficial?

If the kids are fighting, are they disagreeing about what to watch? What would you do if they each wanted to work on a different project on the same table and there wasn't enough space? You wouldn't just take away all their materials, right? You'd look for ways to give them more space - move one to a different table, or onto the floor, or help them organize the space better so they weren't running into each other. Maybe you'd stand and hold things for them, or carry items back and forth to shelves so they could keep working in the limited area. You'd problem solve and figure it out.

You can do that with video media too - set kids up to watch or play in different rooms, or in the same room but using headphones, or in the same room but with the screens (and speakers) angled so they don't interfere with each other. I have a very small house, and we've rearranged the furniture a few times so that people could ignore each other - or so a kid could play a video game, or build, or draw while also watching a movie on another screen.

If they're quarrelling for other reasons, what are those reasons? Does someone need more attention? Do they need an adult on hand to help them communicate and work things out? Maybe you fell into the kind of behavior patterns you learned from your own parents and left the room the moment the tv was on - used the tv as a babysitter. TVs aren't very good childcare providers ;) You know that, so don't set everyone up to fail. Treat it like a set of art supplies - you wouldn't leave a pair of toddlers alone with scissors and glue, right? You'd be there to help.

Maybe the tv isn't in a great location - sometimes when adults are anti-tv they try to make it unappealing by putting it someplace awkward, or setting kids up so they have to choose between watching tv and doing other things. Those sorts of things can create stress that gets expressed in conflict, so it's a good idea to make video media more convenient to the rest of life. Make it easy for kids to eat, play, dance, build, and create with a video playing in the background. Don't set them up to have to be frustrated or to have unmet needs in order to feed their minds.

I definitely want to affirm that sometimes videos for kids can push a lot of buttons for us adults. Some of that comes from thinking about content in terms of lessons rather than experiences - we worry about what various shows are "teaching". But as unschoolers we know that teaching isn't learning - so it can help to touch base with that understanding. Kids aren't simple sponges, soaking up knowledge, they're people interacting with the world. They're active participants in their own lives, their own learning - and a huge part of that is about how they interact with the people close to them. What We do is much more important than anything they see or hear. If we turn our backs on them in disgust when they're doing something they enjoy, they learn some pretty ugly things about human relationships  

Something that can really help is to step back from the idea of "your child" when they're watching something they like and instead think about how you'd watch the same thing with a good friend who wanted to share their joy with you. You might not enjoy the same thing, but you also wouldn't be looking at the program like it's a kind of lesson you need to monitor and correct. That shift in focus can actually change how you see the show! And it can be a kind of "aha!" moment in terms of how you see your interactions with your kids. Shifting your own mindset can change a Lot of things.

It can even change the way we respond to the voices and music we hear on kids' shows. A lot of those voices are pitched high and... "perky" in one way or another, and that can be grating to a lot of adults. It can be helpful to recognize that the reasons those voices are grating isn't just about our different adult auditory apparatus (which is actually less sensitive than a child's), but about the baggage we've picked up along the way, the things we relate to those tones. They're a lot like the tones adults use to coerce kids, or salespeople use to manipulate customers... but they're also the tones friends use when they're sincerely excited about things and want to share them with us. It's not really the tone making us flinch, but the old feeling of "I don't want to and you can't make me." Knowing that, it's possible to step past that visceral flinching and see what's fun and interesting from our kids' point of view.

chores and "bad kids"

Something I really want to affirm and... and celebrate! is that not all of us have kids who live up to the standardized expectations for "helping out". Some of us have kids for whom "we, as a family" and "let's all pitch in and work together" are the wrong messages - they don't fit their needs and personalities. They might have been keen to explore some housekeepery skills when they were toddlers, but by age six they have better things to do with their time and energy and attention. And reading lots of descriptions of other people's children happily helping out around the house and farm with nothing but a little cheerful modeling to prompt them feels like a kind of criticism - we're obviously doing something wrong... only we're not. The reason our kids aren't like that, is that they Aren't Like That. They're themselves, and who they are is just as precious and wonderful and valid - and just as caring and generous.

So this is for the other parents of those kids. If, in your family, everyone's happy and everyone works for everyone else, great - move along. This isn't about you.

Our kids? Given the chance to be who they are, on their own terms, they frickin rock - but you might have to learn to see that, because the usual standardized expectations for "good helpers" don't necessarily apply to them. It's the old "grading fish on climbing trees" analogy all over again. In terms of "helping out" that often means letting go of ideas about what kids "should" be doing and instead seeing what our kids Are doing - where their attention is, what their needs are... and how they're already reaching out to us for connection with innate kindness and generosity.

Sometimes generosity can look like a kid making us a present or writing us a story instead of putting their dishes in the sink. They don't need to be scolded for that, or told that their creativity is less important than a lack of ants - but it could be useful to rethink the way dirty dishes are handled to make it easier on the kid. Maybe a bus tub. Maybe just sweeping through the room, sowing affection and picking up plates as you go. I think Mo was... 11 or 12 before they started putting dishes in the skink, but now, at 16, I can barely set a cup down, myself or it will end up bussed the next time they breeze through the room.

Sometimes "helping" can look like a kid focusing on things that.. maybe aren't so "important" on the mommy checklist, but appeal to them on some level. For younger kids, that might be something like washing windows - I had the cleanest windows for a few years... and the dirtiest child
Or it could be things like arranging all the cans in the pantry just so... and forgetting to put the milk away. Telling them what they've done wrong doesn't help them do better - it just pushes them away from wanting to do more. Being appreciative of what they do builds a sense of connection and mutual support - and eventually they grow into a broader perspective and notice that there are other ways to help, too.

Sometimes it can look like a kid minimizing their very real needs in the moment, and then melting down later!

And sometimes kids are just too busy with their own stuff - and that's okay! It doesn't make them bad people. It doesn't mean they'll "turn out" to be mean or entitled or whatever the latest criticism is. It turns out that giving people a chance to be who they are doesn't ruin them. It doesn't take years - or even days - to learn basic tasks. It doesn't take enforced requirements to develop a sense of responsibility.

Kids don't need to be taught good family citizenship any more than they need to be taught... how to read Kant! Not only does teaching not guarantee learning, they may not appreciate Kant, or agree with his perspectives - and That's Okay Too. Our kids aren't us, and may not Agree with our idea about what makes a perfect family. And promoting our family ideals can push some kids right out - many of us have the experience of having lived in a family and being the "bad kid" - the one who "ruins everything" because we don't like the same things, or share the same values, or otherwise fit into the family plan. Some of us have that one kid who doesn't fit in - and I want to reassure you that that it's Okay to give them the space to be who they are, to shift your expectations to give them that space Within the family.

A big part of the issue with "chores" is that thinking about them gets tangled up in ideas about morality and molding children to a pleasing shape. It doesn't seem that way for families where kids are already mostly the "right" shape, but for those of us with kids who aren't like that, it's good to know that you can ditch those ideas entirely. Yes, there are logistics and tasks, but once you take the standardized thinking about what kids "should" do or "should" learn, they're Just logistical puzzles. There are lots of ways to solve them without "chores". And it doesn't hurt kids one bit to explore those other options.