Yesterday, I asked, in a YouTube video, for people to ask me questions about unschooling. And I got lots of interesting questions! I tried to do a video on this one, but I was having a lot of trouble getting my opinions on this subject across in that format. So, I decided to answer it in a blog post instead! The question is in italics, my answer in regular font.
Let's say children are like seeds. In order to grow into good people, they don't need to be *forced* to grow, because they do that naturally. But that said, a seed must be planted in fertile soil, in the right climate, and must be watered, etc. What if some kinds of media today threaten the minds of the young- for example, television which provides immediate satisfaction but gives no decent returns in the long run may be more compelling than a book.
Firstly, I think you’re making a huge jump in saying that television gives “no decent returns in the long run”, and automatically assuming that a book has more value than a TV show! I totally disagree with that! Also, what’s wrong with instant satisfaction? A life well lived is one made up of many happy moments: if watching TV gives you joy, I don’t really see how it’s in anyway unworthy of your time. I’m an avid reader, and have been for many years. Books have enriched my life in many ways! But, so has TV. When I was young, I watched tons of science shows and history shows. Tons of “educational” shows on a variety of topics. I also just watched some fictional shows. I was never a particularly big TV watcher, but it was never forbidden to me, and I enjoyed what I did watch. I also learned a ton!
My opinion is that if kids have less manufactured entertainment stimuli they are forced to use their imagination to invent their own games, stories, etc. But because of the exponential growth of media, it is getting harder and harder to give children a world which does not numb their minds and imagination.
Again, I totally disagree. Storytelling fuels imagination, and at their hearts, ALL types of fiction, be it novels, comic books, TV shows, movies, or oral storytelling, is just that: storytelling. You find similar elements in all of them, and stories, no matter the medium they’re told in, can bring great joy, fuel imagination, cause you to question deeply held beliefs, ask profound questions… Storytelling is an amazing art, and I find it rather sad when people start passing judgments on what types of storytelling are “good” or “bad”.
I also want to give some real life examples of this. Far from squelching my very creative sister’s imagination (she currently writes tons of fiction), my sister would play pretend all the time based on various favourite movie characters. She would also, as a young child, spend hours alone in her room just creating huge complex stories and worlds. Soon, that imagination was used to start writing fiction. She’s currently working on her first novel! And she even plays video games, supposedly the most mind numbing things out there, and has played them for years. ;-)
And yet- this brings up two competing ideas about freedom: should we free the child in the immediate moment, by imposing no limits on how they spend their time; or can we control their environment so that they are more likely to build their imaginations and judgements?
I’m sure you’ve gathered my opinion on this by now. I do recognize that some (okay, a lot) of stuff on TV has messages that really aren’t so great (as do tons of books out there, I might add). But I’m not advocating casting your kids loose and ignoring them while they do nothing but watch TV. When you have a good, attentive relationship with your kids, one where you discuss what they’re seeing, have good dialogue, you’re exposing them to the world around you, with all of it’s negative and positive “influences”, and doing so while remaining a loving, supportive, and knowledgeable companion. I don’t think that sheltering your kid does anything but make things more difficult for them later on.
I also think that any time you make something forbidden to your child, you’ve just made it the most interesting thing out there. Kids are curious, and if they’re denied access to something, chances are they’ll both really want to get access to it, and quite likely resort to lying and going behind their parents backs to do so. Really, I don’t blame them! I’ve come to this conclusion from my own experiences growing up, which were that the more controlled a child was, the more likely they where to frequently lie to their parents. It was the only way they could have freedom.
I also want to add that even now, I find TV very “educational”. I find advertising fascinating, I find the underlying assumptions and worldviews in mainstream shows fascinating, and watching TV sometimes helps me to remember how most of the world thinks (my sister regularly tells me I’ve forgotten what “normal” is)!
So that’s my answer to that question. I hope I’ve given some insight into it!