TV Choice

Joyce Fetteroll, responding on the Unschooling Discussion list, 2003
The green quotes are a now-anonymous doubter.

I must admit, I am floored that so many of you on the list seem to feel exactly the same way: that television is ok in any amount.

No, I don't feel that way.

I wouldn't say that books are ok in any amount because it isn't *what* a child is doing that's important, it's *why* the child is doing it. A child who reads all day long because he has many options and his parents appreciate the value in choosing what you want to do is in a good place. A child who reads all day because his mother picks at him constantly when he's in her presence isn't in a good place.

I feel that TV is a resource like any other and that given the freedom to do so kids will use it when they need it and not use it when they don't, just like any other resource.

I haven't watched television regularly for about 10 years. for me, it is a decision i made long before being a mother—it is not like I prevent Emily from watching, and then go and watch it myself when she's asleep.
Is a nonreading parent who forbids her child to read more noble than a reading parent who forbids her child to read?

Part of getting unschooling is seeing that the choices we make as being right for ourselves we shouldn't automatically impose on our children as being right for them.

Obviously we need to make some family decisions just because some members don't care much. We've chosen the Unitarian church as being a good fit for the family. *But* my daughter can, and usually does, opt not to go. If she felt the need to explore other religions—and we've read lots about them so she knows what they're about—then I'd find a way to accomodate her needs.

I get the feeling that many of you are saying that this is not okay, that it is impossible to unschool without using television.
I think TV is like the library and the internet. While its possible to unschool without them—some people live far from decent libraries and don't have internet access—I question why anyone would voluntarily choose to cut themselves off from a valuable resource.
Please keep in mind that I respect whatever decisions you make about your life, but I feel like you are criticizing me for wanting to do things differently, and not even inviting the potential that I might be doing something that works for me.
Why do you care what we think? That's an honest question.

*Lots* of people here have extremely strong opinions against vaccines. I've appreciated the information they've provided. If I had a second child, though I'd still vaccinate, I'd wait until she's older.

But I don't tell the people here that they're wrong for feeling so strongly against vaccines and for not approving of the choice I would make for my future kids. I"ve absorbed what they had to say and made the decision that makes me feel comfortable.

I appreciate the thought and research and observation that people put into the decisions outside the norm here. There are loads of places I can go to get people to agree with the standard mode of thought. Why would I want more of that? I'm not looking for approval of what I do. I'm looking for people who will stretch my thinking and help me grow.

Why do you feel the need for people here to approve of your choice of no TV?

I have come to realise that for me it is an issue of thinking that our culture has values that I don't want to promote to my child, and television is the grand mascot for those values.
Another sensible belief. But does it match reality? Do the people here have children with values that match TV more than match their families? My daughter sees other values on TV (and in books and in real life), but she can compare and contrast them to what is in her home and decide which feels better. So far her values are very similar to my husbands and mine.

I am living the values that are important to me. My daughter sees me living them, can ask questions why I've made the choices I do for myself, and that gives her information to decide what's right for her.

I think I am here to change my culture (or my experience of it) for the better—to build a community and a closeness with people that I never had when I was growing up.
Then you should provide access to that for your daughter. We parents will all naturally end up providing greater access to the things we enjoy sharing than the things we don't.

But the second part of that is being aware of what your daughter wants and needs. Does she enjoy the community and closeness. If she's choosing TV then there's a clue that she might have different interests than you do. (Or it might mean that she doesn't know how to time shift the program by recording it and feels that if she doesn't watch it right now, she won't be able to watch it later.)

If you're an extrovert then you need people. If your daughter is an introvert then she needs alone time. Neither is wrong. Unless the needs of one personality are being imposed on a totally different personality.

What does your daughter want? What does she enjoy? What do her actions and reactions tell you that she enjoys? Rather than blaming it on the seductive power of TV, trust that your daughter is telling you something by her choices.

I agree with John Taylor Gatto that tv is in the same league as mass schooling, that it is a brainwashing tool.
Then why aren't the children who have free access to TV brainwashed?

You could say they are and we're not just aware of it. I don't think anyone could read here for a few months and come to that conclusion. The people here are very aware and it comes across in their posts. If you haven't read here vere long, then it's a pretty negative assumption to make on not much data other than our defense of TV.

I have observed firsthand that my daughter ignores visitors when there is ANY video playing, and that deeply disturbs me. TV is the only thing that stops her from socializing.
Kids who are restricted will latch onto opportunities to absorb what interests them when they have the chance. Kids who aren't restricted, who do know they can do something later, don't. (At least the kids who are mature enough to be able to wait. But often I have a hard time putting aside something that truly interests me for something that's less interesting but polite.)
Admittedly [the internet] can be abused too, but I don't use it for "entertainment." I think television is very different from the internet.
Thoughts and opinions that don't match reality should be rethought.

People here are telling you want *really* happens in families who are connected to their kids.

I think human beings as a race have a reckless disregard for the natural balance of our ecosystem, and a brash consumerism and commercial culture that promotes buying instead of feeling. we are running away from something. (not saying you all are like this— actually I love the way you talk about the rhythm of your days, the freedom) ...everytime
And I think you're running away from exposing your daughter to different opinions so she can decide for herself.

Lots of people who radically promote one view and impose that view on their kids find that their kids reject their values because they've never had the freedom to decide what's right for themselves.

I turn on the TV I see this promoted. I see disattachment, punishment, abuse, and gratuitous violence.
And why would your daughter find these more attractive than what's in your home?
The images that television passively recorded for me, because my parents let me watch whatever I want, disturb me to this day: things like people getting shot, car chases, and buildings exploding.
Why did you watch them if they were disturbing? Why didn't you do something else?

My daughter switches channels when she doesn't want to watch something. Why didn't you?

I'm not saying that in an accusatory way, saying you were wrong. You made a choice to watch things that disturbed you. Why?

I appreciate less than 5% of what I see on TV, though, and that is not enough to make it worthwhile to have in my home.
I appreciate less than 5% of what I see on sports programs. Would that be a good reason to decide my husband shouldn't watch them? Or maybe, if I wanted to understand him better, I would ask him questions about what he loves about sports and try to understand his appreciation. Which I have done and do. I went to plenty of games as a kid and enjoyed them but can't appreciate the competition so they all seem the same to me. I don't like watching sports any better but I love the fact that he gets a great deal of enjoyment out of them.
I also don't feel it is necessary to introduce video and film as a medium to a young child, when they are in a learning phase which is primarily multi-sensorial in nature.
The best expert on your child is your child. If you trust experts to tell you that your daughter needs something other than what your daughter chooses to do—given that she has a sufficiently wide range of choices—then you're not going to be able to unschool successfully. You will constantly be at odds with what she wants and what the experts say she needs.
I will have no problems having tv in the house if my daughter insists on it when she is older.
Can a child freely choose something that she knows her parents disapprove of without feeling that her parents disapprove of her?
So the way i see it, there seem to be simple things I can do to make a difference and live closer to the life i want to live.
What if your daughter wanted a different life and decided you needed to live the way she wanted to? What if she wanted to stay up to 3 am because she felt night time hours were the most creative hours of the day? What if she made you stay up even though you found dawn hours to be more creative?

Why are the choices that are right for you also right for someone who is a totally different human being?

I try to focus instead on spending as much time as we can together—the only kind of passive activity I need on a regular basis is being in nature.
Then those are what you should choose for you. I'm sure you wouldn't want your husband or daughter to impose other values on you and make you adhere to their values.

If we live our values, it's likely our children will value them too. If we impose our values, it's likely our children will reject them.


More on the importance of choice TV parenting