By Leo Babauta
One question parents have when they consider or start unschooling, which lacks the structure of traditional school, is, "If I don't tell my kid what to do, won't they just choose to watch TV and play video games all day?"
And this is a legitimate concern.
The short answer is, "Yes, possibly, at first." But as always, the short answer doesn't give you the true picture.
The true answer would be:
- Yes, kids will watch TV and play video games sometimes, possibly a lot in the beginning.
- But kids get bored with that and might want to do other things.
- Also, video games and TV aren't necessarily bad. Nothing is bad unless we decide to put them in that category. Actually, there are lots of positives to be found in those activities, given the right context.
- Finally, consider yourself: why don't you play video games or watch TV all day? What you answer is interesting, and I'd like to get more into that.
So let's go into each of these a bit.
In the Beginning, Tons of Video Games
If you take a totally unstructured approach to unschooling, and let your kid to anything he wants, then yes, there will probably be lots of TV and video games. Why not? Those are totally fun activities.
So imagine this scenario: you tell your kid she can do whatever she wants. She's in charge. She decides, "Great, video game fest!" And she goes crazy with the video games. She plays all day, then the next, then the next. Weeks pass. After awhile, she's played every game she owns, and gets bored. She wants to do something else.
That's when she starts finding fun things to build, or maybe wants to go outside to play, or maybe listens to some of your suggestions for things to explore.
But this scenario doesn't take into account reality: you're there with her. You're doing other things, setting an example. Maybe some of the things you do will inspire her, or at least get her curious. Even if she plays video games all day, she is learning by watching you.
And you might suggest things, ask her to go places with you, ask for her help with something you're doing, expose her to things that might get her curiosity going. So you just being around changes the equation.
Video Games Aren't Bad
Parents tend to think of video games as a waste of time, perhaps even harmful. I've not seen evidence of this. The evidence I've seen (both personally and in the literature) show that there's no harm in games, and in fact there are some good things to be found.
What good things? Try problem solving. Persistence. Decision-making. Strategy. Imagination.
And that's for regular games. Minecraft is an example of a different type of game, where kids are creating and building things. It gets pretty amazing.
TV can also be good, though I'm not as big a fan. There's storytelling and humor and history, but there's also commercials and negative role models. So you need to provide context for them.
How Adults Get Motivated
Ask yourself why you don't play video games or watch TV all day. There are typically three responses:
- Because if I did, I wouldn't get paid. This is the same motivation of why kids learn at school. They have no other choice. So when they start being unschooled, and now have a choice, they go crazy with the freedom. But later you realize that if you have a choice, your life is now your responsibility. But anyway, being forced to learn is a bad way to learn about how to be motivated. You're not really learning motivation then, and then as an adult you don't have those skills.
- I do play video games and watch TV all the time. It's a problem. There are people who have this problem, and procrastinate. They haven't learned motivation skills. Kids will have the same problem. But as a parent, you can help them work through this problem, and show them what you do, and figure out solutions together. Then the kid won't have the problem as an adult.
- I have other things I really want to do. If you're inspired to create something, to build a business, to help people ... then you wake every day wanting to get to it. You see video games and TV as a waste of time. Or maybe as something to do once in awhile to relax, but not all day. This is the magic spot that kids can get to too, if you show them how. And in fact, even without your help, they'll probably figure this out after awhile.
So yes, kids will go crazy with their freedom. But once they've figured out something they really want to do more, things get really interesting.