Category Archives: unschooling

Deschooling, And Being Okay With “Screen Time”

Photo credit: espensorvik

Photo credit: espensorvik

From an emailed question:

I am very new to unschooling- yesterday was my first day, and all the kids did is play our Wii. I have been homeschooling them their entire lives following a Charlotte MAson approach, and I found them fighting learning. But after living my whole life believing that too much screen time will rot your brain, this is a hard thing to accept. Could you help reassure me (and my husband) that things will be ok?

First, good for you for recognizing that something wasn’t working, and seeking out alternatives! That is a huge step that many don’t take, due to fear or uncertainty.

Second, I cannot stress enough how normal it is for a child (or for anyone) to temporarily binge on something that’s been previously limited.  If the Wii was something that they were only able to play at certain times or on certain days, it would be much more strange if they didn’t rush to play it as much as they could once that restriction was lifted!  Wiis are fun.  One thing that I see happen a lot is that parents will begin unschooling, panic about their kids’ electronic use, and then reinstate old rules and restrictions.  Then, when they try again, and their kids again spend huge amounts of time on said electronics, the parents throw up their hands and say, “See? This doesn’t work for us!  This happens every time!”  Well yes, of course it happens every time. When you limit or take away something – anything, whether it’s book or a skateboard or a video game – it becomes more desirable.  If a child has to worry about the next time that you’re going to take it away, of course they’re going to use it as much as they possibly can in the meantime. It’s human nature.

What’s happening right now – for you and your children both – is “deschooling.”  Stated simply, deschooling just means the period of adjustment needed to rid yourself of schoolish thoughts, of the misconception that learning is something that only happens at certain times in certain ways, of the belief that some things (ie:  books) hold more educational value than other things (ie: video games).  It’s a time to break out of old patterns, and to learn to trust yourself, trust your kids, and trust the process.   It’s a time to relax, and play, and read, and practice just being with your kids.  It’s a chance for your kids to learn that they can play the Wii if they want… or play outside or watch TV or read or draw or build something or bake… and that it’s all equally available.  The longer you and your children were involved in school, or traditional school-at-home, the longer the deschooling process will take.  Sandra Dodd has a large collection of deschooling links that will help.

As for the screen time:  “Screen time”, as overwhelmingly often as it is used, is a really odd and unhelpful term when you think about it.  It takes dozens… hundreds, an infinite amount… of different activities, and deduces them into one, often maligned and misunderstood, thing. Sure, screen time can mean video games.  It can mean entertainment.  It can mean work. It can mean play. It can mean communication. It can mean writing, creating, reading, researching.  None is better or worse than the other, and all have their own intrinsic value.  I’ve been out of bed for about two hours.  I watched a TV show on Netflix while I answered some emails.  I texted a friend.  I did some editing on my website.  I uploaded a picture.  I checked something on my bank account.  I read a chapter of a book on my Kindle.  I did a little writing (I’m still doing a little writing :)) I researched something I was talking about with one of my boys.  All “screen time.” My husband, who works as a budget and payroll director, is on his computer pretty much the entire time he’s at work.  9+ hours of screen time a day.

When it comes specifically to the Wii, or to video games in general, a lot of people would advise that you let them play as much as they want, and that they’ll eventually self-regulate.  There was a time I would have said the same thing.  But while I certainly agree with the first part (Yes! Absolutely, let them play as much as they want, especially right now while they’re deschooling) I’ve come to realize that when parents say, “self-regulate”, what they really mean is that they’re waiting for their children to play at a level that they, as the parents, are comfortable with. But it doesn’t work that way.  Or at least it shouldn’t.  Everybody is different, and every season is different, even for the same person.  Kids have different interests, different passions, different ways of learning, different ways of interacting with the world around them. Different from you, and different from each other.  They may go through seasons where they play a LOT of Wii, or watch a lot of TV, or read a lot of books, or play a lot of sports.   If unschooling, and unschooling well, is the ultimate goal, then the parent’s job is to support the children in all their pursuits… to help them, to encourage them, to ride the ebbs and flows of their interests with them… whether they’re interested in chemistry or makeup or history or art or beating the next level of their favorite video game.  When you stop looking at life through a schoolish lens, you see that there is no separation between “educational” and “non-educational” pursuits.  No distinguishing between learning and living.  It’s all life.  It’s all intertwined.  It’s all learning.

And finally, a little bit of testimony about what “screen time” looks like in an unschooling house, in a house that treats it the same as any other activity, with no more or no less value:

At the time of this writing, my kids are (soon to be) 8, 11, 15, and (soon to be) 19.   My 8 year old, and only girl, is the most extroverted of my kids by far, so the internet – and Skype in particular – has been a wonderfully helpful way for her to keep up with friends and family in between visits.  She recently got her own email account (www.tocomail.com – a great starter email for kids!) and she likes to email as well.  She has her own Kindle, and she loves taking pictures of herself and her family and her pets, and making little videos.  She goes in phases with video games.  Right now, she’s really enjoying an online game called Star Stable, that she plays with her cousin, and at various times with myself, my parents, and her aunt and uncle. Super fun.  She can take or leave movies most of the time, but she does like TV.  Some past favorites have been Good Luck Charlie, iCarly, and My Little Pony.  She’s also super physically active.  She loves dancing, jumping on the trampoline, and playing with the pets.  She just recently started rehearsing for a local homeschool theater company’s spring production.

My 11 year old loves cooperative games online, and he also enjoys keeping up with his long distance friends through messengers.  He likes YouTube, and has some favorites he watches regular.  He watches some TV and movies on Netflix, but the amount ebbs and flows.  He plays the bass guitar almost every day.  He also loves sports, spent several years doing karate, and is enjoying his second season of flag football.  He’s a huge animal lover, and talks about maybe being a vet one day.

My 15 year old researched and saved up for a year to build his own dream gaming computer. He spends a lot of his time playing computer games (mostly bought through Steam), and Skyping with his friends.  He watches TV the same way I do:  when he finds a show he likes, he binge-watches in little marathon sessions until he’s watched the whole series.  He’s recently taken an interest in movies as well, and is currently working his way through a list of “must-sees”. He’s also a musician, and spends several hours every day practicing his guitar, writing music, and conferring with his band mates.  His band, The Cringes, recently had its first paying gig, has begun recording, and plans to have music available for purchase by the end of the year.

And finally my 19 year old.  He has one of the most impressive gaming computer setups I’ve ever seen.

He bought all of this with his own money.

He bought all of this with his own money.

He loves the truck simulator games.   He also runs a Minecraft server, is active on Facebook, and regularly chats with friends on Skype.  He’s not much of a movie guy, but he loves watching TV shows on Netflix, particularly medical shows and real life crime series.  He’s taken some courses online, most recently a small engine repair certification course. He has always loved engines – and fixing anything and everything – and working outdoors. He’s thought about a career in both.  In his spare time, he’s teaching himself how to play the drums.  Right now, he’s applying to jobs (everywhere from grocery stores to movie theaters) while he decides what he wants to do next.

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What I ultimately want for my children – and for myself, too – is that when it comes to technology, they’re able to enjoy it for everything it has to offer; to use it confidently without guilt or shame in whatever way or amount makes sense for them at that time in their lives; and that they recognize it for what it is:  just another tool for learning, for communication, for entertainment, in a vast arsenal of possibilities.

And truly letting go and trusting unschooling – trusting that YES, it is okay when they play Wii all day, or all week, or for a month until they solve that game – has allowed them to do exactly that.

 

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Free to Be 2015

Last year, I devoted four long, detailed posts to the conference… how it went, how I felt about it, what it meant to me.

I’m in a different place this year, with different things going on, and different things currently taking my attention.  So, no four part posts, but if you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the video slideshow I put together.

I’m proud of what we created (twice!) and I’m looking forward to next year.  This conference represents a lot of blood, sweat, and tears not just for me, but for our entire family.  A huge thank you, again, to everyone who attended and made it possible.


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Before She’s Famous

Tegan, age seven at the time of this writing, wants to be famous when she grows up.  It’s not even that she wants to now that I’m thinking about it.  It’s that she believes, with every fiber of her being, that she will be famous.   Sometimes it’s for singing, sometimes for acting….. and sometimes she doesn’t even know what it’ll be for.  But she knows, and she talks about it often.

So it didn’t surprise me when she suddenly announced, “I want to be interviewed!” yesterday. She wanted me to interview her (about unschooling, about her life, about whatever I could think to ask her), and she wanted it to be shared.

I say this with all the bias that a mom could possibly have, but she is a JOY to know, and a joy to parent.  And if you watch her interview, you too can say you “knew her when.”  :)

Tegan, before she’s famous:


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Unschooling Q & A

I’m back with another video today, answering the question, “What has been the most unexpected joy of unschooling? The most unexpected challenge?”

 


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Q & A Video: How Do Unschoolers Get Into College?

A new video for you guys, answering a very common question.

For more of what I talked about at the end, read this post.

Also, my nails are really bright. My daughter picked the color :)


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How I Learned to Read: Four Unschooled Kids, Four Stories

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Photo credit: Ben O’Bryan

One of the first concerns of those new to the idea of unschooling is one of a basic skill: Reading. How they will learn to read without lessons?  Without phonics?  Without spelling tests and quizzes?  How will they learn to read if you don’t teach them?  

Well, some of the beauty of unschooling is that the journey of learning to read (and virtually every other skill) is going to be an individual one for each and every child, although the principles remain the same for each.

For my four kids, this is how they learned… with no stress, no pressure, in their own time, in their own way:

Spencer – who’s 18 at the time of this writing, and currently mostly reads for information. Everything from engine repair to running a server on Minecraft to keeping up with the latest national news.

Spencer was our earliest reader, which was reassuring to these brand-new unschooling parents.  He was 4 or 5 when he really started reading, and his biggest impetus by far was good old Dr Seuss.  We’d started one of those book-of-the-month clubs when he was a baby, so he got a new Seuss book every month, and his little library grew quickly.  Every day from the time he was tiny, he’d a pick a book (or 2 or 7), and we’d snuggle up on the couch and read to him.  He loved to be read to, and oh how he adored Dr Seuss!  One of the great things about Seuss for emerging readers is that his books are filled with simple, fun words, and tons of repetition.  It wasn’t long before he was reading along with us.   After Seuss came one of my own personal favorites:  Beverly Cleary. Ramona, Beezus, and Henry Huggins were like treasured friends in our house, and their books were read often… both by us reading to Spencer, and him eventually reading all by himself.  He loved stories of all kinds when he was little, and would often write his own (usually based on his favorite TV show at the time, Dukes of Hazzard :))

On a more practical level, he learned to read because he wanted to.  Because he saw his dad and I reading. Because he saw words and letters on street signs and t-shirts and cereal boxes. He asked questions and we answered.   We played with those refrigerator letter magnets.   We wrote our names in chalk and with our fingers in the sand.   We played matching games and kids’ card games.   We looked at license plates and street signs when we traveled.

We provided lots of opportunities to explore words and letters, we read to him when he wanted, we helped when he needed it…. and he learned to read.

Paxton – who’s 14 at the time of this writing, and loves a good novel.  He’s currently in the middle of reading his first Stephen King book, Cujo

Paxton was around 6 when he started to read well, and he took a completely different path than Spencer.  He was – and if you know him, this will come with absolutely zero shock – our little computer boy.  We read to him of course, and did all the same sorts of things we did with Spencer, but the thing he loved most was that computer. He was able to use the mouse to navigate simple games by the time he was 18 months old, and it was one of his favorite things to do.  It only makes sense then, that most of his early reading experiences came from his computer games.   He loved the Reader Rabbit series, and eventually moved on to the Tycoon and Sims games.

One notable difference between Spencer and Paxton is that Spencer has always been a sharer, and Paxton tends to hold things closer to his chest.  So when he was an emerging reader, Spencer was comfortable asking lots of questions, reading aloud with no embarrassment at the normal mistakes, and just generally involved us in his learning process.   Paxton kept it all a bit more private.  So we weren’t always sure exactly where he was at in terms of reading.   He wanted to learn how to do it on his own, and didn’t feel much like sharing until he felt he had it just right.  And learn he did.   The first few times we heard him read out loud it was without a single missed word (while still being slow and careful).  The fun thing about that kind of learner is that even though they’re learning all along, it appears to happen overnight. Suddenly, one day, he was reading, and a whole new world had opened up.

We provided lots of opportunities to explore words and letters, we read to him when he wanted, we helped when he needed it…. and he learned to read.

Everett – who’s 10.5 at the time of this writing, and enjoys reading fun, adventurous, and light-hearted books. The last book I saw him read was called, “I Can Pee on This,” a hilarious (and frighteningly accurate) collection of letters written from the perspective of cats to their owners.

Everett was around nine when he started reading well (although, like Paxton, he didn’t really want to share until he was super confident in his abilities, so it’s likely that it happened before then)  One of the nice things about unschooling, and homeschooling in general, is that they are able to learn in their own time and keep their confidence intact.  There is no being told you’re “behind”, no special classes, no extra pushing.  Just time, and learning.  He was in cub scouts for several years – the only place where his lack of reading might have been an issue – and his den leader was wonderfully respectful, never putting him on the spot, or causing him embarrassment in any way.

I didn’t doubt for a second that Everett would learn to read when he was ready, and not a minute sooner.  He just focused on other skills first.  That kid was BUSY.  The most physically active of the three boys, he played baseball, played basketball, took gymnastics, started karate (he’s currently working on his purple belt), tried fencing, dabbled in some musical instruments, learned a whole bunch of magic tricks, and just generally enjoyed trying new, exciting things.

As he got older, I was super careful to make sure that our language stayed positive and accurate.  If he would say for instance, “I can’t read,” I would remind him that he could – because I could see that he was starting to read simple things – but that he was just still learning and getting better.

As far as learning style, he was squarely in the middle of Spencer and Paxton, in terms of being equally motivated by the computer and by words on paper.  He did love the computer.  He liked to be read to more than Paxton had, but less than Spencer.  He liked word games and letters and fun active things that engaged both mind and body.  I think the thing that ultimately gave him the biggest motivation when it came to reading was his desire to chat with his friends when he played cooperative games online.  That was when I really saw the switch flip, and – just like Paxton – he was suddenly reading well, seemingly overnight.

We provided lots of opportunities to explore words and letters, we read to him when he wanted, we helped when he needed it…. and he learned to read.

Tegan – who’s newly 7 at the time of this writing, and enjoys reading anything she can get her little hands on.

Watching Tegan learn to read was FUN.  Watching all the kids learn to read was fun, but there is just something so heightened and bittersweet about those milestones with the last child.

Like Spencer, she really enjoyed being read to from the time she was tiny.  Her favorites were those Usborne touchy-feely books, and other board books with bright colors and fun pictures, especially animals.  I remember she had one ABC book with animals in it that she especially loved, and she would squeal with excitement every time she got to the page with the lion on it. Another favorite area of early letter exploration was her dad’s t-shirts, especially the shirts with sports teams on them.  She loved to sit on his lap and point to the letters one by one as he named them.  I’m pretty sure she knew the letters in the word, “Cardinals” before her own name.  :)  She enjoyed letters in general from a young age, and loved looking for “T for Tegan” everywhere we went.

Her big explosion in reading and language started about six months ago, prompted largely by her desire to chat, Skype, and email with her friends online.  Tegan is all about the socialization. I set her up with her own email account on Tocomail – a great service if you’re looking for a starter email account for your young ones – and helped her with sending emails and pictures to her friends and family.  It opened up a whole new exciting world for her.  These days, she barely even asks for my help anymore.  Yesterday, my husband forwarded me this message she sent him, all on her own:

Hi Daddy im feeling bedder i had candy today how is it at work

Heart. Melted.  I’m not the slightest bit concerned about the lack of punctuation, or the misspelled word.  It’ll all come with time.  Just like her brothers, she’s reading and writing and so enjoying using words to communicate. It’s a beautiful and exciting thing.

We provided lots of opportunities to explore words and letters, we read to her when she wanted, we helped when she needed it…. and she learned to read.

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Four different kids, four different stories, but with one big similarity that is ultimately the one simple answer to the question, “But how will they learn to read?”:

When they’re immersed and involved and allowed to explore a world that’s rich with language and words and letters…… they just learn.


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Computers, Technology, and the Language of the Future

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I was at Target the other day (buying a new broom, because my current broom was about a jillion years old and produced far more frustration than it did actual cleaning) and I overheard a conversation between a Target associate and a rather befuddled-looking older gentleman in the electronics department.    In a discussion that was somehow both sweet and amusing, the kid working at Target was trying to explain the concept of digital user manuals to the skeptical customer, who wondered why the item he was purchasing didn’t come with a paper manual.

“More and more companies are doing away with the paper manuals completely.”

Skeptical look.

“You don’t need them.  You can download the entire manual online.”

Skeptical look.

“Or, if you have a specific question about the product, you can just Google:  “How do I……….. ”

Skeptical look.

I didn’t stick around long enough to hear whether or not he was ever convinced, but it’s a conversation that I imagine takes place in various forms at Targets and cell phone stores and Best Buys every day, all over the world.

Life is just done differently than it was 50 years ago.  Even 20 years ago.  TEN years ago!

My dad, who’s in his late 60’s and is a very intelligent man, can use a computer to do basic things like send email….. but only if my mom helps him get to the “compose an email” screen first.

And when I last saw my 88 year old grandmother, she asked me to send her copies of some pictures I was taking.  “But you have to send them in the mail.  None of this air mail (aka email) stuff;  I don’t even know how to open it.”

Not that it’s unique to older people.  I’m 41, reasonably adept at handling a computer, and I still balk at learning something new.  I stayed on MySpace long after everyone else had fled to Facebook.  And now that Facebook is comfortable and familiar and I know how to use it, I’ll probably stay there too, long after everyone else has moved on to MeWe, or Ello, or whatever the Next Great Thing happens to be.

Learning new things technology-wise as an adult can be intimidating.  I get it.

But my kids don’t have that problem.  They’re so computer literate, and learn new platforms and programs and website navigation with such ease, that it’s both astounding and inspiring.

This is life in 2015.

We cannot be afraid of it.  This is education.  This is networking. This is communication.  This is the workforce. This is entertainment.  A whole big wide digital world at our fingertips.  We’re doing ourselves a huge disservice if we’re not allowing ourselves to take advantage of all – or much – of what it has to offer.

The world is only going to get more technology-heavy, not less.  My kids think it’s crazy that I remember my family’s first VCR.  And that if we wanted to watch a show that came on at 8:00 on a Friday night that we had to actually be at the TV at 8:00 on a Friday night.   And that early cell phones were about the size of a brick.  And that the internet didn’t even exist until I was in my 20’s.  And that there was no such thing as Netflix or Google or iTunes.

I can’t even imagine what amazingly cool technology – still just a pipe-dream of some go-getting entrepreneurial kid in his parents’ basement – is going to exist for my future grandchildren.

Life is different now.  We need to know about different things now.

Which is exactly why I can’t understand the push to actually limit a child’s use of technology.  I see parents stressing out about their kids spending enough time practicing things like handwriting, which is becoming less and less necessary;  or even hand-writing math problems, another practice that’s changing in our current society, since despite what your teacher may have told you as a child – look at that! – we all DO carry calculators around in our pockets.  In what I can only see as a stubborn refusal to move forward, people want to cling to the old, and only dole out the new in tightly controlled, highly restricted little portions.  But limiting a child’s “screen time” (which – it has to be said – is one of the stupidest and most meaningless phrases to come out of the 21st century) is sort of like planning an extended, indefinite stay in a foreign country, and then limiting how much and how often your children can study the language.

“Of course you can learn Spanish!  But only for a half an hour a night.  Maybe for an hour on the weekend.  You can earn an extra ten minutes a day if you do all your chores.  But if you screw up?  That’s it, I’m taking away all your Spanish time away until you can earn it back.”

I just can’t understand limiting access to the very language in which your child needs to be fluent.

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As for me and my house, we’ve chosen the opposite tack.  Whether the subject at hand is Spain or computers, I want my kids to be able to completely IMMERSE themselves in it.  Play with it. Explore it.  Live it.  Learn it and learn from it and understand it.

I want my kids to be all in.  I want them to be eager learners, enthusiastic explorers, and lovers of new information.  I want them to be confident in their abilities, humble enough to ask for help when they need it, and brave enough to take on even the most daunting of tasks.

I want them to be primed and ready and raring to go, so that when the time comes for the next new overwhelmingly complicated bit of technological advancement (and that time will come… again and again and again) they’ll take it in stride.  They’ll be able to look square in the face of the next generation’s cell phone or email or digital User’s Manual….

and they won’t be afraid.


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Q & A – What Do You Do When The Other Parent Isn’t On Board?

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Carrie asks,

What are your suggestions when the other parent isn’t on board with unschooling and gentle parenting?

First, an example of what not to do:

Several years ago, my family went to an unschooling conference in San Diego.  We’d been unschooling for many years, but the inspiration and experienced words you hear at conferences often gives you the little push you need to take it to the “next level.”   I’d heard something that really resonated, and I was all pumped up and excited in my resolve to further support my kids in their autonomy.  Unfortunately,  I sometimes have trouble toning down the “pumped up and excited” and have a tendency to jump headfirst, and expect everyone else to jump with me. Anyway, we went to lunch late that day.  We were all starving, and probably a little bit grumpy, and there was some sort of issue with one of the kids and what they wanted to order.  I – in all my new-found wisdom – wanted to handle it one way, and my husband wanted to handle it another way.   I (in retrospect, most likely not very kindly) said something along the lines of, “Remember what so-and-so just said??  That’s not respectful!  We need to give him more of a voice!  We need to do it this way!”

My husband immediately – and understandably – told me to relax please, that changes took time, and that I couldn’t expect him to immediately overhaul his parenting techniques.  And he was right. (He’s often right.)

So, first, I recommend not picking a fight in the middle of a sandwich shop.  Changes do take time, and you can’t expect them to happen overnight… or, in the case of my own lofty and misguided expectations, in 30 minutes.

The heart of a successful, peaceful, cohesive unschooling family is a strong, healthy relationship between Mom and Dad.    That’s where it starts.  Not in a “united front” against the kids kind of way, but in a loving, connected, “we’re both on your side” kind of way.  Even parents who are no longer a couple need to work together to peacefully and respectfully co-parent as a team. Unschooling will not work if there are major disagreements between parents that have been allowed to become an area of contention between both parties. The relationship needs to come first.

On a practical level, let him see through your actions the benefits of what it is you’re wanting to do.  Be the kind of gentle parent that you want to be.  Don’t bombard him with information, but share when/if he’s receptive, in a way that’s appropriate to his style of learning (some people do better with reading, others with watching, others with listening, etc).  Wait until everything’s calm and peaceful to bring up the tough subjects. Don’t accuse.  Listen to what he has to say. Decide what areas you can compromise on, and what areas will really be a non-negotiable. I could personally compromise in a lot of ways if it meant keeping the peace in my relationship – and by extension, the peace in the family –  but I wouldn’t compromise on spanking, for instance. There would be no circumstance where that would be okay with me.

Give it lots of time, and give him lots of grace.  Treat him with kindness. Be patient.

And whatever you do, don’t broach the subject when one or both of you is hungry.


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“I Feel Like All They Do Is Sit In Front of a Screen”

Photo credit:  Michael Cramer

Photo credit: Michael Cramer

A few days ago, I got a message from a new unschooling mom   She had concerns about one of the most common things that trips up new unschoolers:  “screen time.”  This is a portion of that message, along with my response.

 

About 6/7 months ago we lifted all restrictions on screen time, in the past the kids were allowed to watch up to two hours of TV and that was about all the screen time they got. Now that they are not limited I feel like all they do is sit in front of a screen. It’s not just tv (or shows) but also games and such. I guess my problem is that they seem to have lost All other interests. I keep waiting for them to tire of it all but it doesn’t seem to be happening. More often than not they don’t want to leave the house to do activities. I offer them many choices and opportunities to do other things but they just don’t seem interested. I guess more than anything it makes me feel like a shitty parent for not being able to engage my children and truthfully, I miss them!! I freaked out a bit yesterday about the whole thing and took all screens away and we had a great day! They did things I haven’t seen them do in months and they enjoyed themselves. I want to help them be able to find some sort of balance, but I just don’t know how.


A few different things really stood out to me in your question.  First, you only lifted your restrictions a few months ago, and it is so very, very normal for kids to “binge” on something that was previously limited.  They don’t know when/if you’re going to take it away again. And if you (to use your words) freak out and take them away for a day here and there, it’s sort of like starting the process all over again.  So their intense interest may still just be trying to get the most out of it in case you take it away again.  Second, even though you’re technically allowing them to use those things as much as you want, you’re still carrying a lot of “baggage”, for lack of a better word, about them doing so. You’re waiting for them to tire of it, you’re wanting them to do something else, you feel like a shitty parent. That comes through as resentment, even if it’s unintentional.

It’s great to offer different things, keep the lines of communication open, make suggestions, etc.  The problem comes in when you’re emotionally invested in the other options, instead of truly meeting them wherever they are – which in this case, sounds to be pretty darn happy watching TV and playing games.  :)  When you say that you want them to find balance, you’re referring to what *your* version of balance looks like, ie: less screens, and their personal balance might be something very different from yours.  And it might not be!  But they’ll have a hard time finding it when they’re getting the message that what they’re choosing to do is somehow less valuable than what mom would choose for them to do.

My advice?  Make peace with the screens.  Recognize the joy and learning that they’re getting from them.  Find out what they’re enjoying.  Enjoy it *with* them.  Stay close by so they can share with you.  Watch their shows with them.  Play their games with them. Bring them yummy snacks.  Chances are, they *will* get their fill, and start taking you up on some of your other suggestions (once they feel more confident that their TV shows/games/computer will still be there for them when they want them) But in the meantime, how much nicer will it be – for you AND for them – to appreciate where they’re at and what they’re learning and what they’re finding enjoyable, instead of stressing out about it and wishing they were doing something else with their time?  Don’t feel like a bad parent!  Instead, use that feeling as an impetus to connect with them where they’re at.

They will be okay.  And so will you.  Give it time, and lots and lots and patience.

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Food, Freedom, and Why I Stopped Using the Phrase, “Clean Eating”

cupcakesI love food.  And when I say, “I love food,” I mean I really love food.  I love food so much I spent 500 hours officially studying it so I could earn a nutritional consulting certificate.  And I completely loved, like geeked-out-loved, the nutrition portion of yoga teacher training (talking about food while we ate delicious, fresh, catered vegan meals every day??? I would take the training all over again just for the food.)  I love planning food, love making food, love eating food.  I love learning about it, reading about it and watching documentaries about it.

And even with all that love, society’s current obsession with food – with eating a certain way, with its tightly held controls and its attempts to shame everyone who doesn’t eat the “right” way –  is freaking me the heck out.

And I get it.  I was vegan for around 7 years.  I’ve eaten Paleo.  I’ve done the Zone diet.  The South Beach diet.  I’ve eating 90% raw.  I’ve done juice fasts, and cleanses, and drank nothing but lemon water with cayenne pepper for 10 days.  I could tell you all the science behind all of them, and I was proud, and I was self-righteous, and it makes me exhausted just thinking about it.

And now?  This is the food philosophy that I want to pass on to my kids:

I want them to see me eat food that nourishes me… in body, mind, and spirit.  I want them to see me eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full.  I want them to recognize that food is a fuel, yes, but that it’s also fun and interesting and to be enjoyed.  I want them to understand that the way an individual eats should be a fluid, changing thing, and that sometimes needs are best met with a yummy salad, and sometimes with a warm and gooey chocolate chip cookie.

I want them to know that the act and art of eating is also highly personal, and not something that should be controlled or micromanaged by another person, even if that person is a well-meaning parent.  I watch again and again as parents create food struggles, force their kids to clean their plate, make rules like “no dessert unless they eat x number of bites of broccoli first”, or refuse to buy certain foods because they’re not “healthy” enough.  I can’t imagine it’s a super good thing for your relationship with your child, but it’s also a pretty surefire way to guarantee they’ll have an unhealthy relationship with food in the future.

Food isn’t supposed to be a battle!  It’s not supposed to be about control, or stress, or pressure, or categorizing things into “good foods” and “bad foods.”

In our house, if someone wants ice cream, we’ll go get some.  If someone wants cookies, I’ll bake them.  If someone wants chips, we’ll pick up a bag.  If someone wants Milk Duds (cough::me::cough) or Hot Tamales or Red Vines or Dr Pepper, we’ll walk to the dollar store. None of those things are regular, everyday staples in our pantry though.  They don’t need to be. The stores are there if someone has a craving.  Every time we go to the grocery store, everyone is always welcome to add whatever request they’d like.  Tegan, who loves her sweets, will often be the one to request ice cream, although it’s just as often berries or watermelon or some other sort of sweet fruit. Everett’s pick – every week – was dill pickles, so it finally became a standing order.  Other than those few things? Their response when asked is “The normal stuff is fine” 99% of the time.  For us, “normal” generally consists of whole foods, meals cooked from scratch, fresh fruits and veggies, and very little packaged stuff.

I used to say we ate “clean,” but that’s a phrase I just can’t get behind anymore.  That one silly word, when used to describe food, has become so rife with judgment it makes me cringe.  What does “clean” eating even mean? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.  I asked it not too long ago on a Facebook group and someone responded:  No processed food, no sugar, no white flour, no preservatives, no artificial colors or flavors.  And sure, those are all things you probably don’t want to eat a ton of – for various reasons – but is it helpful to think of them, and/or the people who them, as dirty?   I know many people who work hard to put food on the table for their kids, and their budgets (or taste buds) dictate that they round out the meal with inexpensive things like packaged ramen noodles.   Do we sit, and point fingers, and say, “Ooooh, that’s… unclean!”?

It kind of makes me feel like we’re living in the Old Testament.

And unfortunately, sitting and pointing fingers is exactly what some people are doing.  I had to hide someone on my Facebook feed because her version of advocating for “clean eating” included chastising parents for poisoning their kids by letting them have candy.

Yes, candy has sugar.  And depending on what kind it is, it also likely has chemicals and coloring and preservatives.  I’m pretty sure we all know that.   Shaming parents and pointing fingers and using strong words like “poison” isn’t going to change it.  The way we talk about food matters.

I saw a recipe the other day for a “sinless brownie”.  Sinless.  As opposed to the other brownies that go around stealing from people and cheating on their wives?

Even the word “healthy” is loaded.  What does healthy mean?  (Again, rhetorical)  Ask a vegetarian, a Paleo advocate, and a person with celiac disease that question, and you’ll get three very different answers.  Different people respond to food in different ways.  Some people have allergies.  Some people have sensitivities.  Some people feel sick if they eat dairy.  Some people can practically live on dairy.  Information is a great thing!  I love to learn about, and share about, nutrition.  But the information is constantly changing.   There are many many schools of thought.  If one thing is true about nutrition it’s that you can’t approach it as if there were hard and fast rules.   There’s not.  There are no better teachers than our own bodies.

So I eat food that makes me feel good, whatever that may mean for that day, or that moment. Yes, I do buy simple foods, and many organic foods.  Yes, I cook from scratch.  Yes, I eat lots of whole foods, and fruits, and veggies, and nuts, and seeds.

And I say YES to cookies.  And YES to baking.  And YES to ice cream.  And YES to chips.

Sometimes I miss the mark, and don’t feel so great physically (she says as she sips her peppermint tea to help settle a stomach that’s a little cranky about some Superbowl choices) but I absolutely refuse to give food the power to make me feel bad mentally or emotionally.  It’s not “bad” to indulge in some heavy Mexican food or a cupcake or a margarita or three.  Hate is bad. Prejudice is bad.  This is just food.  And if you listen to your body, and trust your body, it tells you everything you need to know, every time.

We’re missing the mark if we wrap food up with shame.  Food should be enjoyed!  And I whole-heartedly believe (as a person, as a nutritional consultant, and as a mother) that the stress, the fear, and the guilt you assign to certain foods is going to be far far more harmful to your bodies than whatever’s in the treat you deem so horrible.

I look at my kids, who have much healthier relationships with food than I ever had as a child (particularly as a teenager) and I see people who understand what food’s supposed to be.  I see people who trust their bodies to tell them when they’re hungry, when they’re full, and what makes them feel nourished.  I see people who enjoy a wide variety of food….. both in its simplest form, and its most complicated.  I see people who love to try new foods, and aren’t afraid of something just because it’s different.  I see people who accept food for what it is, and don’t feel the need to drench it in negative sounding labels.

Mostly I see people I can learn from.  People who are strong and healthy…. people without any weird food hangups, without any weird body issues or any weird guilt issues.  People who own and embrace their own food choices.

Even when they’re not “clean.”

 


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