Friday, May 17, 2013

really? no rules at ALL?!

When someone asks me about the rules I had growing up, I always feel the need to do a quick assessment of the person asking the question. I would answer different depending on who I was talking to. That made it hard to think about writing about rules - so I figured, why not just put a few of the possible answers? It will be like a choose your own adventure book - the question is at the top, and then you can find the response that fits where you are in your understanding of unschooling!

The question:
"Hi Roya. I just learned about your "unschooling" childhood. Did your parents really not have ANY rules for you at all? Not even about bedtime or food? Not even about TELEVISION??!"

If you only have about 2 minutes to read:
Really. It's true. Our parents did not dictate any rules - not even about tv, food, or bedtime. We turned out fine, and able to be self-disciplined, work, make money, graduate from college. We'll talk about it more sometime when you have time, but for now, rest assured in the knowledge that it's possible. I am living proof.

If you went to traditional school and your kids go/will go to traditional school, and unschooling is a foreign concept:
We did not have any rules. There was no predetermined (arbitrary) decisions about things like bedtimes or tv. We learned to respect our family's needs and boundaries, and yes, even state and federal laws, by discussion and cooperation. No rules. 

It's hard to talk about rules in the abstract. Let's pick an example. Television is a trigger one. We never had a rule about what to watch, or what time to turn the tv off, or how many hours a week, nothing like that. It's hard to believe, but it's true. There was plenty of natural regulation - we were busy doing lots of interesting things, including television watching. There are somethings I did not like (and still don't like) to watch, such as extreme gore or suspense. So I didn't watch those, and my parents would let me know if there was about to be a scene that included it, or they'd warn me ahead of time. We could watch at any time of the day, there was never a "tv and lights off" time in our house.
The Dodds and Sorooshians(/Dedeaux) at the Always Learning Live Symposium
in 2012, in NM. Right after an awesome talk about television.
Oh hey, look at those t-shirts. I see Buffy, Dr. Who...
But when my dad would go to bed, we had to turn down the volume. He had to sleep. We wanted to watch tv. The way to do it so everyone was happy was by volume control. Our parents never came and said "at 9:30pm you will turn the volume down to 24 and if you don't, I will make a bad thing happen" 

That's the thing about having a parent-mandated rule, such as "the tv goes off at 9:30pm." What happens when the kid decides to keep the tv on til 10? Or 9:31? Parents who feel the need to put rules onto their children also then feel the need to punish their children, or create consequences to ensure that their children follow these rules. I would venture to suggest that it's never about having the tv off at a certain time either - there's a reason you want the tv off. So go back to that bigger reason, and think more creatively about how to get what you really want. In our case, it was sleep for the other people in our house. It was about respecting my dad's need for sleep at a certain hour - not about the tv. The need for my dad to sleep is not arbitrary - and there's a real thing that happens if he doesn't get sleep. He's tired, he doesn't have a great day at work, he's upset or unhappy. We don't want that to happen. So there was no need for a rule at all.

But we're not perfect. There's been times when we've thoughtlessly been too loud. What happened was a few times my dad woke up and came out and said, "guys...it's keeping me awake, and I have to get up early tomorrow." So we turned it down. Sometimes we experimented with headphones. Sometimes it meant changing what we were watching because it wasn't suited for quiet-viewing (I have learned that I can't watch certain comedians after my household has gone to sleep because I can't keep my laugh quiet.) My parents asked things of us, and as a household there were expectations.

 It works because my parents were making every effort to help us get what we wanted, to the best of their ability and the best of our family's functions. I knew that my parents wanted me to be able to watch whatever tv I wanted to. I knew that if I asked, they'd figure out a way - find those cordless headphones, buy netflix so I could watch it on my computer, wear ear plugs themselves - they'd be creative and tireless in their efforts to make their children happy. So it was simple, really. I'd just turn down the volume. I say, as a parent, make every effort to respect what your child wants and make it happen in every way you can, and they will respect you and your needs right back. 

If you think that unschooling means simply "more freedom and say yes:"
We had rules. Our house and state and country and society have rules. We might call them different things (and sometimes that matters) such as guidelines or boundaries, but we have them. To pretend we don't can be both rude and reckless. What's that phrase... "your freedom ends at the tip of my nose" meaning, that you can wave your arms wildly all you want, but the second you hit me... I think it's a little less black and white than that. I don't care just about my personal body, but the environment I'm in, too.

It's hard to talk about rules in the abstract. Let's pick an example. Television is a trigger one. We never had a rule about what to watch, or what time to turn the tv off, or how many hours a week, nothing like that. But when my dad would go to bed, we had to turn down the volume. He had to sleep. We wanted to watch tv. The way to do it so everyone was happy was by volume control. Our parents never came and said "at 9:30pm you will turn the volume down to 24 and if you don't, I will make a bad thing happen" (the thing with parents handing down rules is if you have them, you have stated or implied consequences of what will happen if you don't follow them. It's unavoidable). What happened was a few times my dad woke up and came out and said, "guys...it's keeping me awake, and I have to get up early tomorrow." So we turned it down. Sometimes we experimented with headphones. Sometimes it meant changing what we were watching because it wasn't suited for quiet-viewing (I have learned that I can't watch certain comedians after my household has gone to sleep because I can't keep my laugh quiet.) My parents asked things of us, and as a household there were expectations.

 I've seen plenty of families who are working their way through to a greater understanding of unschooling who would have sleepless nights or unhappy parents, because they felt like they could not ask their children to stop watching tv at a loud volume at 2am because they were afraid of creating a rule. In this case, some of the family's needs are not getting met (sleep! It's an important one!) So where's the win? I say, as a parent, make every effort to respect what your child wants and make it happen in every way you can, and they will respect you and your needs right back. I knew that my parents wanted me to be able to watch whatever tv I wanted to. I knew that if I asked, they'd figure out a way - find those cordless headphones, buy netflix so I could watch it on my computer, wear ear plugs themselves - they'd be creative and tireless in their efforts to make their children happy. So it was simple, really. I'd just turn down the volume. 

It's okay to ask things of other people. It really worries me when I see unschoolers who don't want to ask anything of their children. I want my own kids to learn about asking things of their partners when they are adults, or about how to ask things of their coworkers. 






1 comment:

  1. You should write a post about not using punishment.

    ReplyDelete