Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Modern Media in the Unschooled Life: Why your child won't be mentally scarred from a pop-up ad

My older brother liked horror movies from a young age. Whenever he was around five or so, he asked my mother if he could watch the most recent horror flick. She agreed, and popped the requested tape into our ancient VHS player. Relative to modern bloodbath films, the movie wasn't exceptionally gory or violent. The title has long since been forgotten, but the point remains: my five year old brother was allowed to watch a horror movie (that was probably rated R), a thought that most parents would shudder at. Now, here's where it gets interesting.
My mother sat down with my brother and watched it with him. Instead of throwing him into foreign territory, she slowly eased and guided him into the corn syrup-splattered, high-pitched scream filled corner of the entertainment industry. She paused the movie, and noted the special effects that were used. She made sure my brother was confident that everything he saw was fake. She answered a million questions that he had; about how the movie was filmed, how the special effects were implemented, how the script was written, etc.
As a result, my brother was not horrified. He was intrigued and comfortable. If anything in the movie had made him uncomfortable, he simply didn't watch it. By the age of five, he already knew how to navigate through material that might be unsettling (he knew that it was all fake, and could turn it off whenever he wished), understood the difference between fake violence and real violence, and had learned a bit about how the entertainment industry functioned. All in all, it was a good experience.
There is a difference between setting your five year old in front of a horror film, and then leaving them to deal with material they might not be prepared for all on their own, and letting your child electively watch a film they selected and watch it with your guidance and support. The entire time, the parent is there to answer questions, and the child won't expose themselves to anything they aren't ready to be exposed to. Children aren't naturally drawn to the elicit. They don't want to watch things that are upsetting, or that make them uncomfortable. But banning something-the act of making something seductively elicit-piques their interest. Children and teens will often put themselves in situations they aren't prepared for, simply because the situation is forbidden. The siren's call of the banned is one few children can resist. As a result, they expose themselves to things they aren't ready for.
I'm sixteen now. Every day, I am bombarded with modern media. From billboards advertising naked women (the objectification of women in modern media is a whole different blog post), to magazines, commercials, movies, television shows, pop-up ads, and music, I see (and hear) lots of different things. I am not drawn to forbidden things because nothing is forbidden. As a child, my mother would help me find my internal compass and guide me from things I wasn't prepared for. Now I know where my internal compass is, and can do it myself. Dirty pop-up ad? I can click out of it. I have the tools I need in order to navigate life all on my own (which is the ultimate goal of parents).
There is a difference between forcing, or voluntarily exposing your child to something they aren't emotionally or mentally prepared for. But eventually, your child will find something that intrigues them. With unschooling, the parents' job is to support and guide their children until the child is old enough to do it themselves. They aren't limited-no child will want to see something that makes them uncomfortable or upset. This trust in your child (and yourself), leads the child to trust you and themselves. They can trust themselves; they don't need rules to regulate them because they can regulate themselves.
Trusting your child is very difficult in a world that insists you shouldn't. Trusting doesn't mean throwing them to the wolves. It means guiding them and giving them the tools they need to regulate themselves.

Thanks for reading! :) Here is a link to an article I wrote in Life Learning about children's freedom. It is located on page seven.


  1. Dear Carla, you are an amazing human being. At 16, you have managed to inspire numbers of mothers and fathers. I agree with every letter you have written so far. And i wish my children can have your strenght and your spirit. But as a parent, I cannot help self to question my every single step toward raising my kids. My eldest just turned 6, and if i let him "free", I will end up with a child constantly watchig and playing on ipad, or chasing his sister, or playing outside with other kids. I do not feel that he has any perticular interests, and more, I do not know how to develop his interests (that I dont know about). May be in your next article, please interview your parents and their approach with younger kids. How did they help you to evolve into this amazing creature.

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  3. I love your post Carla. I wish you every success with your blog. Great work!

  4. Hi Carla! I love your posts, too. I am the editor of Home Education Magazine, a 30+ year support magazine for unschooling families. We publish six times per year and pay for articles and photos used. I'd love to have you consider submitting an article (or more) for us! Check out our website, www.unschooling.com and contact us if you're interested, ok? Thanks!