On Unschooling, Parenting, and Video Addiction

The topic of video addiction came up on an unschooling list I read. I was surprised by the response given to people who, out of desperation about what to do or in reaction to their own admitted video addiction, were seeking ideas or validation for what they did. Instead, they were greeted with an unsympathetic reply largely along the lines that they were wrong to limit or deny their children unfettered access to video games, and that if there was an addiction issue it is because they weren't unschooled or they didn't do unschooling properly. Here is what I wrote:

As someone who has considerable experience in unschooling, as a friend of John Holt, publisher of Growing Without Schooling, and a father of three girls, I want to add my perspective on this discussion about video addiction.

There are no studies about whether unschooling and unfettered access to video games has a positive or negative effect on child development. However, there is considerable evidence that an unhealthy attachment to anything, be it videos, food, or getting perfect grades, can stunt emotional and physical growth and if a parent feels that such an attachment is hurting their child and seeks to do something about it they should not be banished from unschooling for doing so. If watchful waiting is no longer an option for the parents, then they should try something else and see if that helps the child and them live better together.

I support parents who decide to allow their children unfettered access to video games and I have published stories in GWS about the success of this strategy; I vividly remember one we published in the 1990s when a boy who could play videos as much as he wanted eventually decided to sell all his video games because he decided that they prevented him from spending time doing other things he wanted to do. However, I also support and published stories about parents who dealt with this issue differently, because their personalities, beliefs, and family situations are completely different, yet they, too, found a way to unschool their children. Just as one size does not fit all in school, one size does not fit all in unschooling.

Unschooling is first and foremost an educational approach. Unschooling was not created by Holt, nor propagated by my colleagues and me since Holt’s death in 1985, to be an ideological parenting method, though I think unschooling certainly informs one’s parenting. Just as we trust children to discover and learn things in their own way, so, too, can parents be trusted to figure out how unschooling will work in their family and adapt it to their relationships with each of their children. There are varieties of unschooling, such as radical unschooling, Christian unschooling, and so on, and they are all important developments for people seeking ways to learn without schooling. But the common, broader element that unites them all is the word “unschooling,” meaning we are not doing school at home with our children. That’s what unites us and makes unschooling an educational movement, as it has been since Holt coined the word in 1977. To claim that only one particular way of parenting and raising one’s children is unschooling does a disservice to Holt’s work and to all the people who are seeking, however imperfectly, to do something more meaningful with their children than schoolwork.