Don’t Kill Your TV! An Unschoolers Thoughts on Media

I was recently watching television with my son Devin who is a Radical Unschooler. We were watching the program, Anthony Bourdain: No  Reservations, together as we often do late at night when my other children are asleep. Devin and I share a love of travel and while watching together my heart began to pound excitedly as Anthony Bourdain shared about his travels through Egypt. Learning about the food, the people, and the culture ignites such a passion within me.Having this amazing visual window into the world is a tool unlike any other available in our human existence. Television is an amazing resource for an Unschooling family and one that I am very grateful for.As Devin and I clicked through the channels we were introduced to Italian cooking, survival skills in the wild, and we listened to infectious Salsa music. We became inspired by stories of hope and I was in awe of the beauty of the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and the Florida Everglades. We connected as we watched beautiful dancers, gymnastics and mountain climbing. Together, Devin and I were able to witness true human passion and triumph. We felt excitement, joy and love. We were inspired to travel, to do, to see and experience.

Television is a window into possibility and potential. It is an amazing tool in our lives and one that I can’t imagine living without as a Radical Unschooling family.

There is a lot of anger surrounding television in the naturally minded community. Articles about “Killing Your TV!” are everywhere and they are so steeped in a fear and misinformation. This same type of fear surrounding media was present before the invention of the television with radio and before then, comic books were the target. Television has only been popular in homes since the 1950’s! It is such a new invention historically, and the way that many people react to something “new” is with fear in our culture.

When used as a tool for expansion, joy and learning, television is as valid and enriching as any book or resource available. 

When television isn’t restricted and parents and children live in a partnership paradigm through Unschooling, rather than the cultural authoritarian paradigm, kids aren’t afraid to ask parents questions about topics introduced to them through television. There has never been a time where any of my children were interested in watching something that I was not comfortable with them experiencing. Television is not a means of escape for our children, nor is it a power struggle where they need to strive for their autonomy.

When a power struggle is part of the experience, children will watch programs that they are not ready for all for the sake of wanting freedom of choice. This is never something my children need to do, because they are respected in how much television they want to watch. They have complete freedom in this regard and because of this, they only watch what they are ready for. They have no interest in shows that are sexually explicit or shows that are ultra-violent. Also, we have Tivo, so they never need to watch commercials, which I know are a big issue with a lot of people. However, there are times that we do like to watch commercials, especially around Christmas time when we can see what is available in our world today! We have a fabulous time together seeing the new toys on the market and we discuss whether or not they truly do what the advertisers claim they do. This has been an amazing resource for our children to learn about advertising. Sometime we purchase something we see advertised on television and have a great experience! Other times, we learn that the item wasn’t what the advertisers claim it to be.

Living a life of freedom and respect with my children, I can be a free-thinker. I can see the benefits of things that most people fear. I can bask in the knowing that my children are the proof and no “expert” can fear me into following their beliefs. I can truly trust myself and my children.

It can be hard to let go of the fears surrounding media when first learning about Unschooling. It takes a lot of undoing cultural and even sub-cultural ideals to walk this path with your children. Once you begin to value your own experiences and your children’s choices over the fears and judgments of others, you have come one step closer to living a free-thinking life.



  1. HI Dayna.
    We are Radical Unschoolers and our Family Mission Statement starts with “We choose Freedom and Joy.” I’ve often thought that we should live with no TV because when we are watching TV we are not FREE to engage in other activities. But I have learned to view TV as just a part of our lives, instead of labelling TV ‘BAD’ and (for example), crafts ‘GOOD’.

    Like you said, children can learn many interesting things from seeing them on TV. Once I stopped trying to distract them from watching TV, they happily accepted the responsability of choosing their own activities–which may or may not include TV on any particular day.

    The Freedom I was seeking came from trying to control the TV, rather than trusting them to choose when and what and how much to watch.

  2. Touche!

  3. Thank you for posting this. I couldn’t agree with you more. When TV is used properly it is as valuable as the internet. 13 years ago one of my girlfriends outlawed the TV in her house with the exception of Sunday night family movies. She has raised 3 beautiful children and it is working well for their family. (I should mention she is a teacher in the private school all 3 girls attend, but I digress.) In contrast, we have encouraged the use of TV for my 3 year old. I knew she would need a paci on Day One of her life. And at about 3 months she became transfixed with the Baby Einsten “My First Signs” video. She began signing shortly after and we have never looked back.

    We choose friendly, educational, and sweet, imaginative shows. We then play out the lessons through the days and weeks. We’ve spent a month on dinosaurs because Calliou went to the dinosaur museum. It has led us to the museum, ourselves, to books, coloring, pictures and dinosaur pjs. We’ve spent several days and nights at restaurants practicing ordering, our table manners, and picking healthy foods because Special Agent OSO helped teach her their importance.

    My point: my daughter appears at her young age to be very visual. The repetition of the DVR’d shows ignite her imagination and she has a ball acting everything out. It remains up to us what shows we allow her to watch…and it’s up to us to continue to find the programs that will continue to challenge and excite her.

    It’s something we all share as a family and we find it to be precious time.

    • Sarah mcneese says

      I have a similar experience with my son. We are unschoolers as well. My son watches shows that I originally thought were just a waste of time but the more I viewed them with him I realized they are great learning tools for him. Even some of the cartoons (some I do still find a little weird but thats what he likes so i wont knock it) but they do have some things in them that kids can learn from. But I do have a question. My son is 8 and for the most part he has never wanted to watch inappropriate things before but within the last year or so he has been influenced by some of the kids around us and in our family that like to watch violent and scary movies and shows and he has recently began asking me about certain ones an if he can watch them. For instance someone had the movie child’s play n he wanted to watch that. I don’t want him to watch some of these movies because they r either too violent, sexually explicit, etc. But I also don’t want to hinder his ability to choose what he wants to watch. How would u deal with this issue? Thanks!

      • Sarah, Can you watch the shows and movies with him? This is what I would personally do. That way you are there to answer questions and be by his side if something gets too intense for him. Devin went through a period when he wanted to watch C.S.I.. We watched it with him and let him know before something too gory or sexually explicit happened on the show. He would sometimes close his eyes and ask us to tell him when certain scenes were over. We also paused it to explain things to him when he had questions. Watching with your child, you are able to be his partner and connect with him and support him through his interest and curiosity. Watching with a parent is a very different experience than watching alone, or sneaking around because a parent forbid you to experience something you have a need to experience.

  4. This all sounds great. But my question, which no unschoolers I have asked can answer for me so far, is what about all of the evidence for the negative impacts of extensive screen time? Especially for YOUNG children (2-5 years). We are an unschooling family and this is one area I am not ok with letting go of. I am trying. I have been reading everything I can get my hands on, to try to convince myself that it is OK for my 3 year old to play video games for hours. But I keep coming back to the same answers – that it is NOT good for him, which my instincts confirm. And yes, I do participate with him, play with him, take interest in what he’s doing, etc. But we know that screens are addictive and I find it very unsettling to watch young children who previously were happy to do many activities and entertain themselves with creative play, art, etc., begin to turn down all other activities in favor of video games. I wish I could take your word for it – trust me, it would make my life easier if it didn’t bother me. But I just can’t when my gut is telling me NO no no, this isn’t good. Remember I am not talking about teenagers who have a better understanding of the passing of time and such. What about the very young?

  5. My son has been watching a lot of TV and computer lately. I tought that he would get tired of it but it has been a month and he watches shows on the computer or tv. He is 4 1/2. We used to regulate the time that he watched TV or computer but he would cry and get angry. Now he seems to not want to do any other activities but watching his computer. We go out regularly and do other things but still when we come back he wants to watch the computer. I try to engage him into doing something else like playing with his toys or with his younger brother (1 year old). But he prefers to watch computer. I am thinking about getting rid of the TV and the computer so that he does not spend his days glued to the TV. I have asked him how can we solve this problem and all he says is to get rid of the computer while he is not looking. Maybe I should do that :). Do you have any sugestions? Thank you for your help.

    • I forgot to add, by a lot I mean between 4-6 hours almost everyday (unless we are out of the house). He has been watching looney tunes, scooby doo and wubbzy non stop and in every language he finds. I have read the other replies to this post and none mention for how long children this young watch TV. I just would like to know if I should do something or not 🙁 . I guess I should know this, but I dont. I would really appreciatte any input.

  6. I’m a little worried about my 8 almost nine year old daughter as she is supposedly unschooled but spends way too much time sitting in front of the computer screen just consuming media like Winx and Nick Jr. She is not doing any math. Just playing what seem to me like mindless video games. I don’t want to judge her writing but everyone else does and they all think it is atrocious. She refuses to write letters or make birthday cards and I have to twist her arm just to have her sign her name on Christmas cards. She’s crying right now because I reminded her that she has an exam soon for the third grade. I don’t want to remind her though but I have to because she doesn’t seem to realise its importance. (We live in Italy and we have been threatened with arrest if she does not take the exam.) She just does not take any ownership of her education. And we are all the more miserable for it. Can anyone please offer any input?
    I mean, in theory homeschooling/unschooling sounds so beautiful, but what if my child is so unmotivated that I am ruining her life with our decision to unschool?

  7. Dear Dayna, I was reading what you posted and it seems so right to interact with the child during the tv and etc but when my parents watch tv with me if I start asking questions they won’t even answer they just say “google it” or if I start talking they will get mad at me. Also I really like the concept of radical unschooling. I like how it helps your child experience more and be able to choose and learn more on what they like and are passionate about. Instead of normal schooling where you sit there for 6-7 hours doing “things” that random adults think will help you in life. I read your other blog things and I also love how open you are and close u are with your kids and the things you guys do. I really love your way of life and honestly it seems a lot better then an “average” life that consists of stereotypes, schooling, then immediately worrying about love, how to make money, and getting a no only to support yourself and not doing what u love. And finally I watched your episode on wife swap and I think u and joe are amazing parents raseing amazing kids. (Btw I’m not an adult I’m just 13 years old)

  8. I’n sorry but I just don’t want one. Having a jabbering box in my house would put me on edge to the point where I would just snap at everyone all day. Also, we don’t have the money for flat screen TVs and TIVO and what not. So we’d have to watch commercials and be forced to live by the TV schedule and the latter I refuse to do, period. I did it in my own childhood and it’s a pity to cut off enjoyable activities because “The show is starting”.

    I have seen the homes where the TV is on all day and adults who cannot sleep without the TV on because that is the way they fell asleep all their lives and I will not have that. We have laptop and desktop computers and two tablets so it’s not like all screens are banned. It might work for your family, but this is something I won’t back down on.

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