23 June 2010

Low Tech and other Stories of Autonomy

I have been thinking about how we use technology in our house, especially the freedom the children have to decide for themselves. Since coming back from the Green Parent meet, and totally inspired by Radical Mama Claire, we have taken the (I thought at the time) drastic step of going fully autonomous. The three big areas of challenge for us were food, bedtime, and *gulp* technology.

What pushed me to make a change is less disatisfaction with how things were then just the niggling thought that it was a bit, well, hypocritical to keep insisting that my children are able to make decisions about how much to eat and when to eat, but not what. Thinking that my children can and should critically evaluate their own learning choices and play times, and yet not the influence of television. Feeling comfortable (and slightly self-congratulatory) saying that they sleep when tired and eat when hungry, but still occasionally battling over my insistance that they are tired and *must* go to bed...

Basically I think it is mostly about knowing your own child. Looking at them, and really thinking about what our motivation is for controlling certain aspects of their lives.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not going to go out buying sweets for them, but if there are sweets in the house why shouldn't they have as much right to decide to eat something unhealthy as I do? If we didn't own a TV for my own reasons, then fine, they would have no access to TV. They only have free choice in so far as the life I live, and when we are outside the house their options broaden slightly, but not dramatically (for example they may want KFC, but I'm not going to go there and they aren't old enough to take themselves, so it is basically tough luck). ;)

And we are still co-operative. My needs get met too. Once in the past fortnight this has meant that I have gone to bed, and they have been allowed to keep their light on and play in their room saying "we're not tired", and at silly o'clock, Martin found them both asleep with the lights on. Sometimes that has meant that there is still a no to an activity - but the emotional difference for me is that suddenly their desire to paint has been equal alongside my desire to leave the house on time, and I have only made the final call because we cannot agree and I know we will all be disappointed later if we missed this particular trip. Rather than the previous, "I'm the grown up so I decide what is best for you". I actually am suddenly shocked at how often my decision making has come down to that recently!

The biggest one to some of you will be the TV, I'm sure. And I want to report, after a couple of weeks, it really hasn't been. No battle ground, no upsets, no struggle to find a compromise.

I have learnt that my children are SO able to take everyone's needs into account. I have learnt that their skills of self-regulation are astounding. I have learnt that the things I thought I needed were actually just imposed on top of my own belief in trusting my children. I have learnt that Jenna in particular is astonishingly able to critically evaluate advertising, and can articulate why many programs are "rubbish" and not worth watching, and that junk food is often only tempting when it has the lure of the forbidden. She prefers watching an hour of ballet in the afternoon to hours of junk-food cartoons in the morning. And emptying the washing machine is apparently still more fun than any TV option.

My only concern so far is that one day last week Jenna came downstairs, put the computer on, loaded the internet, played on her favorite maths games, typed in the URL for another site she regularly uses that isn't in our favorites, and checked her friends' blogs! HOW ON EARTH does she know how to do all that??! Now knowing that I trust her and DON'T trust the scary huge world of the internet, I have been forced to put a password entry on the PC... I am somewhere between proud and scared that she was just that capable - though it certainly reaffirms that she *can* read far more than she currently chooses to let on to me...


  1. Rather than password protecting the computer you should have,as standard, parental controls, which will limit the sites she can look at.

    Or you could set her up her own id on the computer and have in the favourites all the sites she looks at and then have stiff parental controls for when she decides to go for a web surf.

    How are you finding the ful automony working with Morgan? I sometimes wonder if this is better with slightly older children, and while Rye gets a lot of automony, I do feel a bit nervous of going full on.

  2. We were TV free for quite a length of time and the LO's didn't miss it. Then John bought a new one and so the boys began watching. Oh they did overload at first but I left them to it hoping I wouldn't have to step in. The way it works now is that if they want the TV on they switch it on but TBH they hardly ever do. I never switch the TV on for them and it is never left on if they leave the room. It just isn't a big deal. If they want to watch a TV show for fun, and I hate all this "only watch it because it's educational" idea, then that's their choice not mine and they will learn their own constraints on TV. TBH they'd far rather be playing and doing other things and get pretty bored of watching TV after only a few minutes anyway. How can we expect them to learn moderation if we don't allow them to apply it?
    And as you pointed out if we the adults are allowed our guilty pleasures in moderation then why can't we allow our children to learn the same?
    Great post Sarah.

  3. been thinking about this. Still not sure how I feel about it, but really interested to hear more about how the girls explore their own limits...

  4. Still not sure how I feel about it myself! We had one day this week when the girls were told in no uncertain terms that we were all going to bed and they could either have story time, or not, but there would be no more bickering one way or another!

    As far as the TV and food go, Morgan is very very able to set her own limits and is disinterested in the whole lure-of-the-forbidden type issue. Jenna is more likely to ask for outrageous things to hear me say, "yes, if we can do this first" or "sure, why not" or "yes, but another day".

    Some days I am really not sure anything has changed except in my head. Some days I look at them and want, if nothing else, to make the yes days outnumber the more challenging ones. Some days I think our home is so very normal. Some days I am shocked by a momentary realisation that the communication that just passed between myself and one or more children was so radically different to the ways I usually hear children spoken to.

    I don't know if I will ever reach a point where I can honestly say I *know* where my parenting path will lead us. I used to think it was so simple...!


Penny for your thoughts? :)