This is a subject that is constantly brought up in unschooling groups and forums. Should I limit sugar and media? Of course, this is a choice that ultimately needs to be made by each individual family, but I want to explore the common arguments for each side, along with sharing which side of the fence we fall on. (If you’ve been here a while, I don’t think it will come as a surprise!).
So lets start with “For.” Parents who put no limits on sugar and media have a strong belief in the self regulating ability of children. They feel that in restricting these things they are not only stealing their child’s autonomy, but also restricting their learning opportunities. They believe that given unlimited access to sugar, sweets, TV and computers, their self regulatory system will level out and prevent them from developing unhealthy or obsessive traits. Somewhat contradictionally, these parents believe strongly in enabling their children to follow their passions, and will often talk about the many things their child is learning from the hours on end they spend playing computer games, which for plenty of children, makes up the majority of their day for many months.
Then on the other side of the coin are those parents who do put limits on sugar and media. They believe in creating a healthy and varied learning environment for their children, with access to good real food and real life experiences. They believe that although children do indeed have a strong inbuilt self regulatory system, this is undermined by addictive substances and practices. Sugar IS addictive. Screen time IS addictive. Both have a profound effect on the brain, and early exposure in excess can have lifelong neurological effects.
This is the camp where you will find me. I DO limit sugar and screen time, in fact they both play a very minimal role in our lives. There have been numerous studies done on the impact of too much screen time, exposure to the media and children targeted advertising. Rising obesity, diabetes and countless other conditions are affecting our children by the thousands. And there are also numerous studies confirming the addictive nature of these things. Yes, our children are wonderful self regulators. They have the ability to eat what they need and stop when they are full. They have the ability to focus fully on an activity or task and stop when they are done, ready to move onto something new. But that ability stops the moment addictive properties are introduced. It is our responsibility as parents to guide our children in making healthy choices and developing long term habits which will see them into adulthood.
Along with that, I really think that unlimited media in particular is undermining the beauty and wonders of the whole principal of unschooling.
Many parents choose the path of unschooling because they think their children deserve better. They want them to be free from the ever unchanging walls of the classroom to follow their passions and live a varied and interesting life full of opportunity.
For me, the real learning in unschooling comes from being immersed in real life. From being involved and included in their parents lives and daily activities, from getting outside, exploring their world and the environment. From having the time and peace to delve deep into their play and find their own passions. To me, unschooling is a natural and combined aspect of continuum parenting. It is all about trusting our children AND involving them in real life. This is the ingredient that is so often missing when parents choose not to limit media. Instead of this enriching and engaging learning environment, the children find themselves in a self imposed prison, a false and highly addictive reality, glued to a screen they can’t seem to break away from, missing out on real relationships, real experiences and real life.
As I said at the start, ultimately this is a choice you have to make yourself. But for me, there is no question that sugar and media should indeed be limited.
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