When we started homeschooling I realized that the real issue with self-directed learning is kids choose video games. Especially boys. And that scares parents.
I came to peace with all-day video-game sessions when I realized that research shows video game obsessions are really just the current expression of the traits that make men more successful in the workplace than women: extreme competition, single-minded focus, and bonding through interaction rather than conversation.
So I let the unlimited games continue, and slowly my experiment with unlimited video games has morphed into an experiment with unlimited YouTube.
The result? One result is my kids are exceptionally good at understanding the ins and outs of online search. For example, they told me that if there is an illegal copy of something like a Saturday Night Live episode the network removed, people upload the illegal copy to PornHub and change the title to something pornographic. Because the network lawyers won’t wade through PornHub looking for copyright violations.
Another result is they do not treat me as an authority. They treat the Internet as the authority, and because of that, they feel we each have equal access to authority. This means that my parental role in homeschooling is more about teaching the kids to ask good questions than it is about telling kids the answers.
For example, I have a bumpy lump thing on my arm that I need to get it removed. But in the meantime, the boys started searching for pictures of skin lesions to diagnose me. I reassure: “I’ll be fine.” And deter: “At worst it’s probably just a sun spot or something.”
The boys disappear. They have decided to become experts on skin cancer. They come back to me with a link to a guy named Paul Kraus with mesothelioma. “Mom, look, it’s not fatal. This guy has had it for 20 years.”
The implication, of course, is that I know nothing about anything and they know everything. “Great,” I say. “So I’ll be fine.”
The place their determination to become experts is most apparent is sex education. I sent them a link to STD testing. “You can get it done anywhere!” I tell them as I prepare for a day when they are not living with me.
My older son says, “Mom, what’s an STD?”
My younger son says, “Yeah. Mom. How exactly can someone get an STD?”
“Okay, okay,” I say. Fine. Very funny.
Then they show me a video. It’s about how to protect against STDs when having anal sex. Really. And in the middle of the video, near the advertisement for lubricant, is advice that limiting partners is an important part of safe sex.
I express surprise at their knowledge about safe sex.
My son corrects me: “Mom, there’s no such thing as safe sex. Only safer sex.”
They burst out laughing again.
Which is okay, I guess. This is sex ed for kids with unlimited YouTube.