We have about 4000 books in our house. This is because I threw out so many over the years. At one point I was moving from Chicago to LA to Boston to LA and on and on with nothing but 80 boxes of books.

Each time a truck lost a box or too I’d realize that I didn’t need those books anyway.

And then I realized that my great grandpa only collected books because he was making his fortune defending Al Capone and his cronies and my great grandpa wanted to look highbrow.

And then I realized that my great grandpa had a porn collection that he passed on to my dad, who passed it on to me, and who cares if Rockwell Kent is both talented and obsessed with penises when all I could think of when I looked at those books was my dad sexually abusing me.

And then I realized that first editions sell for a lot. So I funded a year of writing my memoir of escaping my family by selling porn my family had bequeathed to me.

Which is why I only have 4000 books in our house now.

People always say to me: “Did you read all these?” And my answer is always yes.

I used to think it was because I was a latchkey kid with no TV. But it turns out that left to their own devices, with a TV in the house, kids don’t watch that much TV. Parents do.

HAHAHAHAHAHA I love this statistic. And I got it from this totally fun interactive chart. Click it to see how Americans spend their time, broken down by days of the week and demographically-significant groups.

So first of all it doesn’t matter if you have a TV in the house or not. If your kid likes to read, your kid will read. I know this because I was removed from my house and placed with my grandparents, and they had a TV that I never watched. They had a porch, looking out over peonies and bonsai and it spent my days on the 1950s vinyl sofa reading anything I could find.

Second of all, I think we need to accept that what parents fear most for their kids is what we fear most for ourselves. If you spend tons of time watching TV you will worry that your kid does. If you are fat you’ll worry that your kid will be fat.

I can tell you what you’d be like if you were like me, and you never watched TV: you’d give your kids unlimited TV because it doesn’t seem like a threat to you.

It’s not that I don’t pass on my fears to my kids. I fear divorce. I fear my kids won’t come home for holidays. I fear where I am unsatisfied with myself.

When we look at the ways we restrict our kids, we should ask, “Is this about me or my kids?” Because self-directed learning is when each person in the family deals with what feels urgent and important to them. Not to someone else, especially not only the adults.



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9 replies
  1. karelys
    karelys says:

    I fear that my kid will be undisciplined and that he won’t know enough to make his own way.

    Because really, the majority of the time I haven’t taken a step toward career or business because I just didn’t know enough to ask good questions, I didn’t know enough to make an alternative route, I didn’t know enough to advance and I played the game set before me and I barely survived it or completely lost.

    So I think most of the things that I believe are valuable to instill in my kid is an attempt to ensure that he doesn’t fall in the same pits my husband and I did.

    But god knows it’ll probably end up being a problem between us because he won’t care for those things and we’ll be like “ay!!! but it’s good for you!!! read this stuff! get up early and form these habits! they are good for you!”

    haha! I can see it!

  2. Letitia
    Letitia says:

    #BAM You are SO spot on!
    I had a TV in my room growing up, but other than Saturday cartoons, I preferred to read. My daughter loves to read AND watch TV. And if given her choice, would try to do both at the same time. I tried to keep her away from TV because even now, it is meaningless to me. But the more you withhold, the more exciting it seems to someone “Forbidden Fruit”. So now, I just try to restrict watching to the weekends or till all the assignments and chores are completed.

  3. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:

    I have two kids. One reads all the time. One doesn’t. The one that doesn’t is constantly creating art. For a while that was painting. Then it was jewelry. I think the next step will be creating fashion, because she’s been gluing beads to my old pair of tap shoes. If she doesn’t know how to do something, she YouTube’s it. She’s 10 and can do a smokey eye better than I can.

    The kid that reads is an awesome writer. Her dad and I are both writers, but she’s at another level. She prefers reading or writing to TV, so that’s what she does.

    The kid that creates art is awesome at that. Plus, she rides horses and is kind of a phenom at that.

    Both kids watch less TV than me, but when they do it’s always related to learning something. Animal Planet for the horse kid. Food Network for the writer (she’s a picky eater and wants to learn to cook food she likes).

    I guess I’m rambling. What I want to say is I don’t worry about them watching too much TV, playing too many video games, or being online too much – mostly because I can see that all these things seem to be tools for them to grow into who they’re going to be. I just read something by Deepak Chopra who said he wasn’t worried that all his kid read was comic books, because he figured he would make a career out of it. Apparently he did.

    As for me, I like to watch TV. I learned to cook from watching TV (Rachael Ray). I learned a ton about fashion from What Not to Wear (enough to write a syndicated column on it for five years under a pseudonym.) Don’t get me started on what I’m learning from House of Cards!

    So I think it is possible to both be a TV watcher and a reader. I like both.

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I don’t set limits on screen time. I never had limits on screen time when I was growing up and I learned how to self-regulate very young, so I think that my kids have learned already how to self-regulate because of it as well. They are very young too. They aren’t zombies either, who woulda thunk it?!

    I honestly can’t count the hours I watched the Star Wars trilogy and all the Rocky movies during a summer in my youth, on VHS. It was all day long events. Eventually, I got bored! I read books, like the classics even! I wrote my own short stories with correct grammar, spelling and syntax! Amazing! I did pencil sketches, filmed home videos!

    Some days my kids watch 3-4 hours of TV. Some days they don’t watch any. They create their own stories, read books, create art, make their own movies, play games… go outside and get fresh air… it’s a normal childhood for them.

    I know not all families are the same as mine. But I don’t have any problems with screen time and I haven’t met anyone in person whose child has self-regulation problems. I read about it online, so apparently there are kids who can’t self-regulate. So maybe this is when parents need to set limits.

    • Hannah
      Hannah says:

      Both my brothers appeared to have self-regulation problems as pre-teens and teens. One is Autistic and the other one is neuro-typical.

      I speculate that my autistic brother is pretty close to unable to self-regulate, but he no longer obsesses over TV like he did when he was younger, now he obsesses over facebook. (At 22, he still has to call my mom every week to go over his work schedule and class schedule and to go over his musical goals for the week, or he would probably just lay in bed all week).

      My youngest brother is off to college this week, but he started to self-regulate as soon as he met his girlfriend a year ago, so I guess his problem was motivation rather than regulation.

      My parents failed at setting screen time limits (easy to fail when you have 25 screened devices including cell phones and 5 kids), but they successfully managed to implement no screens at the table, and the pleasant conversationalist rule (you have to respond to other members of the family in pleasant conversational tone even if you are using an electronic device).

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        This is exactly why I don’t feel every family should do things the same way. Do what works for your family, but don’t judge others because something that is different works for them. I’ve learned that some parents really have to structure their kids lives because there are emotional problems going on, but some parents simply do it out of fear and because they want to control their children.

        I’ve taken a different parenting route that leans heavily unschooling. My kids are treated as individuals with rights. My fears over their TV and Video Games was irrational as they self-regulated within 3 months of me letting go. Dinner time at our house involves no screens at all, voluntarily! Not because there is any rule.

        But I don’t think it’s fair to say that everyone should be like us, and I don’t think it’s right for people to expect me to be like them. I don’t limit screen time. Whether it’s watching Minecraft youtube videos, tv or their vg’s. In a typical week, 4 days out of the week, they will only spend one hour per day doing those things combined. Other days it can be at most 4, long driving trips I don’t even pay attention to that because it’s usually the whole trip.

        Unschooling works for us. But no doubt if I had kids that had self-regulation issues I would be doing things different.

  5. Karen Loethen
    Karen Loethen says:

    I HAVE TO LAUGH!!!!!!!!

    We have made some major moves lately and the thing that makes it SO difficult is my beloved book collection. I try to get so harsh on myself, making myself give/donate/sell books, yet I still have books positively everywhere. LOL

    Turns out, my kids don’t watch much TV, they read. :)

  6. Becky Castle Miller
    Becky Castle Miller says:

    “Because self-directed learning is when each person in the family deals with what feels urgent and important to them.” That is such a great line. It applies to marriages also. My husband and I have different things that feel important to each of us. He likes the bedroom to be clean. That’s way down on my priority list. So he pays someone to come clean the house. Win-win-win!

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I was just thinking how self-directed learning is easier to picture and digest when it comes to adults, not kids.

      I went to the doctor for acupuncture yesterday and I am floored by the good results. I am still waiting for the other shoe to drop. But all in all I’ve been surprised by how good of a result it had right away.
      And so it got me thinking about the journey to health I’ve taken in my own hands.
      I battled depression for way too long. Going to a doctor and taking pills didn’t help it; made it worse. It was so urgent for me to find a solution that I’ve poured over books that are way out of my comfort zone and (before) my interest. Like medical journals, nutrition, and many other things.

      I don’t pretend to be a doctor or someone that is in a place to diagnose issues for others, even for myself. But I am a deep well of knowledge that connects the dots in many areas. And it has made my original area of interest and study much clearer and I am much better at it: psychology.

      The urgency was there. I think coding is a pretty great thing but I don’t have an urgency to learn how to do it. I don’t have a push for it.

      But you better believe I was desperate to find solutions to my problems. And so I did. In the process I became really good in a lot of things that add up to the same big goal: Counseling others.

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