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Unschooling, YouTube And Drive-Throughs

Unschooling parent, Natasha Allan, overcomes her anxieties about YouTube and finds herself embracing her daughter's technological curiosity.

My daughter loves her YouTubers, she has an array of favorites. She loves watching them create things, open things, explore things... she loves YouTube. I love it. But I didn’t always love YouTube when it came to my daughter watching it.

It can be difficult to jump in and find the YouTube joy when generally-shared conventional beliefs try to reinforce:

 "No child should have access to YouTube" "No child should be watching YouTube when they can be doing..." "You should limit your child’s access to YouTube because they'll become..." “Children shouldn’t have access to ‘screens’ until they’re X years old”…

We've all heard it. The fear. I get it. This is new territory, unchartered waters for parents. This is the first generation of kids born into a world where Saturday morning cartoons peppered with commercials have transformed into constant video access where the commercials are the video. Toy challenges, toy unboxing, toy reviews, toy companies creating shows specifically to showcase new product. This generation is not growing up with product placement they're growing up with product and a lot of it.

Our process to get to where we are today was a shaky one. Oh my geez it's been a challenge. I've convinced myself that my daughter will grow up to be a consumer surrounded by nothing but shelves upon shelves of excess. I've convinced myself that the only way to avoid this fate was to STOP ALL BLIND BAG VIDEOS!

Well... thankfully we didn't.

But we did stop looking to the future of what may be and instead focused on what is.

How could we think we had the ability to come up with what her future would look like?

We were basing our assumptions and predictions on what was before but our before didn’t include unschoolers watching YouTube without limits. It included us as schooled children controlled at every turn. Children who had limits set upon them, kids who grew up in environments where we weren’t trusted or supported to choose wisely but told at every turn what we were to do and not do. We come from a world where “if you give them an inch…” was uttered daily.

Instead we set those fears aside and dove into supporting our daughter in having unlimited access. We installed Kids Youtube on her iPad and on an old iPhone of mine. We didn’t throw caution to the wind and wish her luck. We are always available to help her in searching for videos; we are always available to watch along with her when she wants company. We stay close by to be supportive and help her navigate this world. We learn about what she’s watching and chat about it with her. We develop our own relationship with the YouTubers she likes which allows for discussions that aren’t “Which one was that again?” but more “Oh man, I love how Cookie is making that dress out of Play-Doh, it’s similar to how she made dresses for pregnant Barbie’s in her last video!”

My Calm is Her Calm

The tension that existed from my inner conflict regarding YouTube and certain TV shows was way more powerful and way more damaging than any blind bag video. My resistance to where my daughter was and where she finds joy created horrible tension and even if I tried to mask my contempt for these videos she was internalizing my feelings. That's not ok. This is the opposite of support. This will damage our relationship and this could damage her ability to love and accept herself.

Instead I choose to look for the good in the videos, TV shows and movies she enjoys. I could pick apart any Disney movie like a champ and my instinct used to be to do so but now I enjoy them with her and watch through her eyes.

It’s important to remember and I find myself thinking about this often, living this path as an Unshcooling Family is foreign to me. I didn’t grow up this way. I didn’t even know unschooling was a thing until after my daughter was born. I had hoped we would homeschool but unschooling was absolutely new to me, it has been an amazing choice for us. It is hard to let go of the thoughts and beliefs that are deeply engrained. It is challenging to break out of the old mold and blossom into something completely different. It takes a constant willingness to change and evolve. It takes a willingness to let go of the idea that you are the teacher, you know better and you are the authority. Rather you are the partner. You are the facilitator. You are the supporter, nurturer, and helper.

I'm deep in deschooling mode. I have beliefs, words and sayings integrated in who I have become. Just when I feel the ground under me has settled, it shifts and sometimes erupts throwing me up in the air. I watch as these beliefs and words that belong to someone else fly and swirl out of my mind leaving room for new thoughts and beliefs. New thoughts where I am my children’s partner, supporting, walking along side them on their journey not in front not behind.

Evolution to YouTuber

My daughter has started making her own videos, all the time. She records herself doing things like opening toys, running around the yard, playing with things, making things, chatting about things. She really wants a YouTube channel. She greets her fans when she begins filming and signs off reminding her fans to subscribe. She talks to them saying “Hi guys!” taking them on adventures. She has called her channel “Lemon’s Magic Yummy World”. She decided what her banner would look like and has begun to think of ways to integrate live motion into her opening credits. It’s incredible to watch her have fun, learn, expand and grow. And in this case it’s a whirlwind of ideas and growth surrounding her love of YouTube.

Recently she watched one of her favorite YouTubers go through a drive-thru in her mini car, ordering her own food and paying herself. Lemon was overjoyed when she watched this episode. She asked if we could do that with her mini tractor.

I hesitated then said, “Yes, of course we can, it’s a bit too late to go tonight so we’ll do it tomorrow”. “Huh? We can?” I thought.

Tomorrow rolled around; we all spent the day playing, doing this and that around the house then in the afternoon my husband and Lem went down the street to say hello to our friends. When they came home Lemon asked “So are we going to the drive-thru now?” (The drive-thru idea made me feel anxious, I secretly had hoped it would fade). We sat in the kitchen and figured out our next move. Is it possible for a 5 year old to drive a mini tractor through a drive-thru?

We were going to find out.

This is an interesting part for me. Going through a drive-thru in a mini vehicle at 5 years of age is something I would never have done. Nor is it something I think my parents would have helped me do. So while I love my daughter’s fearless nature, her unbridled curiosity and sense of adventure the idea of going through with this made me feel very nervous. I know without a doubt this feeling exists from when I was young. It was a response I had many times growing up wishing to stay inconspicuous. Stay out of the aim of any authority figure; slide by unnoticed. It’s ironic that I became an actor in my 20’s but that’s for another post.

So off we went, piling in the van with the mini tractor loaded in the back, charged and ready to go.

After a failed attempt at driving through without speaking with the restaurant first (I didn’t know this but the drive-thru microphones and speakers are triggered by weight, her little tractor wasn’t heavy enough to trigger their system) Lemon and I walked into the restaurant and asked to speak with the manager.

Again… this made me feel uncomfortable.

I don’t like calling attention to myself yet here I am, walking in the restaurant asking if my 5-year-old daughter can drive her mini tractor through their drive-thru. What?

Me: “Hello, my daughter has a YouTube channel and would like to film herself driving through the drive-thru in her mini tractor. Is that possible?” (Oh my god. They think I’m nuts, this woman is going to laugh us right out of Dodge.) Manager: “YES! Of course that’s possible!” Me: “AMAZING! Lemon, it's going to happen! IT’S REALLY GOING TO HAPPEN!” Manager: “Just go to the outside lane and we’ll turn on the microphone for you to order.”

Lemon was beaming. Floating on air. Outside we went. Lemon hopped back in her tractor and off she went. We filmed her driving through, ordering, paying, having her photo taken at the second window while *all* the employees tried to catch a glimpse of her. It was hilarious and crazy and all things fun.

I’ve finally edited Lemon’s first YouTube video, it’s uploading as I write. I took time after the kids fell asleep or while they were busy playing with Papa here and there. We watched it together today, all four of us. Oli’s little hands clapping along with the music, big smiles on everyone’s faces.

I don’t know what will come of this, a few months of video making, maybe a few years… a better camera, learning how to film better? I don’t know. And that is ok. All I know is right now my daughter loves making videos and loves that she has her own YouTube channel. She thinks that is the coolest thing on the planet. We’ll roll with it and have fun along the way, following her joy.

I’ve come to learn a lot about myself as a parent. I’ve come to learn even more as an unschooling parent deeply immersed in deschooling. If I can just get myself out of the way a little bit, focus on my children’s interests and partner with them to help them succeed, life will be magical.

Not always easy but I don’t think that’s the point.

Magical.   Full of opportunities to look deeper, deeper within myself at how I was raised in this world and deeper into how to be a better supportive partner to my children.

Natasha Allan Before becoming a mother Natasha was an actor. She also owned and ran a dog walking/boarding company in Toronto, Ontario Canada. She and her family now live outside the city where she is focusing her energy on becoming a better parent everyday through radically unschooling her two glorious children and is learning different techniques to help abused and neglected horses recover from trauma. Natasha writes about her radical unschooling journey at her blog, Follow the Joy and is a moderator at the Unschooling Mom2Mom Facebook groups. 

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