Unschooled Teens: How are they as People?

"People warned me 'oooh, you'll have three teens, watch out, it will be horrible' but so far, with Holly 12 and Kirby 17, it hasn't been horrible in any way whatsoever."
—Sandra Dodd
update with Holly nearly 16, Marty 18, Kirby 21 and moved away, it was never horrible, and has become better and better

October 2009 update: Holly nearly 18; others similarly older; still great.


Kathryn Baptista, on Julian and other teens, February 2005:

I find myself in the last legs of unschooling, and it's really very cool. Beth and I were talking last night about Julian, and we agreed that, after pulling him out of school after the third grade and plunging into unschooling, neither of us would have dreamed how amazing he would turn out: Kind, knowledgeable, fun and funny, scary smart, mature, competent....

I could go on, but if you have younger kids and wonder how this could possibly work, I promise you....it's SO worth it. There aren't any real effective books about parenting for people who choose this way to live with their families, and that IS hard sometimes. But you have real live examples. And from the wonderful teens who spent time with us in January, it's NOT that I personally lucked into a great kid (although I really did) .... They're around, and they're going to change the world.

Kathryn

Someone expressed concern that her husband's attendance at the Live and Learn Conference might sour him on unschooling, as he was just interested in academic unschooling, not radical unschooling.

Angela Woerner/Mommy2Hannah responded:

Last year, my daughter and I attended the L&L conference ourselves. My husband didn't come. After the conference, Any doubts that *I* had before had vanished.

Especially seeing Kirby and Holly Dodd (didn't see Marty much, he was hanging with friends), as well as Kelly Lovejoy's oldest son [Cameron] really made me realize.... unschooling WORKS. It works long term. Gentle parenting and unschooling works.

. . . .

In this case, I think it may be important, if you decide to go, to tell your husband to focus on the teenagers who are unschooled. Not on the small children who may seem to "run wild" (in some people's opinions). We all know teenagers are the ones who get the bad rap of being sullen and angry and rude.

But last year I saw helpful, kind teenagers. I saw a teenage boy stop in the hallway, crouch down and gently ask a small child if they were lost, and where their mommy was, and then take their hand and take them to their mom. The teens I talked to were amazingly respectful and kind, and intelligent. And what struck me was..... these teens are respectful because they are respected. Not because it was "beat into them" or forced onto them, like a lot of people believe is necessary. You don't force respect, you earn it, and it was obvious these teenagers' parents had earned their respect over the years.

That, in itself, was enough to completely convince me that the *radical* unschooling style works. And works well.

Angela


Angela wrote:
One last thing... sorry! In this case, I think it may be important, if you decide to go, to tell your husband to focus on the teenagers who are unschooled. Not on the small children who may seem to "run wild" (in some people's opinions). We all know teenagers are the ones who get the bad rap of being sullen and angry and rude.
Good point.

Like Sandra, I'm really pleased with my kids - how they've "turned out" so far at 15, 18, and 21. I'm happy that I can feel really comfortable introducing my kids to reluctant dads and others - that I'm sure they'll make a good impression. Sullen, angry, rude - just isn't happenin' among the teens at this conference.

I spend so much time among such wonderful, nice, happy, energetic teenagers these days, I forget that isn't the way most people experience teenagers.

For those who have little kids - don't LISTEN to people who warn you about teens - they are SO wrong. As long as you're not trying to control them, as long as you have built up a good and strong partnership with them, teenage years are the BEST!

-pam


I spend so much time among such wonderful, nice, happy, energetic teenagers these days, I forget that isn't the way most people experience teenagers.
I so agree Pam! I've found the experience of being with unschooled teens so profound, that I'm making it the focus of my presentation this year.

I've had people in our local unschooling group tell me that talking to my kids makes them feel more comfortable about unschooling with their own. They can see the result of gentle parenting and trust as it plays out in the maturing process.

And my kids aren't special. Well they *are* to me of course. <g> But I mean hanging around any group of unschooled teens will give you the same insight.

Sullen, angry, rude - just isn't happenin' among the teens at this conference.
Nope. They're too busy hugging and smiling and drumming and gaming and helping and singing and dancing and talking and playing.

~Mary
zenmommasgarden.blogspot.com/


Pam wrote:
I spend so much time among such wonderful, nice, happy, energetic teenagers these days, I forget that isn't the way most people experience teenagers.
I completely agree. My hubby works with teenagers (with drug problems) and we both *love* teens, so we were absolutely blown away by seeing them at L&L. They are amazing!!! Bright-eyed, lovin' life and enjoying their families. Such a sight for sore eyes. I saw them and literally said, "That's what I want Shelby to be like."

The teenagers alone are worth going....oh but there's so much more.....

Wendy S. in GA
Mom to Shelby, age 7
www.trustbirth.com

[Of a 14 year old boy:]
Being unschooled has been an issue, as I'm sure you're aware of, with others. I just don't even discuss our way of unschooling vs. homeschooling. HOWEVER, in the past year I've never heard such compliments on my son.....how intelligently he speaks, how well versed he seems, etc. Thanks for your help in finding a great way for US, both David and me, to learn. What a difference it's made in David, in me, and in our relationship. AND as an added bonus, David's own personality, intelligence, and self worth is thriving like I never had imagined. Just had to share.

Cyndy Lopez


Winter 2006: I/Sandra wrote, bragging up how much Pam Sorooshian's three teen daughters knew and did:
It's not fair, it's not right, it's not totally true (but it might be a little bit true <bwg>, but my kids probably know as much as her kids do, it's just way more scattery.

Pam Sorooshian responded:
Yeah, well, what Sandra didn't mention is how I actually SAID how I wish my kids were more like hers.

I guess we have some level of "kid envy" going <g> - but what I admire about Sandra's kids seems a lot more important than depth of knowledge about certain things. They are SO good-natured and nice and generous. They are incredibly quick-thinking and intelligent and interesting!

Tami wrote:
What Pam said! With an emphasis on the generous...Cassidy (5) and Adam (3) still can't get over how Holly let them play in the "Barbie room with a light on a string" as long as they wanted! And pushed them on the swings! And came to their grandma's house to swim (with the rest of the family)! And Marty put the dog away so she wouldn't scare them!

My kids are now sadly disappointed when they encounter "big kids" who "aren't nice like Holly and her brothers."


Sandra Dodd, June 7, 2003

Well, the same day I read that we were lazy hedonists, this happened:

The final day, graduation from the Junior Police Academy, they march in like soldiers, doing face drills and filing in and pledging allegiance (we briefed Marty on that this week; he said he knew it from a humorous version in the bathroom, just leave out the joke parts)...

Ceremonial this'n'that, certificates, pins, Marty was awarded a certificate as "Top Gun" (electronic target practice guns, F.A.T.S. and paintball guns) which also came with $15 gift certificate to a sporting goods store. Seven or eight other kids (of 32) got awards like most pushups, most improved, most physically fit male.

Of Marty, I thought "All that Nintendo Duck Hunt paid off."

Then we ate good local barbecue, served up by their instructors, and as people were taking pictures and saying goodbye, I went up to one of his instructors and sat to thank him. He said Marty was just a joy to work with. Chit chat you'd expect.

Then he said the big thing. (Brace yourselves. And I really like the guy.)

He said "You can always tell a kid who comes from a family with a lot of discipline, and rules.."

He said Marty was really well behaved and enthusiastic and cooperative. (I wish I had the exact quotes there; I wish I had VIDEOTAPE.)

I said "We hardly have any rules at our house. We just tell them to always make the best choice, to be helpful and not hurt people." (That's maybe 85% close to exact words; I need my audio back!)

He said they had talked about a lot of things like that over the week. I wanted to make light again, because it was maybe kinda tacky to counter "you can always tell" with "GOTCHA! Wrong! CAN'T always tell." So I said, "Y'know, Monday was really his first day at school of any sort. It was his first day taking notes or anything like that."

"Oh, right, he's homeschooled, right?"

"Yes."

"Most of the homeschooled kids I've met were not so good at social interactions. Marty's really confident and outgoing."

I told him he had gone home and re-written his notes from Monday, and had been really focused on his assignments and getting ready for the next day. He said "Initiative! Good!"

Probably there was nobody there who was as eager and excited to be there as Marty was. So we made some more sweet chitchat and that was it.

I could hardly wait to get into the van and close the doors so I could tell Keith, Marty and Holly what he had said about discipline and rules. We talked about that most of the way home. Holly can hardly believe that some people think that rules upon rules will make people "good" away from home. It just makes no sense to her.

Marty said one of the kids got in bad trouble this afternoon, threatened with being sent home, for throwing pieces of rubber at other kids, and for throwing paintballs. One broke on the exercise track. NOT at the targets, where the mess was supposed to be.

Marty couldn't fathom why someone would be at such a cool place and act that way.

But Marty had also told me there were two people there who hadn't even wanted to be there. I didn't ask (yet) whether this kid was one of those. Marty was exhausted when he got home and went to bed at 10:00.

This evidence is really important, that someone who works with kids a lot (Police Athletic League volunteer), someone who's in law enforcement, sees an enthusiastic, well-behaved, cooperative kid, and is confident that he came from a house with discipline and rules.

Discipline and rules? All-fired flaming hedonists? (Whatever the accusation was.)

Neither of the above.

Sandra
7 June 2003

An addition to that story:

On the way home we took him by the gaming shop where Kirby was painting miniatures, and the employees know Marty well, and four or five of the guys there gaming are regular friends of his. He was still in his academy uniform, and he wore his hat in, and we were showing around the photo of all the students and teachers posing in front of the police helicopter (already framed and on the wall now), and his certificate of completion, and his certificate as Top Gun.

It was fun. Like a ten minute reception. I took photos of him there, too.

He got his first "schoolday" and his first graduation ceremony all in one week.


Rhonda / RJHill wrote:

Sandra, you have such great kids!!! I was thinking about this concept the other day, after talking with a friend who is having difficulties with her four year old. She goes to preschool and the traits that were already driving my friend nuts are getting worse. So the topic of discipline and rules came up. People always assume that because kids like our house so much it must have something to do with our discipline and rules. I have agreed most of the time. The funny thing is, their idea of discipline and rules are nowhere like ours. Our rules are: have fun, enjoy yourself, be kind - not hateful or mean, never hurt each other physically and respect each other. The discipline is: if you can't be or do the aforementioned, then don't come over until you can. It's so simple and yet it seems people want it to be so much more about power and less about choices in being a decent human. So I guess we really do have rules and discipline, just not what are considered the standard of those. But really I don't know what would be the standard.

My friend is a gem, she and her hubby think my kids are the standard by which all kids should be measured. I warn them that my kids are just what they are because they are free to be so. Of course I slip in words of encouragement for their child and am really hoping they will choose to take her out of school. She goes three days a week now and I just hope for her sake they realize that the traits they dislike won't magically disappear as long as she attends any school.


Betsy Hill commented:

For Holly to believe a stupid rule, someone would have to program it into her *before* she had the life experience to contradict it. (In reference to " I could hardly wait to get into the van and close the doors so I could tell Keith, Marty and Holly what he had said about discipline and rules. We talked about that most of the way home. Holly can hardly believe that some people think that rules upon rules will make people "good" away from home. It just makes no sense to her.")

About that "Lazy Hedonists" reference, when I looked for the quote I found this rant (which will be on a page of its own).

Betsy's point above is true. Teens who were always unschooled *know* things that other people don't know. My children, for example, know one can learn to read without being taught. They don't think it, kind of believe it, or have a theory about it. They know that it's possible to be honest and trust your parents. They know it's possible for a fourteen year old girl to hang out with her older brothers pleasantly and at their request. They understand why those with unlimited TV in their own rooms can go a long time without turning it on, or why they might want to leave it on to sleep. They have years of experience with the fact that someone with the freedom to choose to stay awake will get sleepy at some point and want to go to bed and sleep. They all understand when it's worth going to sleep even though fun things are going on, and they know how to decide when it's worth setting an alarm to get up.

There are many adults who don't know those things.


Jenny Cyphers wrote:

I just dropped Chamille and Cyle [teen daughter and boyfriend] off at the movie theater. They met up with a friend there, whose mother insisted on meeting me. If I'd known I was going to meet someone, I would've put something else on. I had only heard of this mom through various accounts from the kids.

Her son is really nice, but he really didn't want me to meet his mom, he doesn't want his mom anywhere near his life. He has a dad, a step dad, a step mom, his mom, and his mom's boyfriend and 13 siblings. They all have a lot of money and they drive nice cars, and the mom is a bit snobbish about money and people who don't have it. It's more confusing than the Brady Bunch! I knew all this while I was waiting to meet this woman in my scrunchy old sweater and jeans, glad I'd taken a shower at least.

While we were waiting I said something to Chamille about how I wish I'd known I was meeting her so that I could've at least dressed a little nicer and put lip stuff on. I told her how insecure I was feeling about that, and she looked at me without hesitation and said "mom, at least your kids like you!"

And, just like that, she put everything into perspective for me! I really do feel grateful that my kids like me and that I like them. A person could have all the money in the world and their kids could absolutely hate them. It's been on my mind because of the recent threads on feeling of lack and how it really can be avoided. My kids are whole and full and so is my life BECAUSE of how we live it!

So, while I don't deny that money can make an unschooling life easier, and that affording opportunities can contribute to a rich full unschooling life, it isn't everything. It can be worked around. Creating peace and optimism and comfort and trusting relationships are bigger and it shows through in times when things are less than ideal.

On the Always Learning List, October 3, 2009
Jenny's blog

other unschooled teens But can they get a job? How will they learn to write?
sibling relations among unschoolers Unforeseen Benefits of Unschooling parenting considerations