January 2014, Joyce on the facebook discussion:

I do see you put "addiction" in quotes but it's important to relationship-building to avoid negative labels, even in jest. It's especially important if you haven't come up with a positive word to describe it. What would you call a passionate interest in an activity that society approves of? What if he were deeply drawn to chess? Hockey? Cooking?

Intense interest

What about addiction?

Colleen Prieto wrote:

A few times in unschooling writings, I've seen reference to the idea of "without attachment to outcomes." Unschooling parents strew materials or put out books or offer up classes or experiences here and there, but unlike conventional homeschoolers or conventional parents, the idea is to do it "without attachment to outcomes"—to value the Now without thinking that the Right book or the Right items or the Right experience will lead to a particular and predefined Someday (or Future) for the child. A child who likes rocks today does not need to become a geologist when he's 30 :-)

But I think "without attachment to outcomes" applies to more than just learning. It's not that I don't care what my son becomes as an adult—I of course want him to be happy, healthy, and I very much want him to grow up "undamaged" to use Keith Dodd's word that Sandra Dodd has quoted.

But I also know that no matter how wonderful a childhood he has—no matter how accepted, nurtured, loved, and cared for he is—I can't control his Future. His Someday is his—and he will run up against a whole world that is full of potentially confusing and potentially damaging things and people. We give him the best Now we can, in hopes that'll carry him through his Someday as well as it can. But we also know it might not be enough—he might find someone or something so attractive, be it drugs or alcohol or who knows what, that whatever it is might have a pull for him that we'd never have guessed or imagined—for reasons we might never know.

I hope not :-) but I tell myself that if that happens, what's important is that I be able to look back and know I did the best I could. As my husband says (pardon me please on this one, non-Democrats reading here :-)) "You know, he can spend his whole life watching me vote Blue and talk Blue and want Blue, and he can still turn 18 and go Red." Yep.

Same with narcotics and other difficult stuff (a stretch from politics, maybe — but same idea in my mind). You do the best you can to provide a good foundation, but you let the outcome go, knowing one day they're going to be standing somewhere where there's heroin or whatever, and they'll have to cast their own vote.

Colleen Prieto
October 2012

Someone claiming TV was addictive wrote:
If I felt my child was addicted to TV or ANYTHING ELSE I would try to help him.
Joyce Fetteroll responded:
I think rather than singling out TV (or ANYTHING ELSE) and focusing on addiction—which I think is debatable—it's more universally useful to look at whether people are happy or not and to help them be happy. TV does not cause unhappiness. People who are unhappy can turn to TV (or ANYTHING ELSE) as a solution to their unhappiness. If that solution doesn't work and they're stuck on that solution, we can try to help. But it doesn't help us help them to focus on what they've latched onto and see that as the problem. The problem came before their choice of solution. Taking away the solution won't make the problem go away.

Schuyler Waynforth, to questions about a child asking to try cigarettes, and to why people would smoke cigarettes:

I smoked from the age of 12, with one year out, until I was 21. I started again when I was 23 and then quit when I was 27 and haven't smoked since, except for one cigarette at a party that made me nervous for weeks that I was going to start smoking again. I didn't.

My dad let me try his cigarette once when we were walking. I must have been 9 or 10 and expressed curiousity. I don't think it had anything to do with my smoking later. I started smoking at a time when my home life was under intense upheaval. My mom had moved away to work and my dad was gone from the house from early in the morning to late at night. I had moved from the easier, smaller, younger grade in school, to the larger school and more competetive school of junior high, or middle school, or secondary school or whatever it is in Australia, and was hanging with a wilder, faster group of kids. My smoking coincided with my school grades going into a steep decline. I wasn't smoking because I tasted a cigarette, I was smoking because it was something that was helping me to hook into a support network at a time when my seemingly stable home life was falling apart a bit.

I assume you are nervous that buying your daughter cigarettes will make her addicted. It may help to look at addiction as a response to environment rather than as a response to substance. Here is an article about the research Bruce Alexander did examining addiction in rats (Rat Park). He found that environment played a huge role in the response that rats showed to having addictive substances available. My enviroment sucked when I was 12. It didn't get better for a long time. When it did get better I stopped smoking and haven't relapsed in any meaningful way. That's what Bruce Alexander found in rats and later in humans. Humans in crap environments will smoke, drink, use drugs, gamble, whatever it is that makes the crap less crappy, the stress less intense. Humans will self-medicate. When situations get better, when the environment changes, like returning from the Vietnam war, humans will stop using the drugs, go through the physical withdrawal symptoms, the hell that is separating from the addiction, and return to a life without that self-medication.

The best thing that any parent can do is to make their life with and their relationship with their children as good and as happy and as stress-free as possible. That way they will be less likely to feel a need to medicate their way out of the misery and stress that makes up their day to day lives.

I would buy Simon and Linnaea cigarettes if they were curious. I don't think I'd really think too long or too hard about it, either.


The video that was here disappeared from YouTube. I wrote to Schuyler to ask if she wanted to recommend another, and she now prefers the illustrated explanation by Stuart McMillen, linked just below. Her husband has given it to some of his students (he teaches in a medical school),

Rat Park drug experiment comic about addiction—Stuart McMillen comics
        It's clear and cheery, and has some follow-up that we couldn't know by reading about the original study.

Older resources:

Addiction: The View from Rat Park (2010), by Bruce K. Alexander, Professor Emeritus, Simon Fraser University

Wikipedia's summary of the Rat Park study

Colleen Prieto, April 20, 2014

in response to: **addictive chemicals in food**

There are people who steal and lie and hurt other people in order to get money for alcohol and for drugs. There are people who commit crimes in order to feed their very real addiction to cocaine, or vodka, or meth.

I have never known of anyone who has committed a crime to feed an addiction to soda, or Twizzlers, or MSG-laden barbecue-flavored potato chips.

I have never heard of a parent who is sick with worry because they do not know where their chip-eating, Pepsi-drinking child is, discovering only later that he had fallen asleep in a park, high on sugar and food-chemicals. I have never heard of parents getting phone calls because their child is in the hospital after crashing his car while high on red food dye.

When people apply the word "addiction" to food items, it bugs me.

It's like somehow, to some people, saying "I am addicted to [insert food item here]" sounds better - fancier - more attractive for whatever reason - than saying "there are foods that I like *so* much that I eat more than I feel like I should, or more than I want, or more than makes me feel good." Or than saying "sometimes when I'm upset, I eat a whole lot of cookies in an attempt to make myself feel better. And sometimes, you know what, it works!!"

It's sort of like the idea of being addicted to video games - or other such things that just aren't, by any stretch of the imagination, similar to drugs and alcohol in the effect they truly have on people. Saying a teenager is "Addicted to video games" somehow sounds better to some folks than saying that their particular child really would rather sit inside on the couch by himself playing Tetris or World of Warcraft or such, and the child would really rather *not* go outside and wander the woods or go hang out with other kids or with their neighbors.

But is there anything really wrong with a child who prefers to be inside and by himself? Or with a child who loves candy so much that they sometimes eat so much they get a stomach-ache? Something so wrong that *addiction* sounds better?? I think not. 😊

As an unschooling parent, I'm ok with my son eating whatever he wants to eat - I don't try to control his intake of food-dye, or sugar, or non-organic fruit. When he drinks milk, he likes if we buy a particular organic brand that's from Maine - my husband and I like locally raised meats (my son doesn't eat meat, by his choice) - and we all enjoy going to area farms to buy veggies and eggs. My son likes barbecue chips, Twizzlers, Eggo waffles, frozen pizza, and the occasional Peep. He loves ice cream. My husband ate a Whopper the other day for lunch, and I haven't eaten beef or pork for several months now. In other words, we're all over the place when it comes to the foods we choose to eat. And any one of the three of us trying to make the other eat what one of us thought was good or proper or better or best would make for a house full of unhappy people. As it stands now, no one here is unhappy, no one feels sad or ashamed when they eat the foods they enjoy, and no one - I am quite sure - is addicted to anything. 😊

Colleen Prieto

Colleen's comment above is from a very interesting, long discussion in 2014: (click for the original, if it's still there)

"Am I going to hate, and have to fight, Harry Potter the way I have Pokemon?"

Sandra's intro:
When people DO believe that children are easily "addicted" to the things that interest them, it seems to come along with a witheringly negative attitude toward those same children. I don't know who wrote this, but it was early 2011, and was sent to me as a bad example. I don't want to know who wrote it. Let it be an artifact of negative parenting, and an example of the distance some unschoolers have come from "the mainstream" of homeschooling.

Subject: Am I going to regret Harry Potter too?

There are certain "interests" my 9-year-old daughter has acquired (mainly from other kids) that I really regret:

Pokemon, for one. Addictive; capitalistic exploitation of children; teaches an obnoxious "persecuting from righteous victim" life position; no "redeeming social value."

Monopoly and all its take-off games. The only way to win is to behave like a corporate capitalist creep. These games teach and reward greed, a "who cares?" attitude about other people, exploitation, and extortion.

Computer games and pop-culture videos online (like Pokemon videos). Addictive, exploitive, stupid-making, no redeeming social value. (My kid's an easy addict. When I finally break through the "One more moment, mom, I'm almost done" wall and get her off the computer, she runs to the bathroom because she needed to pee long ago but wouldn't leave the computer for even a minute to do it, and then she has a total meltdown because she needed to eat long ago but she ignored her hunger and now her blood sugar is WAY too low. So now I hide the computer from her!)

Ok, I'm done ranting and now for my real question. Some of my daughter's homeschooling friends are into Harry Potter, wearing the school uniforms, waving magic wands, etc., and now my daughter wants a wand, a uniform, HP books and books-on-tape, etc. She got an HP book on tape from the library and wants to sit like a dumpling with a little tape player clipped to her belt and earphones on, staring off into space while she listens. After two days of this, I already really resent having to "break the sound barrier" to get her attention and get her to do ANYTHING else.

Harry Potter looks to me like just another big capitalist scam to hook kids and get their parents' money. Am I right about that? Or is there redeeming social value in HP that I'm not seeing? Am I going to hate, and have to fight, Harry Potter the way I have Pokemon?

Any opinions appreciated, especially input from parents of other "easy addict" kids.

Below are my comments (Sandra's). They didn't go to the author, because I wasn't in on the discussion where this was first posted. They're for people who come by here.

"Am I going to hate, and have to fight, Harry Potter the way I have Pokemon?"

HATE? "Have to"? "Fight"? Eewwww... There is more violence in that question than in all of Pokemon's "battles." And seriously... fighting Harry Potter!? He can kick Voldemort's ass. If only the mom had spent all that energy looking at Harry Potter, or Pokemon, WITH her daughter, instead of being resentful and jealous and spiteful, their relationship might soar.
"She got an HP book on tape from the library and wants to sit like a dumpling with a little tape player clipped to her belt and earphones on, staring off into space while she listens."
Had that child been reading a book instead of listening, would the mother have described her as wanting "to sit like a dumpling"? Social services doesn't care when a mother has a withering negativity toward a child. They have other, bigger problems. But this girl is not likely to have a good, loving relationship with a mother who chose to belittle her daughter so cruelly to many other parents, most of them strangers.

A smattering of words from the post: regret, "interests", addictive, exploitation, obnoxious, persecution, victim, no, creep, greed, extortion, stupid, resent, scam, hook, hate, fight (and it was only 342 words altogether; that is a flood of negativity).

"...and then she has a total meltdown because she needed to eat long ago but she ignored her hunger and now her blood sugar is WAY too low. So now I hide the computer from her!"
#1: Monkey Platter
#2: Seeing and Avoiding Negativity
#3: I don't have a link to go with this, but if hiding things and being sneaky are acceptable in that family, I hope the mother will graciously accept the natural consequences of her decisions when the daughter hides things from her negative, critical mother.
(Sandra Dodd, end of responses)

Focus, Hobbies, Obsessions TV

Video Games Food

Parenting Peacefully Saying Yes

Living by Principles instead of by Rules