Protecting our Children

A reader on the Always Learning list had taken her skepticism to a professional, who wrote this, among other things:

You will protect him from alcohol, coffee, sugar, gambling, guns, violence, commercial seductions, streets, drugs, ocean waves, crime, certain areas of the city, etc. You will also insist on him wearing a seat-belt in a car, a helmet on a bike, and other restrictions for his protection, or to accommodate laws or the needs of others.
(That discussion can be read in the Always Learning archives here.)

This page sat here for years before I brought this note. The person who took her complaints "to a professional" went to Naomi Aldort, who was subsequently discovered to have been dishonest about possessing a PhD in psychology and a Master's degree in Music. The discovery of those falsehoods puts her work into question, and so although at the time the discussion was carried out with the idea that there was an expert commenting, now I see it differently.

The responses of people from the unschooling discussion are as valid as ever.

—Sandra Dodd, 2014

Someone specified:

This is why I'd like to propose to rephrase the question: What about the use of drugs? My assumption is that we agree (please confirm) that we should "protect" our children from using drugs. It seems they have the initial "nice" effect of being "high" but they also have the long term effect of creating physical addiction, right? A child, or a teenager, may not know or be mature enough to discuss the pros & cons.

So how do radical unschoolers protect (or not) your children from using drugs?

Some of the responses:
Sandra Dodd:
I don't know any parents who bring drugs home and offer them to their kids. The "protection" comes in the form of openness and a communicative relationship. I've never known an unschooled child to need to know or be mature enough to decide about drugs, because it's not something that comes along in the lives of young children. When they're teens, comparing unschooled kids to more mainstream kids, they often have more information and parents who will advise them directly. Most of the drug using teens I have known in my life were from families where there was a lot of fighting and punishment and neglect, or from super strict, quiet families. They were, one way or another, escaping their lives at home, or they were acting to impress kids at school.

What I have most protected my children from was the presence of alcoholics in their lives. I have limited friendships and cut off a couple of relatives who were going to bring tacky drunken behavior into the house, and that didn't happen. There was enough tacky drunken behavior in my own growing up to cover me and my three kids all; they've seen very little, and that's fine with me.


Pam Sorooshian:
Not confirming because I don't know what it means when you put "protect" in quotation marks. My kids were protected from drug addiction by being smart and sensible and having parents they could talk to about anything and by not being needy and desperate and alienated and angry.


Schuyler Waynforth:
Drugs, what about drugs. I drink coffee every morning. Caffeine is a stimulant, it has been shown to be addictive, I am fine with giving either my 10 year old or my 13 year old a cup of coffee, a glass of coke, a red bull. Beer, cider, wine, spirits? Simon and Linnaea have had some of each of those, I think. They didn't really like the flavour. David and I brew our own beer and wine, so there is lots available. No one is sneaking in our house to get access to the available drugs. So far nothing other has come to the fore. There are no illegal drugs that they are using or having exposure to, except in conversation or television. My guess is that they will try illegal drugs at some point. My belief is, based on the science that I align myself with, that they will totally be social drug users and not become addicted.

There is this fantastic piece of work or series of work done by a psychologist at Simon Fraser University, Bruce Alexander, on addiction in rats. Rats were the standard trial animal for drugs like heroin demonstrating addiction. Bruce Alexander looked at the conditions in which that the lab rats were being kept and used that as his point of testing. Not the drugs, but the environment. He set up this Rat Park, it was a big area, with lots to do and with a small, mixed sex, rat colony. When he gave them the standard choice between drugged water and regular water, well they consistently chose the regular water. Even when he got them hooked on the morphine they would kick it when they were given a choice to have drug-free water. explains it in much greater detail.

So, to answer your question about drugs, well I figure the only way I can truly protect my children is to help them to have a rich and engaging environment. If they have nothing to run from than any drug use will only be about curiousity and not about a need to get away from a horrible life. Simon and Linnaea don't turn to substances to feel good or high, and I can only guess that they will continue to not need things to feel good or high, because they feel good and high most of the time. If you have that in your day-to-day, why go looking for it in a bottle or a joint or a syringe?


Joyce Fetteroll:
The assumption behind the question—as it always is when anyone asks—is that everyone —especially teens—naturally want the altered state of drugs and if they try drugs they'll become addicted. So the assumption is that kids need kept from drugs until they're emotionally mature enough to decide not to try drugs based on the knowledge parents (or some program) put into them.

But is that true? Is every person equally vulnerable to the seduction of drugs? Is the only difference between my daughter and an 18 yo female drug addict the fact that the drug addict tried drugs?

My daughter is so far from being intrigued by drugs that the question of how to protect her doesn't even make sense ;-) She's certainly not a protected princess. Her favorite music is heavy metal. She and her friends love delving into the lives of 80's rock stars. She knows who of her favorites died of drug overdoses and knows Nikki Sixx died 3 times (but keeps on ticking ;-)

The huge difference is she doesn't have the pressures in her life that draw kids to drugs. She's supported and trusted. She's liked for who she is and not for who we think it would be better for her to be. She's not pressured to perform to external standards. Her interests are not only not denigrated but are supported, even the ones we don't get the attraction of.

*That's* how you protect kids from drugs.


The first post in that topic had a link to the discussion quoted above, which is gone, but here it is preserved at the internet archive's WayBack Machine:
from Natural Life Magazine, March/April 2010
Ask Naomi
Freedom, Not License - (A.S. Neill)
by Naomi Aldort

What about Socialization? Online Safety and Unschooling Building an Unschooling Nest

(Problems with fraudulent claims by someone formerly considered to be an expert.)