Friday, October 11, 2013

Emotional Health and the Power of Choice, or Why Kids Should be Able to Avoid Things

I've mentioned previously in passing that I think one of the benefits of unschooling is in the space it gives people to learn to handle things at their own pace. But I don't think I've ever said more on the subject than that.

So here's me saying more.

I think unschooling helps people to grow up as more emotionally healthy people, in part by giving them the opportunity to not deal with shit when they can't handle it.

I think it's important for people to have the option to avoid things when that feels like the healthy thing to do. What I mean by this is, for example, what I often did growing up struggling with anxiety. When a place or an activity or a person just made me too anxious, I could choose not to go back to that place or activity for as long as it took me to no longer feel anxious about it (whether that was a week or two or forever).

For others, it could mean not having to continuously deal with places or social groups where they're bullied, or things that feel too overwhelming.

Non-schoolers of various stripes are often accused of sheltering their kids, and while the type of sheltering that includes no sex ed and only teaching creationism might be problematic, the type of "sheltering" I favour is that of children learning to protect themselves by not dealing with more than they're capable of handling. Being able to make that call, instead of having no choice but to go to a place every single day where you might feel extremely overwhelmed and anxious, depressed, or be bullied and abused, is powerful. I'm so grateful for that.

I'd like to think I'm happily avoiding things that made me anxious
by practicing keyboard here.

Then of course you get a whole bunch of people saying "then how will they ever learn to deal with difficult situations?!" My response is that, firstly, why should anyone be subjected to harm, whether that's physical or emotional, if it can in any way be avoided? And secondly, that difficult situations and people are simply impossible to avoid no matter how "sheltered" a person is. What you can do is:

  1. Not deal with actual abuse. No one, no matter their age, should ever be forced to deal with abusive people and situations. Ever. 
  2. Wait until you feel ready to deal with something. Maybe it's impossible to avoid, but you need a bit of time to think things through, and prepare yourself. Everyone deserves that breathing space, if they need it.
  3. Avoid the things that just aren't necessary. Maybe a certain activity is full of people who just love drama. Maybe you don't feel it's worth it to go to that activity, because it provides more negatives then positives in your life. So you can just, you know, stop going.
Because ultimately, difficult things are impossible to entirely (or sometimes even mostly) avoid. Your friend groups will have fights and issues, you'll have to support your friend who's going through something really rough, relationships will end, you'll run into abusive people, and sometimes you'll feel that you have to deal with an environment that feels really toxic.

But what unschooling can do is let you avoid some of the worst situations and some of the unnecessary ones. It gives children and teens a lot of the same freedom adults have, to quit a job with an abusive boss or stop going to that quilting class where people keep talking behind other peoples' backs. 

I think that children and teens, when given that freedom, can't help but be at least a bit healthier, happier, and better equipped to deal with difficulties in more intentional ways. 

And really, isn't that what we should all be striving for?


  1. Yes! Unschooling isn't a vacuum, but rather, a bigger slice of real life than public school is. If anything, I believe schooling stunts a person's social maturity by encouraging assimilation and compliance with the crowd. The lowest common denominator, if you will. I'm seeing amazing manifestations of individuality and creativity and self-motivation every day with my two teenaged unschooling children.

    1. Lisa F. thank you for saying so clearly what I have been thinking myself. We are exploring unschooling for our almost 3 year-old and one of reasons I am leaning so much towards unschooling is just what you said-school teaches conformity. Nicely said!

  2. You are so right :) When someone is ready for something, they will generally go all out to find it.

  3. I am also glad you said more... and thinking there are some words of wisdom I need to gather for myself here.

  4. Perfectly said! I agree as well!

  5. Hey Idzie, I would love to feature this post on my own blog. What do you think?
    I love it!

  6. Learning to walk away from toxic people is an important life skill

  7. Thanks for this! Will help me understand my son better.