12 year old, discipline and unschooling? Cross posted in gentle discipline - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 15 Old 03-06-2011, 07:07 PM - Thread Starter
 
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We unschool two of our kids, and home school two of them.  Until fairly recently (6 months or so), this set up worked well for our family.  Oldest Daughter was a post child for unschooling, eager to learn, intense, self motivated, she sought out opportunities to learn.   She's been driven to the point of perfection, she'd push herself to learn new skills, often practicing until she was in tears.  We've worked with her very hard to find ways balance her drive with to be perfect so she has realistic goals.  She's had a therapist to help with her anxiety for the last four years.

 

For example, last year Oldest Daughter wanted to take cooking and art lessons.  She found a neighbor who is an artist and a chef, she arranged to trade baby sitting for lessons.  They both seemed fairly happy with the arrangement.  However over the past few months, Oldest Daughter complained of being sick when it was time to baby sit, she had the "stomach bug".  The teacher allowed her to continue with the lessons even though she hadn't worked, so Oldest Daughter owes several hours of sitting.  Since Oldest Daughter has always been reliable and responsible, it never occur ed to me she might be lying.  I feel horrible that I haven't been paying that close of attention, I just had a baby in December and I returned to work in February.

 

This week it all came to a head when Oldest Daughter flatly refused to baby sit.  I tried reasoning with her, talking about why she needed to fulfill her obligations and that the teacher was depending on her.  I did make her call the teacher and tell her why she wasn't working and made her find a replacement who was acceptable to the teacher.  Luckily, Oldest Son was happy to have the work and the teacher and her kids adore him, the kids actually prefer him to Oldest Daughter.  In addition, DH and I had Oldest Daughter pay the teacher for the hours she owed her and write a letter of apology.  Oldest Daughter has to work off the money we fronted her to pay back the teacher.  She's not happy about it.  Right now, four or five days later, she is mad at DH and I, the teacher, and her brother.

 

DH gently brought it to my attention that Oldest Daughter has been slowly slaking off over the past 6 months or so.  It's at the point were, she mostly reads romance books and listens to music.  I can't remember the last time she did an art project, researched something or even read a decent (literature wise) book, may be December?  She asked to take a break from her on line classes in December with the understanding that she would keep doing her math and history on her own, she has not.  I realize I'm at fault for not monitoring her more closely, but she was always the one kid I never had worry about.  The truth is she's bored, disengaged, and miserable.  I don't think she's depressed, the therapist says she isn't.  I understand that Oldest Daughter probably needed a break, but she's past the point of a break and is sliding into lethargy and boredom.

 

DH wants to homeschool (as opposed to unschooling her) for the next year or two.  He feels she needs more structure and interaction, the therapist agrees.  The thing is Oldest Daughter is ahead academically, she reads and comprehends at a college level, she just finished on line classes for geometry and algebra II.  DH is a big believer in natural consequences and he thinks she's lost the "right" to unschool.  Though, he also feels we are to blame as her parents it is our responsibility to make sure she is okay. I feel he is right, about us being to blame and her needing to be home schooled.  I'm sometimes blinded by my life long desire to unschool the kids.  I feel like we've failed her as her parents.  DH usually follows my lead when it comes to the kids' education.  This is the first time, he's ever questioned whether we are handling things in the best interest of the child.  

 

Thoughts?  Ideas?  Are we being too hard on her?  DH isn't Oldest Daughter's biological father, he adopted her 9 years ago when we go married.  He's afraid she'll be angry at him, they are close now, but originally got off to a rocky start.  I've always been the heavy when it comes to Oldest Daughter.

 


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#2 of 15 Old 03-06-2011, 11:28 PM
 
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In my experience many/most unschooled adolescents go through a year or so where they pupate. Draw inwards. Seem to do little that's productive. Seem to lose interest in things they used to enjoy. They're growing and changing inside. Then they emerge. My ds (14, a bit of a late bloomer) is emerging the past couple of months. My elder dd (now 17) had a deadly year from 12-13. My best friend's lovely now-adult unschooler had a year when "she didn't come out of her bedroom." I have another dd who is 12 now. She hasn't withdrawn yet, but she's not really starting to develop physically yet either. I have a feeling she'll go through the same phase next year.

 

The other thought I have upon reading your post ... and I'll try to say this gently....

 

To me unschooling is about trusting a child to lead his or her own education. It's not about giving a child the freedom to lead his or her own education so long as it conforms to your idea about what a good education is. A little story... When I was 16 my parents told me that they were willing to give me responsibility for setting my own curfew. The first Friday night I told them that I would be home by 1:30 a.m. (rather than the midnight time they had typically set for me) they told me that this was clear evidence that I wasn't responsible enough to set my own curfew, and they removed that privilege. I still get steamed about it thirty years later: I wasn't given responsibility, I was given fake responsibility so long as I did what my parents wanted. Now I know this is a pretty stark example to compare to, but I guess I'm just suggesting you and your dh ask yourselves what your philosophical reasons are for choosing unschooling in the first place. Do you trust your daughter? Did you choose unschooling because you believed in trusting her? Have your beliefs changed now that she's testing your commitment to the approach?

 

I get it, I really do. My own eldest was way ahead of the curve academically and was also a poster child for unschooling. She read at 3, wrote fabulous poetry and short stories at 8, was doing algebra at 10, played a piano concerto solo with orchestra at 11, played in a string quartet on violin at 12. It was all so easy for me to stay "committed to unschooling." But really, my commitment was never tested. My dd took the educational freedom I gave her and did more or less exactly the sort of things I would have asked her to do if I was leading her education. 

 

Until she was 12.5 years old. Then I either had to abandon unschooling and impose structure and expectations on her, or else put my money where my mouth had been all those years. Her temperament (read: over-the-top tenaciousness and absolute refusal to be coerced into doing anything she doesn't want to) pushed me into the latter choice. I decided to trust her even when she wasn't doing what I would have chosen for her. As I said above, she emerged. And I breathed a sigh of relief, but I had also matured in my own unschooling philosophy as a result. 

 

Good luck!

 

Miranda

 

 


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#3 of 15 Old 03-07-2011, 05:12 AM
 
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That's such a hard age.

 

If it makes you feel any better, that's the age that A LOT of kids stop reading.  It's a really tough age for fiction.  They're too old for kids books, but what are they supposed to do with grown-up books?  A 12 year old just can't related to the mature themes of Love! Death! Life! that most grown-up fiction books present.  The cheesy romance novel is a pretty normal step for them to go through... basic formulaic plots that are so silly they don't ask for anyone to really relate, and a 12 year old finds them a lot of fun.  At this age, a lot of kids also turn to horror, courtroom procedurals... that sort of thing.  Where there is very clear good/evil and everyone is sort of a stereotype.  

 

Younger kids go through a very similar stage when they're first learning how to read.  That stage where they're begging for a new Goosebumps or Magic Treehouse of Flower Fairies book every two days, and at first you think "well, at least she's reading?" and then after about 150 of these books you think "okay, there's a fantastic world of children's literature out there, this is getting old..."  But that's also an important step in learning to love reading: kids have to have both fluency and comprehension down to actually enjoy reading.  These sorts of books don't ask for much comprehension (characters, locations, plots are all pretty identical) but by plowing through them, children learn the reading fluency which will enable them to grow towards books that ask for more comprehension.  

 

The romance book stage is basically the same thing on the way to adult reading.

 

Non-fiction books are also really good at this age.  If she likes romance, she might like one of the Alison Weir books about the Tudors.  Travel books, too: the Bill Bryson books are pretty funny.  He also has a great one about science.

 

Reading is what I know the most about, but I just wanted to give you a big hug about the other issues.  That's a really tricky age.  It may very well be that she needs structure for a period.  I wouldn't do it as a punishment (that won't go over well), but just being supportive of and meeting her needs. 


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#4 of 15 Old 03-07-2011, 10:40 AM
 
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I was an extremely responsible kid. Everyone trusted me and had very high expectations of me. At 12 I was taking a bus to tennis practices 1h away. At one point I simply stopped going there. It took me a while to tell my mother. The thing is, things started happening in the team--slowly. There was no one dramatic incident. Some boys became mean to me; the coach slowly refused to work with me; the kids I was friend with moved away. It took me a while to understand what was wrong, and how it affected me. But gonig to those practices was suddenly utter torture, even if nothing "big" happened to justify it. I also knew that my mother wouldn't consider my explanation as legitimate. I eventually told her, but it took some time, and she wasn't happy that I "gave up" that great thing that was going for me.

 

So becuase of my experiences as a child, the first thing that occurred to me, was that something happened there with your DD. It doesn't have to be anything big. Maybe she is not enjoying the lessons as much anymore; maybe she thinks she isn't as good as she thought she was going to be; maybe the kids she's babysitting are more of a handful now; maybe the teacher said something that affected her. But it is likely that something happened there to disturb that balance, made her uncomfortable, she tried avoidance (faking illness), but the problem didn't go away...It is a very hard place to be in, especially for someone who's been responsible and trusted previously. This is a lot to come to terms with. And she might not even know what exactly happend to make her feel this way, which complicates matters.

 

I do think you're being too hard on her. Hugs to both of you.

 

 

 

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#5 of 15 Old 03-07-2011, 11:01 AM
 
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I mostly agree with the previous poster.

 

I remember babysitting at 12 and I was in way over my head.  I am not saying this is the case for your DD, but I wouldn't be surprised if something happened (even minor) where she decided the exchange was not worth it.  She decided to fake sick to get out of it - something many of us have done.

 

I think you handled the incident well.

 

I think 12 is a hard age.  Period.  I think when someone is USed or HSed and struggling the idea always pops up to change format (be it become more or less structured or to put kids in school).  It might not be a schooling issue - it might be a 12 year old transition to adolescence issue.

 

Please note I am not saying you shouldn't move to more structure - some kids really flourish that way.  In fact, if you are struggling it might be worth giving it a try. Ask her what she wants. I am saying the issues might not be related to type of schooling - and waiting it out, deep breathing, etc might be necessary no matter how you mix things up.  

 

On a personal l note - my own 12 year old has really given me and much of her family a hard time in the past year.  I think she is coming out the other side of her angst somewhat, but phew - it has been hard.  She is in school this year (her choice) and it did not magically change anything - her issues were not about school, but were about figuring out how to assert herself without becoming aggressive (among other things).

 

I do not really have much advice - it really does sound like you handled the babysitter thing beautifully and are probably a great mom.  Be with her as she rides out this rough patch, listen and learn when appropriate - but do not blame yourself for  what is naturally a tricky time.

 

Kathy

 

 

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#6 of 15 Old 03-07-2011, 02:19 PM
 
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I agree with switching over to home schooling her.

 

My daughter turned in to monster at 11 yrs old too. It happened shortly before her first period. I would start by watching your daughter's diet and giving her vitamins. Then, I would at least get quite formal about some lessons (I am formal about math, handwriting, vocab/spelling). But I would also pick something else, such as foreign language. I would give her a schedule to follow and fill up her schedule so much that she has no time left over for the teenaged angst.

 

Did you know in public school, 7th grade is mostly just review for kids? (except those on a GT track usually). This is because this is the age where their brains seem to melt. It was this sort of behavior that got me to send my daughter back to public school.I don't recommend sending her back to school, that was a disaster. My daughter was way ahead of everyone else, and the kids were nasty, the staff was nasty, it was awful. The school was supposed to be such a great and high ranked school, instead, in my opinion, it was a cesspool. 

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#7 of 15 Old 03-07-2011, 06:24 PM
 
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I think the hardest part about parenting an oldest child is that you have no experience on which to judge a "new behaviour". Kids go through so many phases, and these boards are full of anxious posts about a baby whose sleep pattern has suddenly deteriorated (which leads to questioning the sleeping arrangements) or a happy-go-lucky toddler who is suddenly a terror (which leads to questioning about discipline methods), etc...when the second child shows signs of it, the parent is so much more relaxed because they recognize it as a phase that will pass. 

 

I don't know you or your daughter so I can't say for sure if this is just a normal part of adolescence for her, but I think you need to be very careful about tailoring solutions to fit your unique child, who you know best. For example, the suggestion of taking away the freedom of unschooling (the whole idea of using it as a manipulative tool seems so wrong) may work for some kids, but would have turned me into a little hellion, because throughout my life (but particularly upon adolescence) I was full of rage and frustration about how little say I had over my own life. If some of your daughter's problems stem around trying to find herself, figure out who she is, deal with new social situations (that get much more complex starting around her age), deal with new emotions (boys, anyone?) then I hardly think that taking over control of her life is going to help solve any of those issues. In fact, you risk having her sink them even deeper into herself and thus leave her without your guidance and experience. Plus you send a clear message that you think her incapable of getting through this stuff.

 

I would treat her as though you trusted her implicitly, ask her to describe what's going on, listen to her perspective and validate what she's feeling. Let her know you are there for her if she needs help or advice. Offer suggestions, but don't rob her of her freedom. If she can sense that YOU trust her, that will give her self-confidence. Just because she's having an "off time" right now doesn't mean she is doomed forever to read romance novels. Even if it takes a whole year, or two, before she finds her mojo again, what harm can that cause? Sounds like she's ahead of the game anyways. 

 

Well, that's JMHO. Worth what you paid for, and all that! ;-)


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#8 of 15 Old 03-11-2011, 09:26 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you for the replies.  DH and I went to a session with Oldest Daughter and her therapist.  Then we had a long conversation with Oldest Daughter about what was going on for her.

Oldest Daughter is bored with unschooling.  She's tired of what she feels like is too much responsibility for her.  She's tired of setting goals for herself and making choices.  She doesn't want so much freedom.  She wants us to be more involved in her life.  She angry at us about what happened with her baby sitting job, but mostly she's angry that it took us so long to notice.

 

I'm not really sure what to do with that information, but at least it's a start.  So while my oldest son is becoming more and more independent, she wants to become more dependent.  She wants a curfew, a set bed time, and all kind of rules we really don't have for any of our kids.  So we've agreed she has to be in her room without any electronics by 10om and her lights out by 11pm on week days.  She can't leave the house/property without telling us (this is already a rule) and she has to ask if she can go places, instead of just telling us. She's not allowed to eat supper or breakfast in her room anymore, but has to eat at the table and she can't date until she is 15.   She wants to us monitor her computer usage and restrict her phone calls.  Since most of the rules are chosen by her, it's a bit odd, but we will enforce them.  And no, nothing has happened to her, that was the first question we asked her.  Oldest Daughter just seems to want limits and structure. She's going to join her older brother for his independent study for history, luckily he's okay with that.  She's going to resume her on line math classes, though we are going to monitor her progress every day per her request.  She and I are going to set daily, weekly and monthly goals for her English, geography, and Spanish.  She and I are also going look into finding a a private school where she can attend part time.  I'm a little bewildered and DH is too.


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#9 of 15 Old 03-12-2011, 07:39 AM
 
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I'm impressed. I think it is great she is figuring out what she thinks might help her feel better and she's communicating that to you. Part of the process of maturing is gaining self awareness of what makes you feel good. The fact that many people do fine with less structure should be irrelevant. What is important is what feels good to her. If she starts feeling better with more routine and structure I bet in time she will be better able to self regulate it and need you to do less and less.

 

 

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#10 of 15 Old 03-12-2011, 08:39 AM
 
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I'm impressed, too. Sounds like she has a good idea of what she needs right now and is able to communicate that effectively. I have to smile while reading this because it is so exact opposite to how I felt as a teen, and now as a mother I think I'd find the idea of having to play that role rather bewildering. But obviously this is what she feels she needs, and I'm glad you two were able to lay it all out and come to an agreement to work together on it. Best of luck!


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#11 of 15 Old 03-12-2011, 02:18 PM
 
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I remember, when I was 15, my father told me:  "If there's anything you ever get asked to do, that you don't want to do, you should feel absolutely free to blame me.  Tell them I won't let you.  I don't care if they think I'm an ogre.  They already think that I'm a hardarse, a little more will only improve my reputation."

 

I remember how this was both incredibly reassuring and freeing at the same time.  

 

And I definitely used this.   And I was more likely to tell my parents about things that had prompted me to use it, I think.   

 

So I don't think its odd.   That age is such a big transition -- from childhood to adulthood, from minor and not legally responsible for your actions, to someone who is past your majority and is making decisions that are more likely to have long-term consequences.   Sometimes it helps to have what feels like a nice, walled-in safe zone from which to explore all those things, and come back to when things get a little scary.


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#12 of 15 Old 03-13-2011, 03:50 AM
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You know, when I was a teenager, I was given a great deal of academic freedom and had to ask for advice rather than my dad checking in and seeing how I was doing. I remember a few times I asked him to suggest books to read but he never said anything like, 'hey you look bored. maybe you would like book X, let's go to the library.' I always interpreted that as him not giving a sh**. I always interpret people suggesting things they think I would like or being nosy into my business as caring, even in my marriage. 

 

I don't know if that is what your DD is thinking but I am throwing it out there in case it sticks. lol.gif

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#13 of 15 Old 03-20-2011, 09:00 AM
 
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I know that I risk getting attacked by saying this, but I think you were never really unschooling at all. You were letting her make choices as long as she made the choice you wanted her to make. As soon as she stopped doing stuff you considered "academic", you and dh considered homeschooling her instead. My son spends most of his days reading horror and comic books, watching the X-Files, playing basketball and writing fanfiction. He is not bored. Besides that, I believe some boredom is good for kids. Kids who are never bored don't know what to do with themselves when they aren't busy. I suggest academic and non academic things for him to do. Sometimes he's all for it, sometimes not. He is rather "angsty" and starts to withdraw from the family, but that's not because he's unschooled, that's because he's a teen.

 

What is a "decent" book? Why can't she just read what she likes? You know, those silly romance novels sometimes have rather advanced vocabulary. At least she IS reading. Why does she have to do art projects and math? The whole "not living up to her potential thing" is very mainstream-y. The therapist is most likely of that school of thought as well.

 

I admit that whenever a kid "wants structure" the first thing I think is that they just want to be "normal".  The world tells them over and over again that setting limits etc. means caring. My son is nearly 14. At 12, his friends didn't think it was cool that he has no rules. They thought that dh and I just don't give a crap about ds. And even if they aren't bluntly told those things, kids hear these things everywhere in mainstream society. They think it is the answer. Try it, but if she realizes it's not, let go of the rules again. How about she sets her goals and you remind her to keep up with them? Tried that?

 

Filling her schedule so much that she has no time left for "teenage angst"? Is that really going to make her teenage angst so away?? If an adult were angsty, would you suggest they work long hours and learn a language so they don't have to deal with.

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#14 of 15 Old 03-20-2011, 10:41 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kalani View Post

I know that I risk getting attacked by saying this, but I think you were never really unschooling at all. You were letting her make choices as long as she made the choice you wanted her to make. 


This is sort of what I was trying to get at in my post above.

 

I also think you raise some good points about teens wanting to conform to what they see as "normal," with the rules and curfews and giving up responsibility for their own educations. When societal (and parental) assumptions and expectations and adolescent angst whittle away at our kids' confidence the easiest thing is for them to say they don't want the responsibility. My 14-year-old ds tends to respond to drops in his own self-confidence this way.

 

I'm not sure that the right answer is to say "Sorry, in our family this is your freedom and responsibility. If you don't feel comfortable with it, you'll just have to deal with it." I know an unschooling mom who dealt with it this way: refused to let her kids go to school, refused to help them create structure in their days, kept them away from academic course work. By all accounts the kids are happy, self-directed and competent young adults now, but they had a really rough adolescence. To me her approach seemed very much like unschooling tough-love, more about her philosophical beliefs than her kids' well-being. 

 

But on the other hand I'm pretty sure it's not in the kid's best interest to say "Oh, I guess you don't want to unschool. Okay, I'll take over. Leave it to me."

 

I think the answer lies somewhere in between. It's to address the loss of self-confidence and try to support your child in addressing her own boredom, the aimlessness, discomfort with non-mainstream choices, inability to self-structure and so on. To empower her with some extra support and facilitation, so that she is able to set her own goals and structure.

 

Miranda


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#15 of 15 Old 03-20-2011, 02:34 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Quote:
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I know that I risk getting attacked by saying this, but I think you were never really unschooling at all. You were letting her make choices as long as she made the choice you wanted her to make. As soon as she stopped doing stuff you considered "academic", you and dh considered homeschooling her instead.

So based on a few posts on a forum, you're going to guess we were never unschooling?  I'm not going to blast you, though I can see why people often choose not to post in this part of MDC.  How can anyone define for another person what unschooling is?  What allows others to decide for me what unschooling is?  Call it child led learning, homeschooling, unschooling or whatever you want.  The irony is on another forum that snarks MDC, I'm being blasted for being a crappy and neglectful parent because I'm not structured enough

 

My son spends most of his days reading horror and comic books, watching the X-Files, playing basketball and writing fanfiction. He is not bored. Besides that, I believe some boredom is good for kids. Kids who are never bored don't know what to do with themselves when they aren't busy. I suggest academic and non academic things for him to do. Sometimes he's all for it, sometimes not. He is rather "angsty" and starts to withdraw from the family, but that's not because he's unschooled, that's because he's a teen.

 

 

What is a "decent" book? Why can't she just read what she likes? You know, those silly romance novels sometimes have rather advanced vocabulary. At least she IS reading. Why does she have to do art projects and math? The whole "not living up to her potential thing" is very mainstream-y. The therapist is most likely of that school of thought as well.

 

I want my daughter to be happy, she's clearly unhappy and asking for our help.  If it's teenage agnst or hormones or puberty, it doesn't really matter.  She is miserable. She is telling us what she wants and needs.  People are going to read what they want into what I write.  When I post on the internet, I'm opening myself up for criticism.  If it takes rules and structure to make her feel safe then that is what she needs right now.  And now I have no issue with her reading romance books, but that is all she is doing.  If she choose to only eat potato chips and french fries, I'd be concerned and worried too. Her therapist unschools her kids and was unschooled herself as a child, so I 'm guessing that's not her school of thought.  I'm guessing her therapist is trying to help my daughter get her emotional needs met. 

 

I admit that whenever a kid "wants structure" the first thing I think is that they just want to be "normal".  The world tells them over and over again that setting limits etc. means caring. My son is nearly 14. At 12, his friends didn't think it was cool that he has no rules. They thought that dh and I just don't give a crap about ds. And even if they aren't bluntly told those things, kids hear these things everywhere in mainstream society. They think it is the answer. Try it, but if she realizes it's not, let go of the rules again. How about she sets her goals and you remind her to keep up with them? Tried that? . 

 

So what if my daughter wants to be mainstream for once in her life?  I've noticed that a lot of unschooling parents are fine with their kids making choices as long as the choices are not mainstream, but when their kids make mainstream choices it isn't okayIf I posted here that my daughter wanted to dye her hair blue (she did, so did I as a teenager) or she wanted learning beekeeping  or spend her days playing WOW, everyone would tell me to trust my daughter.  I'm trusting my daughter, I'm trusting her to know what she needs right now and she says she needs my love and support by giving her rules and structure.

 

Filling her schedule so much that she has no time left for "teenage angst"? Is that really going to make her teenage angst so away?? If an adult were angsty, would you suggest they work long hours and learn a language so they don't have to deal with.

 

I appreciate that my post made it sound as if I was going to ship her off to military school, where she would be forced to wear uniforms and attend classes. We aren't doing that, we are trying our very best to give our child the support she says she wants.  She may change her mind and we will deal with that when it happens.  I'm okay with the fact she wants to be like other kids her age.  It's cool with me if she rebels against me by conforming.  We all have to rebel in our own way.   

 


Loving my life with J. and our kiddos Oldest Son 6/1997, Oldest Daughter 5/1998, Middle Son 9/2002, Youngest Son 10/2003 and our new baby girl 12/10 joy.gif  and our dog2.gif  dog2.gifcat.gifgoldfish.gif goldfish.gifgoldfish.gif
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