Welcome, parents. While the rest of this site is written directly for teenagers and college-aged young people, this page is just for you.
Here are some basic thoughts and links on supporting your teenager or college-aged child as a self-directed learner.
Do your homework
If your kid expresses interest in taking an alternative path, don’t dismiss it out of hand. If you succeeded in the traditional school system doesn’t mean that your kid will (or has to) do the same.
Maybe schooling was more wholesome or effective in your day. But do a little homework and you’ll recognize that many modern schools aren’t doing a great job. Listen to Will Richardson, a long-time schoolteacher and school consultant (i.e. not an alternative-education zealot) discuss what he’s observed:
Yes, there are some great schools (both public and private) out there. But there’s a good chance your kid doesn’t go to one of those schools. And even if they do, there’s a chance that your kid may feel unengaged, bored, or disconnected. A “good” school, like a “good” college, cannot be a perfect fit for everyone who attends it.
Doing your homework also means exploring the world of alternatives to school. This world is flourishing, especially in North America. The website Alternatives to School offers a comprehensive overview of self-directed alternatives to school. Countless centers for self-directed learning, local unschooling groups, and community gatherings (likes camps, conferences, and travel programs) exist to support your teen. Don’t assume that you have to do everything yourself, do school-at-home, or leave your child entirely to their own devices.
Be a free-range parent, not a helicopter parent
If you have an immediate negative reaction to your kid’s proposition to depart the traditional path, it’s probably for a sensible reason: you want to protect your kid from harm. By taking a non-traditional path, your kid might miss out on valuable experiences (socializing, sports, prom) that benefited you earlier in life. You might fear for their long-term economic security: how will they go to college or get a good job without traditional credentials? Or perhaps you believe your kid doesn’t yet possess the adult-level skills of self-regulation, goal-setting, and follow-through that would enable them to succeed as a self-directed learner.
These are all valid concerns. But if your kid seems genuinely unhappy with school, doesn’t that warrant serious concern too? As my favorite self-directed learning center declares, the best preparation for a meaningful and productive future is a meaningful and productive present. Instead of forcing your kid to stay put in the educational system that’s not serving them, why not become their partners in exploring the vast, exciting world of options for self-directed learning?
That’s what free-range parenting is all about, a term popularized by Lenore Skenazy (“The World’s Worst Mom”) and most often associated with letting little kids walk to school on their own. But to me, free-range parenting is closer to unschooling: helping your child look at the entire world as their classroom.
The opposite of free-range parenting is helicopter parenting. An eloquent advocate for not helicopter parenting is Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Freshman Dean of Stanford and author of How to Raise an Adult:
The mental health costs associated with high-pressure parenting—especially in acheivement-oriented families of privilege—can be severe.
Make decisions with your child, not for your child
Consent is really important, and I believe it’s the foundation of any meaningful educational buy-in on your child’s part. Whether you go the route of unschooling, alternative school, early college, or elsewhere—make it a conversation, not a dictat.
Explore this site
Take the time to explore this website (and the linked websites), and you’ll begin to see the incredible resources and opportunities out there for self-directed young people. It’s a fantastic time to choose self-directed learning. Enjoy the journey, and write me anytime.