Connecting With Your Unschooler When They Are Awake All Night

For those of us who have a child whose sleep schedule has shifted to being awake all night and asleep through most of the day (this is especially prolific in teens*) – it may feel like we’re disconnected from them. Especially if, before this shift happened, we were able to regularly and consistently connect & hang out with them during the day.

It helps to think of new ways that you can gather and to recognize the “unofficial” ways you may already be naturally connecting. For our son, now 17, he’s spent much of his life as a night person – so we’ve had a lot of time to settle into various routines that allowed for the most connection possible.

I sort of have a morning routine where I come downstairs, let the dogs out, start coffee, unload/reload the dishwasher, make food for dogs, and other random kitchen/downstairs stuff. 17yo would come down and wander around the kitchen and we’d talk about what he’d been doing overnight. He’ll show me YouTube videos (our main TV can be seen from the kitchen). Sometimes he’d set up his laptop to stream to the TV so I could see what he was doing.

It’s a common joke where the first time I see him all day, I say, “What time is it?” And what that means is “where are you in your day?” so he’ll answer with “Just woke up”, “About to go to bed.”, “taking a break for ‘lunch’ and then…”, etc.

Connecting with our 17yo Unschooler while walking our dogs

Lately, the temperatures have dropped, so we’ve been taking the dogs for a walk around the neighborhood. This morning we talked about a new League of Legends character that was released and how he feels about playing her. Some new games that are going to be coming out over the next few weeks, how he’s budgeted for those, and what he’s looking forward to. Spelunky 2 is a newer version of a game we’ve loved to play as a family so we discussed purchasing a bundle if it becomes available.

He asked me about the book I’m currently reading which led to a discussion about forensic accounting and blood diamonds. He was able to connect that with another game he’s played and the discussion moved to Sierra Leone, Northern Africa, child soldiers, and the difference between private military contractors and mercenaries.

Don’t be so quick to ban “tech” during these times. We often use our phones to look up/clarify the things we’re discussing. (This morning, it was to see on a map exactly where Sierra Leone is located in Africa.)

Since the tween/teen years hit – we almost never eat dinner at the dining room table. We’ll watch TV together, take our food to desks and game, etc. All those “studies” about how sitting around the dinner table is necessary are based on: 1. schooled students and 2. parents who don’t know how to connect with their kids. If we eat while we’re all gaming or watching tv together or whatever – then the connection is happening.

-Rachel

Learn more about Rachel on our Contributors page.

Image: Picture is of our two dogs, a brown & white King Charles Spaniel and a grey/silver Schnauzer, walking on leashes ahead of us. (currently our kids don’t want their pics posted to social media, so you get the dogs. 😉)

* For more about how biology impacts when teens sleep, you can read this article (which includes more links): Your Teen Needs More Sleep. However, please keep in mind that this article & the resources are all focused on schooled teens and how to help them work around, adjust, or at worst ignore their nature in effort to function within a paradigm set up against how their body functions. Unschooling makes that unnecessary.

My Child is Having a Hard Time

A common Unschooling question, especially lately, is “What do I do when my child is having a hard time?”  or “How do I respond when they’re melting down?”

It’s so hard to see our kids struggling. It helps me keep calm to remember some things when our kids are having a hard time:

A. They are kids. They are not supposed to know how to handle what life throws at them. They only do the best they can with whatever skills/tools they’ve learned so far. And that’s only if they remember them in a time of crisis (which even adults miss the mark on often enough).

B. Me freaking out/panicking/yelling/telling them to stop/calm down is NOT going to help anyone.

It depends on the kid, the situation, their own triggers, my triggers, etc. Here are some things that can help:

1. Asking them, “Do you want me to do anything – or do you just want to vent?”

If they opt to vent: Safety first. I only physically move them if it’s an immediate danger to themselves or someone nearby. (laying down in the middle of the road) In a case of self-harm I offer options of a physical outlet.  “Your body looks like it needs to express frustration – would you like to punch this pillow, stomp your feet, walk around the block, do jumping jacks, etc.?”

“Would you like to sit in my lap/hold my hand/go someplace else?” (not a punishment or forced “banishment” way but in an escape from people/noise/light/surroundings kind of way – like to the car, their room or mine, a closet, etc.).

I may ask again later once they’ve had some time. “Would you like to look over what happened and brainstorm some ideas to perhaps prevent what happened or ways to try it differently or ???”

2. Remember, when they’re extremely stressed – it’s generally “Fight or Flight” that’s kicking in. Notice no part of “have respectful/meaningful conversation” fits under either the category of Fight or Flight.  You can give soothing words, sounds, etc. However they are not always going to respond well to suggestions and it’s doubtful they’ll process them, remember them, or have them as tools next time. So brainstorming will need to wait for later. And probably be discussed more to be “available” for applying in the future.

3. It’s OK to be disappointed. It’s OK to be stressed. It’s OK to “fail”. It’s OK for things not to go our way. Acknowledging those emotions and giving them the space & time to have them is not a bad thing.

4. 2020 SUCKS. Big time. This has been the absolutely craziest year. Even if our kids don’t seem directly impacted by ALL. THE. THINGS. They are definitely picking up on the emotions and uncertainty of all those around them. As adults, we have a lot of life experience to draw from & freedom to try to cope (even so a LOT of us are also scrambling to pick up new skills during these unprecedented times). Grace for your kids. Grace for yourself.

This loops back to A. and number 3 – I acknowledge when things are crazy to the kids. “Hey, we’re encountering a new situation – even I don’t know how to handle it well. Let’s work together to find some ideas/solutions and try those out and see if they help.”

5. Sort of connects to A. We, as their parent/trusted adult are learning our kids as well. Each time something happens – we have more “parenting data” to work with. Now, I often know which kid is going to be impacted in what way by what situations. I’ve had 17 & 15 years to learn these things. That said, we STILL encounter new situations.

At 2, 3, 4, and when they hit new milestones or were out encountering lots of new things – there were definitely a LOT more instances of them struggling with life. Each situation, age, & stage is an opportunity to gather more data. My goal is to continually pass that data and those coping skills along to them so they can try to apply it in their own lives now and as adults.

-Rachel

Learn more about Rachel on our Contributors page.

Gaming Addiction

I’ve been participating in discussion groups with Unschoolers for many years.  One of the most popular topics and areas of concern for those new to Radical Unschooling is visual media, specifically gaming.  A common objection to gaming is the potential for addiction.

Clinically speaking, addiction is defined as

a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.

Do I believe that someone can become addicted to video games?  Absolutely.  Just as someone can become addicted to food, exercise, books, or sex ~ all of which also play a meaningful part in our lives.  For nearly 40 years, since the Rat Park studies of the late 70’s, researchers and medical professionals have repeatedly found that addictions often disappeared when the environment of the addicted was positively changed.  The drugs, alcohol, and video games are a means to producing a euphoric effect combating a perceived miserable situation.  The solution to or prevention of addiction is not to forbid or limit your child from video games (or food, or exercise, or books), it is to facilitate an environment and foster a relationship they don’t feel the need to try to escape from.

Often parents will then share the “signs of addiction” they note in their children.

She gets cranky and rude!  

He throws a fit when I ask him to stop!

That’s all he does all day!

Let’s take each of these statements and find possible solutions that are respectful to our children’s interest in gaming.

She gets cranky and rude!  Is your child hungry?  Bringing snacks to a gamer can help eliminate blood sugar drops and other hunger symptoms that manifest in a short temper. Monkey Platters are a fun and easy way to keep energy up.  Is your child simply venting their frustration at a particularly difficult level?  Sometimes parents will be upset because their child is grumbling about a lost life or a failed task.  A child verbally processing the game play isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  This could be an opportunity for you to ask questions and better understand what they are doing.  You could offer to help them look up a walk-through on YouTube or take a moment to grab a drink of water before sitting back down and trying again.  Have you interrupted their play?  That leads to…

He throws a fit when I ask him to stop!  If I’m in the middle of reading a book and someone interrupts me – I generally ask them to give me a moment to finish the sentence/section/chapter.  I apply the same principle to our gaming children, “I’d like to talk to you about something, when you find a stopping point can we chat?”.  Or setting up the expectation that we have commitments later in the day.  When our son started getting into games like League of Legends where a match could last thirty minutes or more – I made an effort to let him know if we have appointments so that he doesn’t begin something that he can’t finish.  Some servers penalize users for leaving matches/games/rounds early.  Equate it to sports.  Can you imagine if your child was playing football and you walked onto the field in the middle of the 3rd quarter and said, “We’re leaving.  Now.”  It’s frustrating to not only the individual player, but the “team” as a whole.  Work on identifying what led up to their frustration and brainstorm solutions that are respectful to both of you.

That’s all he does all day!  This can have roots in several places.  If you’ve limited gaming (or Television, or food, or pretty much anything) – you’ve likely created scarcity.  Then, when children are given the opportunity they will “hoard”, trying to get in as much as they can in fear that it will be taken away again.  When the restrictions are removed and our children are secure in the fact that gaming is available at any time – they are emotionally free to explore other things.  Though, for some children, gaming IS their passion.  Which means that it isn’t a matter of scarcity, but of interest and they will continue to spend significant amounts of time on it.     Many folks complain that kids can’t “stay on task” or “focus more than a few minutes” – but when a child spends hours/days/weeks immersed in something, parents will complain about how much time is spent on it.  Even if your child wants to spend “all day” gaming, that’s OK too.  It is as valuable an experience as reading, writing, talking, and researching.  If you really pause and watch, you will see that they are doing all of those things as part of gaming.

-Rachel

Learn more about Rachel on our Contributors page.

Unschooling Teens: “All He/She Wants to Do Is…”

Guest Post by Shannon Stoltz

“All she wants to do is…”  The first time I heard this phrase a friend was lamenting about how she wanted her then 15 year old daughter to get a summer job or do something similarly “productive”.  That was to be the first of many times I’ve heard a parent of a 12/13 year old or 15/16 year old say, “All she/he wants to do is…”    

Parenting and homeschooling, no matter the style, changes around 12/13 and again around 15/16.  The relationship between parent and child, particularly if you are coming from more conventional philosophies, changes.  Our children are more independent, exploring ideas and activities that interests them.  And that doesn’t always match up with our own expectations.

When how our vision for our children’s path is different than what our kids’ are actually doing, fear creeps in and we get statements like:


“All she wants to do is sit in her room reading and writing in her journal.”

“All she wants to do is draw.”

“All he wants to do is hang out with his friends and skateboard.”

“All she wants to do is hang out with her friends and party.”

“All he wants to do is work.”

“All he wants to do is play basketball and hang out at church”

“All he wants to do is play games with his friends on the computer.”

But in reality, what our children are pursuing is actually building a foundation for their future. We just don’t yet know what that future looks like, and that can be scary.

For us as parents, this is a time to let go of our agenda for our kids and embrace their journey in becoming the unique individuals they are. It’s a time to learn how to support our children differently than we have done before, to see them as their own person and support them where they are at. It’s not an easy parental transition, especially if you have had compliant kids or come from an authoritarian background.

For our teens, this is a time of learning who they are as people, experimenting, developing relationships, and testing ideas, forming and discussing ideas and opinions with others outside the family. Unschooling at this age level is fabulous because it is all about trusting the process, building relationships, and supporting the kids where they are at.

My kids have deep dived into interests from 12 and up. We’ve gone through periods of intense focus into manga, anime, robotics, blacksmithing, cake decorating, working, Minecraft, archery, gaming of all types, survival skills, art, writing, digital drawing, herbal medicine, horses, chinese light novels, theater, the list goes on. Weeks, months, and even years of a focus and then it shifts or fine tunes further.

I’ve seen their friends do the same. And their parents, across all styles of education, struggle with the change – that their kids are no longer malleable to what they want them to do – and then have to figure out how to support their kids where they are.

Early on this journey of being a mom of teens, I remember literally sitting on my hands and biting my lip, as I watched my son, then 13, working through a difficult task, approaching it differently than I would. But instead of telling him what and how to it, I restrained myself and honored that he wanted – and needed – to go through the process of figuring it out himself. He knew that he could ask for input, instead he asked me to bring him food and to sit with him as a companion and listen to his thought process, and be there for support. I needed to respect that. Now, at nearly 17, he still often asks me to bring him food, and to be there to listen to him share his ideas, stories, and thought processes.

One of the big differences between unschooling, especially radical unschooling, and other styles of education and parenting is that word RESPECT.  With unschooling, especially in the teen years, it’s not about our kids respect for us and their showing respect to us or other adults. Instead, it’s about us showing respect to them — to their ideas, interests, and needs. It’s another level of giving, of pouring into. It’s about respecting their needs and supporting them.

For a social kid who wants to hang with their friends, it’s about providing an environment to do so. For a kid with an online community, it’s about respecting that’s where their friends are and treating them with dignity and respect, and supporting their collaborations and time together. For a kid who likes to spend hours by themselves (often in the middle of the night), it’s about letting them and making sure they have the resources they need. And when they want to talk and share, to be there for them – to listen, encourage, support, and help them find the resources they are looking for.

For an unschooler, “All he/she wants to do is…”  becomes an opportunity – an opportunity to engage and connect, to encourage and support, and to facilitate your child’s interest – no matter how obscure. And it becomes an opportunity to grow yourself, as a parent and as a individual. At the end of the day, it’s all about trusting the process, embracing the learning as it happens, and, most importantly, building wonderful relationships with your teens.

–Shannon Stoltz

Learn more about Shannon on our Contributors page.

Online Driver’s Ed

You wouldn’t hand your 16-year-old the keys to your car one day and they immediately hit the freeway at 70mph.

They’ve watched you drive since they were born.  Toddlers start to connect that a key is required to start the engine, that you move a stick on the steering column for turn signals, and that the pedals at your feet are amazing sources of power.  You talk about things that you see or bother you or are difficult as you’re driving.  You mention people speeding, cutting you off, or tailgating.  You involve them in vehicle maintenance: pumping gas, checking tire pressure, changing the oil, etc.  Then they start sitting in the passenger seat and paying more attention, asking questions.  They get a learner’s permit and spend more time driving while you ride along observing and offering suggestions.  You take them to the farm or a parking lot or wherever and they get to drive around a bit and park.  Then you try calm side streets, then busier streets. They hopefully have opportunities to drive in the sun, rain, snow, etc. (granted snow is harder to come by in parts of Texas).  Eventually, they go up on the highway and potentially work their way up to rush hour.  

As you’re navigating the online world with your kids, consider starting their “Driver’s Ed” early so that you have plenty of opportunities to work through the various scenarios, concerns, issues, and problems that may come up.  

And it begins…

Our children see that phones, tablets, computers, and gaming systems are incredible sources of information, communication, and enjoyment.  Even very young children can use apps, make phone calls, and play games.  When we play with them and foster their curiosity we’re not only helping them build skills but we’ve established another connection point that strengthens the relationship.  Just as a young child rides in a car seat for extra protection – you may initially have preset apps or websites that they explore.  As they better understand how to use various devices, I would encourage you to reduce restrictions.   

Talk it out…

Verbalizing why we’re making the decisions that we’re making helps our children understand our choices.  It also expands their personal options and helps provide potential solutions that are respectful of others.  

I’m downloading apps/movies in case there isn’t WiFi available (or it isn’t very good).

I’m bringing headphones along so I can listen without disturbing anyone else.  

Give me a moment to finish this level so that I can stop and really hear what you’re saying.

I’m going to check another source to see if that’s accurate.

Maybe there’s another app that better suits my needs.  

I know Jill prefers messenger to text, so I’m going to contact her that way.  

I’d like to turn off my ringer before we go inside so it won’t disturb anyone.  

I like the survival aspect of Minecraft without the intensity of Five Nights at Freddy’s.  How do I find similar games?    

When they run into a complication, ask if they’d like ideas for possible solutions.  Our son was in a situation where someone he initially enjoyed gaming with began texting him constantly, even if our son had expressed not wanting to play (or play a particular game).  We walked through options.  For example – like how our son could be more clear about a length of time.   Instead of saying, “not now”, he would reply, “How about Friday?”.

Learner’s permit…

So many of these online resources rely on e-mail to create a login and to track individual preferences or achievements.  I strongly recommend creating an e-mail address dedicated for each of your children.  Shared family accounts make it difficult, sometimes impossible, to play together.  Since my husband and I already had gmail accounts – it was easiest for us to create an e-mail for our children through Google.  (Now, you can just create a single Google account to be used for e-mail, YouTube, Drive, etc.)  In the settings, we chose to have their incoming emails automatically forwarded to ours so that we didn’t have to constantly log-out of our e-mail  to log-in to theirs.  This allowed us to help them process the information/emails they were receiving.  (Our daughter still has no interest in her e-mail and never checks it herself.)  

Most online log-ins will ask how old the person is.  Some people use their children’s actual birthdays under the assumption that it will provide protection for them (especially if they’re under 13).  Unfortunately, we’ve found this actually makes things more difficult and removes our ability to make parental judgements as to whether or not something is appropriate/useful for a particular child.  For instance – Skype will not let you create an account if the birth date provided is under 13.  Our entire family sharing one account is a logistical nightmare (especially since we’ve been known to Skype each other within the house).  So, we use the parent’s birthdays and they each get their own account to use.

Get your own accounts too.  My husband and I have accounts on MinecraftSteamOriginRobloxSkypeFacebookTwitterInstagramSnapchatYouTubeSchool of DragonsLeague of LegendsKhan AcademyCoursera, etc.  Anything that interests them.  This has the dual advantage that we have a better understanding of what & how they are learning because we’re witnessing and experiencing it ourselves and it’s an opportunity to strengthen our relationship.   We don’t know everything about every game or YouTube channel.   We certainly don’t play or watch as much as our children, but when we watch or play with them, we learn the “lingo”.   Gaming terms such as DLCNPCFPS, as well as the names of their favorite YouTubers.   Later, when we can’t play with them, but they’re telling us about a new app, game, or YouTube upload (like while I’m cooking dinner) – we can fully participate in the conversation because we know what they’re talking about.

Driving on their own…

For our family, keeping the lines of communication open and being positively involved in their online/gaming life has been the best way to help them navigate that realm. Some parents rely on stringent internet blocking software or tight personal controls on their children’s activity.  Unfortunately, this can provide a false sense of security and at worst, can result in children who rebel in secret with no guidance.  There are numerous ways around parental controls and filtering.  Tech savvy kids can circumvent blocks, set up secondary accounts/e-mails, acquire their own devices, and access the internet outside of your home.  By setting up accounts/access early, by asking questions without judgement, by offering gentle information about pitfalls, and by allowing them to make mistakes – we have fostered a trusting and supportive environment they don’t feel the need to circumvent.

Don’t forget the insurance…

Accidents happen.  Other drivers are careless.  Sometimes we make a poor decision in an unfamiliar situation.  

Downloading new games and content can be scary.  No one wants to have their computer overrun by malicious programs.  Invest in good anti-virus and anti-malware protection.  Downloading mods for Minecraft and other games is incredibly popular.  Together, you can learn how to research developers, recognize the difference between an ad and the actual download, and how to fully remove unintended downloads.  Consider adding a password requirement to prevent unintentional downloads or in-app purchases on phones & tablets.  It was ME who inadvertently spent $10 on a special character in a free app that instituted the password requirement.  We don’t use it to block the kids, just as an extra “alert” that we’re about to spend money.  Talk about internet safety like not sharing personal information to strangers and ways to respond to bullying.

If you’d like to talk with other Unschooling families about possible solutions to concerns, learn more about facilitating your children’s interests, or just meet more people on this journey – please join us on the Texas Unschoolers Facebook Group.  

-Rachel

Learn more about Rachel on our Contributors page.

Image credit: Rachel Miller (our son playing Color Symphony on Steam)