When Teens Attack - Our Unschooling Journey - Part 2

in #education4 years ago

Basically what I imagined when people warned me what raising teen boys would be like

The adult view of children is overwhelmingly Puritanical even today. The Doctrine of Original Sin seems to have infected our collective consciousness so that even Atheists are unable to believe children are essentially good until shown how to be bad. The Horror genre is full of stories of evil children: “Bad Seeds” who are just gonna kill the shit out of people no matter how great the parents are.

It's almost like we have a "thing" about little people

Even those adamantly against spanking are often in favor of rewards for good behavior. Nearly all children are treated as animals we need to train with the same Operant Conditioning B.F. Skinner used to control rats and pigeons.

Today I saw a video of a teen boy, maybe about my eldest son’s age, shrieking abusively and threateningly at his teacher. It was awful. And it was followed by more awfulness. People with zero background information on this teen’s life were expertly diagnosing the problem as a kid who got away with everything and never suffered any consequences. They posted pictures of wooden paddles along with the usual “I got hit and I’m better than him, so clearly he wasn’t hit” – um – ‘logic.’

A little T & J because it's the only clean thing that comes up when you google "spanking gif"

The thing is, when I saw that boy I felt sorry for him. I know what it’s like to lose control so badly and I was hit. I was hit plenty as a kid. I was “disciplined.” I was never “spoiled.” I had “consequences.” And there were times when stifling any emotion deemed unacceptable or disrespectful, (disappointment, hurt, anger, frustration, disagreement) became impossible and some straw was the last straw and I exploded.

Let me be clear: I'm not saying I think what he did is okay or acceptable; it’s not. He was clearly threatening and if he’d done it to me I’d have flattened him. I wouldn’t have blamed the poor teacher if he’d done so. But I saw all of the people assuming this kid needed his ass beat as a child and I was just sickened.

That level of rage and frustration doesn’t come from not being hit, it comes from not being heard.

Imagine if this was your most important relationship

I couldn’t help but compare it to an incident with my own 17-year-old son this week. We are starting new jobs and had to go away for the long weekend to do some meetings. The kids had to come along: five of us in the RV for several days and nothing fun planned to break up the time. As we were getting packed, I asked him to do a couple of specific things and he got immediately pissy with me. My knee-jerk reaction was to shut that shit right down, but I’m not that parent any more; I haven’t been in a long time. Instead, I took a calming deep breath and said, “I don’t understand why you’re being so rude to me right now.” He doubled down, “You always do this, you always assume I can’t do anything myself without you micromanaging me!” I replied that he knew that wasn’t true and then I let it go. He groused at me some more then stomped up the stairs.

Like this but with less tiara and more young-manliness

The old me would have escalated the hell out of that situation. The new me reminded myself that sometimes I lose my temper too. I have bad days. I speak sharply when I shouldn’t. Should I expect my children to be more emotionally mature than I am, than any adult is? So although I was upset, hurt, and a little pissed myself I stayed calm and figured I’d talk to him about it when he was also calm.

Thirty minutes later he came to me and said, “Before you say anything, I’m really sorry. I don’t know why I was like that, I didn’t have any good reason to be mad, I just was but it wasn’t your fault and I’m sorry.” I laughed and told him I was sorry too, since he gets it from me and he smiled and said, “Bring it in for a hug, Ma!”


My parents could never have had such an exchange with me. They believed in eliciting respect (deference) by whatever means necessary. They believed along with the vast majority of adults that children need a strong hand to train the evil out of them or else. Our relationship was adversarial in every way. Even when I was wrong and I knew it I wouldn’t have apologized except to try and manipulate them into letting me out of a punishment. After all, my entire experience of the parent-child relationship was manipulation of my behavior, what else could I have internalized?

Manipulation of children’s behavior, whether through spanking (however ‘calm and lovingly’), ‘gentler’ punishments like isolation from our love in ‘Time Out’ (a term taken directly from the Operant Conditioning playbook), or strictly by rewarding (which renders the lack of a reward a punishment in the child’s eyes), distances us from our children. It sends the message that the most important thing they can do is perform to our standards and it does nothing whatsoever to encourage them to develop good standards for themselves based on principles like kindness, generosity, and respect.

Pictured: Me, every time I disappointed my parents once I was too big to successfully punish and could buy my own "rewards"

Some may ‘take to it’ and internalize our expectations of them, but many will simply revolt at the constraints they endure. And when they do, the lesson they will have learned is that now they are big enough or loud enough to demand others conform to their expectations and that demanding such conformity is what adults do regardless of the feelings someone else has about it. What is screaming at a teacher other than a poorly thought out attempt to manipulate?

When I see that video I’m sad because I think it’s likely too late for that teen to develop the kind of self-awareness and principles I see my own teen sons growing into. I see one more angry adult on the horizon, adding to the already seemingly endless misery of the world. I see someone who could have been better, happier, more peaceful and respectful if only he had been heard, seen, loved, and respected himself through those formative years. And I’m even more sad to see people insisting that what he really needed was some targeted violence done upon him when he was too small to defend himself.

I feel you

It may be too late for him, but it's not too late for many of our children. We can treat them like people instead of animals. We can have a partnership instead of a power struggle. We can believe that children will model our good behaviors with every bit as much conviction as we already seem to believe they will model anything bad they see. I invite you to immerse yourself in your children's lives, learn what they value and why (even if it's something you think is dumb), and discover the joy that can be found there. It will do them, you, and eventually the world, a great deal of good.

It still can

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Je suis complètement d'accord avec vous!! Continuez à partager votre expérience et vos opinions avec nous, c'est grandement apprécié!

I totally agree with you !! Keep sharing your experience and opinions with us, it's greatly appreciated!

Wow! What an incredible post. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I want my children to feel comfortable being themselves. It's not up to me to mold them or turn them into robots sent here to please me. I am their guide on the side. I love them unconditionally. I provide them with what they need. They are both teens now, and guess what? They are beautiful, kind-hearted children. They have compassion and empathy. They are eons ahead of where I was, on so many levels, at their age.

It seems like you were raised similar to how I was. Not all bad....But, getting hit, yelled at and humiliated did absolutely nothing for me except make me feel unworthy. I wish everyone would read your post and take it to heart. Can you imagine how the world would change if they did! Thank you for such a meaningful post.

Thank you! I was raised in a pretty bad circumstance, and for years I believe that "consistency" was the key. "Consistent control." I comforted myself that I wasn't "abusive" the way my parents were, but when I discovered peaceful parenting and radical unschooling I realized the problem wasn't consistency at all, it was that external control and manipulation. Today I'm shocked at how much I accepted as "for their own good" in the early years I was raising my sons and I'm so grateful to have found a better way.

It's encouraging to connect with others like you who are breaking that cycle!

It is very encouraging to connect with you, too. "When we know better, we do better." I am so grateful I learned a better way, too. It's shocking, really, that we are led to believe that children will turn into "spoiled brats" if we don't set them straight. The reality is that babies are born of love, with pure love in them. It's our priviledge to nurture that love.
I have so much to say! I want to post about all of this, but lately I don't have the time. Next week I'll be on a trip. I'm hoping when I get back I can do some serious writing. And learn how to properly load pictures!
Again, thank you so much.

Brilliant, brilliant article. Wow.

Resteeming, upvoted...following. I need to read this over a few times and let a lot of it sink in...it is very emotionally charged, and relevant in my current life circumstances. Oh the futility of failed parent - teen relationships. In my case my husband undermines everything and I hate hate hate being a victim here but I am beyond frustrated. I wish I wasn't so powerless. I was a homeschool mom for their first 10 years of school, and the last two of my three kids just graduated from public high school last weekend. Thanks for posting and also just being cool with me venting here.

Thank you very much. I'm sorry to hear things are hard for you. I don't know your particular circumstance, but I will say this about mine: Everything I learned and began to practice as far as patience, peacefulness, and unconditionally loving actions toward my kids, worked just as well to bring more overall happiness to my marriage. Sometimes it's hard because we expect more from an adult than a child, but also I remind myself that in many ways emotionally my dh and I - like many adults - are still wounded children. In the beginning I decided to take a lot of responsibility on myself for helping to keep peace. That meant if the kids did something I knew would upset their dad, I made it right before he could be upset, rather than waiting until he was upset and arguing with him about how he shouldn't be.

Over time, seeing more joy and peace, seeing how relaxed the kids were around us, how much more they wanted us in their lives, seeing them become willing to help without prompting, be generous and patient in return to our generosity and patience; that convinced him we were charting the right course when no amount of me telling him would ever have done so. And if anything he is the more kind and giving of our duo now.

And please know that when I say there is probably no hope for that kid in the video, I mean because it's so unlikely that anyone in his life will change whatever dynamic has taught him to be an angry, frustrated, violent man. I don't believe it is ever too late for a changed dynamic to effect a changed life. Don't think that it's too late for you and yours. Today my mom and I have an incredibly close relationship. We talk almost every day. I forgive her for the mistakes she made when she didn't know any better. You can read a little of how things have changed here in Part 1 if you like.

You aren't powerless, but you only have the power to change your own actions, no one else's. What changes you make are up to you. You don't have to change a lot all at once. I started by making small changes and I think that's what my Part 3 will focus on :)