safety, morality, and trust

This is from the unschooling basics email list, 2006, hence the q&a format. Ray (then 14) had been living with our family for less than a year. Karen S. btw, is now very much a radical unschooler.

--- In unschoolingbasics@yahoogroups.com, "Karen Swanay" wrote:
>If a child is allowed, encouraged, not
> guided away from anything they want to do, then how can you (anyone
> not just you) say things will never go wrong?

Think about guiding "toward" rather than "away". Not "away from danger" but "toward" good decision making. Its not just a semantic difference - it creates a really different family atmosphere.

Will things go wrong? Of course. But all the control and guidance and protection in the world won't stop "things" from "going wrong". The difference is that kids who have felt supported by their parents are far far more likely to turn *to* those parents when things *start* to go wrong, or even before.

> And that is exactly why I'm stuck...kids will want to do something and
> to respect what they want to do and help them do it no matter what
> seems wrong. It's the "no matter what" that has me.

There are times when one of my kids wants to do something, try something, and its really not such a good idea - but my response isn't necessarily an outright no. Why does my kid want to do this thing? what are his or her goals and expectations? Is there a different way to meet those goals? Would more information help to adjust those expectations to something more realistic? Sometimes that's *exactly* what my kids need, a little "reality check". The thing is, they know that what they'll get from me is "reality". I'm not going to represent my fears as fact, I'm going to say "I'm worried that...". I'm not going to overstate the danger in order to get them to do what I want. I'm a trustworthy source of information. That's really important.

If my 6yo wants to climb something that's too high for me to support her on, I'm going to tell her that. What if she still wants to climb? Depending on the very, very specific circumstances, the answer may well be "I'm really sorry, that's not an option". But I'm going to try my darnedest to find another way for her to get what she wants - or at least Part of what she wants. Since she has had that experience over and over, she knows she can trust me to help her, and not merely hinder her.

> 15 yr old boys
> want to have sex. That's biological drive.

I live with a 14yo boy and I find this comment somewhat dismissive. Its not like he's a disembodied penis looking for a vagina! He's a human being with thoughts and feelings and worries and frustrations and questions and needs that all intersect with that "biological drive". He's not on the prowl for random sexual encounters, he's a real person looking for real relationships. And ultimately, some of those relationships will include sexuality.

>Do you help your kids
> achieve that?

I don't assume I can stop him. I can throw obstacles in his path and hope he doesn't do anything too stupid. I can try to scare him with skewed information. Or I can talk *with* him and try to assure he has the information and skills he needs to make good decisions. But he's not going to believe the information or learn the skills if he things I'm trying to control his behavior, not even "for his own good". He's going to put his energy into thwarting me.

Some of the skills my guy needs to make good decisions about sexual behavior include communication skills. He needs to be able to communicate as openly as possible with any potential parnters! He needs to be in the habit of listening and thinking, and not just reacting when an opportunity becomes available.

How do people learn to have good communication skills? Well, practice helps - so I and my partner work on communicating openly with him and with each other. Its not always easy - Ray's used to being told what to do and having to sneak around or be defiant in order to do what *he* wants to do. It has taken time to establish ourselves as trustworthy sources of support, and *we* have the advantage of not having been the main sources of control in his life for six years.

One of the topics that comes up for conversation in our home is sex/sexuality. This is where communication can get tricky, bc we (my partner and I) want to give Lots of information and yet we have to be very very careful of Ray's boundaries. We want him to know that his boundaries are *very* important in the area of sexuality. Part of that is we want him to be able to recognize and communicate when he's not comfortable/ready so that he's not impelled to have sex *before* he's comfortable and ready. The other part is that we want him to respect when a potential partner isn't comfortable or ready. If he's used to people tromping all over his boundaries, he's going to be much less likely to respect someone else's.

> I mean, do you guide your kids at all with morals, ethics and values
> or no?

My partner and I have very strong personal values, ethics and morals, and those form the foundation for our relationship with each other and our kids. I seek to use my values to guide *me*, but I also believe that morality is something kids learn without being taught. They need to see it in action to value it.

One of the things my partner and I were chagrinned to discover, early in our unschooling journey, was how much we ignored our own morality where our kids were involved. Sadly, that's part and parcel of conventional "because I'm the mom!" parenting. I'm not saying you should let your kids walk all over you - not in the least - but I am asking you to think about how you would feel if you kids treated you, or each other, *exactly* the way you treat them. Seen from that angle, does the behavior hold up to your Own standards or morality?

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