"You are nuts!"
You are nuts! Children need boundaries, rules and expectations!
You're right. Children do need help figuring out the world. They can't do it alone. And that's what you've experienced: hands off parenting. Parents who don't give their kids any guidance or feedback or help in making decisions. Basically kids who are trying to reinvent the social wheel. And of course most of them will get it wrong. Yes, I've met those kids too. They can be nasty.
But what I (and others I know) are talking about is an entirely different approach and it's hard to grasp when the only models most people have experienced is rules or no rules. Respectful parenting is neither of those. It is a relationship and partnership with a child. We are there to help and guide them. We are there to provide information and help them figure things out. We aren't there to make them do it right but to help them try things out and problem solve. Help them figure out how to get what they want while respecting the rights of others.
Basically we help our kids figure out how to live in the world. Not step back and let them figure it out! (That would be cruel :-/) But be their support and information system as they try out ideas on a situation.
And as a teacher you know that just telling and making a child doesn't ensure that they've actually learned. Or that they truly deeply understand in a way that they can apply it when they encounter it outside the classroom (or even on a problem that's presented a little differently).
Just skimming over your web site drove me crazy! I am a teacher and everyday I see kids that have been brought up on your philosophy. They are a pain in the butt ( as well as their parents) and the other children don't play with them as they are bossy and self centered! AGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
Yes, I agree, kids who are being raised with hands off parenting are a pain in the butt. There are parents who substitute giving kids things instead of giving them time. Or who "lovingly" :-P step back and let their kids work out their differences often by bullying other kids. Or parents who approach life with the sense of the world owes me and mine and models how to grasp what you want and damn everyone else.
Kids like that have been, essentially, neglected :-/ They're growing up needy of deep, personal relationships and trying to grasp what they need from others around them because their parents aren't providing it. But they have no clue how to do that. It's very warping :-(
Fortunately that's not what I'm talking about! :-)
I bet your children are spoiled,
And I'm sure that would be the guess of most people who think I'm promoting hands off parenting! And they'd be right if that's what I was talking about.
I'm sure you've experienced kids who are obedient to their parents and terrors behind their backs. And the parents are totally clueless :-/
No, my daughter is a delight which isn't just my opinion but is feedback from adults who've been with her when she's not around me. And they invite her back :-) That's probably not what most people would say about their 15 yos! She's helpful and respectful.
She asks me several times a day if she can do anything to help. And helps willingly when I ask. Hey, and she doesn't even grumble or roll her eyes! :-)
She started taking college math courses at 13. Not because she's a math whiz -- more art and writing oriented -- but just because she thinks it's fun. :-) (The other college students said they were under the impression she's anywhere from 17-20 ;-) She was varsity on the high school cross country as a "freshman" (she doesn't attend but can participate in sports) and now as a "sophomore" and enjoys running and training and takes supporting her team very seriously. She attended meets and practices last year even after she was injured just to support the other kids on the team.
No, she's far from lazy or spoiled :-)
And, having just gotten back from an unschooling conference of 500 people (moms, dads and kids), I can say that of the other kids too. While they had far more freedom than conventionally parented kids, they were far better behaved. Can you imagine several hundred kids running around a hotel, often on their own, and *not* destroying things and getting in trouble with the hotel? If just a classroom is taken to the museum for a field trip, there's always problems. But I can say I don't have to imagine respectfully parented kids not destroying things because I've experienced it. The hotel even wants them back :-)
When the world is divided between what you're allowed to do and what you aren't allowed to do, then it's natural -- prominent in kids but buried deep and suppressed in adults -- to want to try out the things people say they don't trust you can handle. Even if it's something you don't really want to do! A rule is sort of like a challenge to test yourself against. :-/
When the world is divided into what you want to do and what you don't want to do and you've had help getting what you want (*and* help not stepping on others toes to get it! because the world does have rules and expectation and conventions and consequences) then there isn't a reason to do the things you don't want to do ;-)
Because most of us have only experienced kids who've been tightly controlled (or been let loose to figure it out themselves :-/) it's hard to imagine that every child isn't exactly like them, that their reactions to situations won't be exactly like those kids. But I know from experience that when kids are helped to satisfy their urges and curiosity -- while brainstorming ways that it can be done safely and respectful of the rest of the world -- that they don't grow up needy. They aren't trying to meet their needs behind adult backs in dangerous ways. And they're more accepting of the times when the answer has to be no because most of the time the answer is "Yes, let's figure out how to do that (safely and respectfully)."
and will never get along in the "real world!"
Actually she's already living in the real world! :-) And doing just fine. While, at 15, she's not living on her own yet she's becoming more and more independent every day, naturally growing into it because she's dealing with real world problems in the *real* real world.
It's odd, but we all think of school as being the real world. And yet when you step back and look at it objectively, school doesn't resemble any other part of society outside of school.
As unschoolers we encounter real life problems being out in the world. Instead of facing a lesson on how to do it right, my daughter and I tackle it together with the attitude of "Let's figure this out!" :-)
I think rule based parenting is similar to teaching kids how to do percentages. The theory is that if you make them do it right long enough then they'll internalize how to do it right and will have, therefore, learned. And as a teacher I'm sure you've experienced kids who go through that process and still don't understand. Or can do it mechanically but really don't understand. Or they forget.
I think respectful parenting is similar to learning to ride a bike. The bike, gravity, pavement all provide feedback on whether you've got it right. Or right enough to work. And then you work on refining it. And you don't forget because it's learning by doing. Learning through immersion. We don't make them do it right. We help them think through the problem, provide information, and help them as they try out solutions. It's often the less than optimal solutions -- as long as they aren't going to injure themselves or harm others -- that are the most instructive because they can see *why* other ways work better. They can see and experience the consequences and the learning is far deeper than being told how to do it right.
The unfortunate thing is that most people will assume that this works for me because I have a good kid. But I know -- because others have come from rule-based parenting to respectful parenting and seen the change in their kids -- that it's because being respectful of her models and encourages respect. And it works beautifully :-) She's kind and sweet -- not even ever followed by a "but she has her moments"! -- and most parents don't get the opportunity to say that about their 15 yo daughters :-)
I *know* there's this great big hurdle between what I'm saying and what you imagine I'm saying. As they say in order to fill a cup with something new you need to empty it first! When kids are doing something wrong or mean it seems the only answer is control, punishment and lectures. That idea is what needs to be dumped out before a new idea can begin to fill it. (And you don't need to keep the new idea. You can put the old idea back in if you don't like it ;-) But rather than assuming they've done something wrong, and *instead* assume they don't have the skills and understanding to meet their needs in ways that don't hurt something (or themselves), if we instead help anyone who's hurt, help clean up the mess, and then help the child get what they want in a way that's safe and respectful of others (and it may not be a direct path to it, but a step in a different direction) then they grow to understand that parents aren't there to stop them but to help them get their needs met -- in ways that are safe and respectful of others.
It's hard to picture, I know. We're all used to kids who are trying every which way to get what they want because their parents and other adults are only helping with the wants the parents agree with (and often put conditions on them "You can if ... you work to pay for it, you do your chores for a week without complaint ..." So we assume that it's natural for all kids to want outrageous things and will go wild with freedom. Because controlled (and neglected) kids do!
It seems to make sense that without controls that kids will eat ice cream for breakfast everyday, watch nothing but TV and play video games while eating chips and drinking Coke, and they'll move onto drugs and smoking and sex and driving fast. It seems that the only reason kids don't do those things is because of control. And yet it isn't so. When kids know that the adults in their world are their partners, there isn't a need to try to meet needs in unsafe ways. And people will ask "If your daughter wanted to try drugs you'd let her?" But that situation is unlikely to come up because she doesn't have the factors in her life that are driving kids to drugs. She doesn't need to escape. She isn't pressured to be other than who she is. She doesn't need to try dangerous things when others aren't around to stop her to see if she can. It's a totally different atmosphere than most kids are growing up in and it's very difficult to explain. But it's a delight to experience the effects of because I can truly say I like the person my daughter is.