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Unschooling: Taking Lazy Parenting to the Extreme?

empty-desks-sm250When our children hit a certain age, most of us pack them up and send them off to school.  We do this because it is expected and necessary.  How else are they going to learn the things they need to know to succeed in life?  Of course, not all parents are willing to put their children’s futures into the hands of paid strangers. And estimated 1.5 million children in the U.S. are homeschooled, learning their lessons in the comfort of their own homes with mom or dad leading the way.

But what if there were a third option?  An option that didn’t involve lessons at all?  What if we just let our kids stay home and do their own thing, choosing what they want to learn, when they want to learn, and even if they want to learn?  For an estimated 100,000 kids in the U.S., that is exactly the type of education  – or non-education – they are getting.

It’s called unschooling and parents who subscribe to this unorthodox idea believe that by allowing their children the freedom to do as they please, they will find their passions and the learning will happen naturally.  And if what they want to do involves watching television and playing video games all day, then so be it.

Unschooling isn’t a new concept, but the idea seems to be catching on with more parents.  Good Morning America profiles the Biegler family who are proudly unschooling their two teen-aged children.  Parents Christine and Phil extol the virtues of raising their children not just school-free, but rule-free as well.  They not only shun textbooks and lessons, their kids have no chores, responsibilities or schedules.  One stays up all night long and admits that she’s not prepared should she want to attend college. The other, who hasn’t attended regular school since first grade, says he was “never really into some of the stuff” he was expected to learn back then.

If these parents aren’t worried about what kind of future their undisciplined, free-spirited children will have, parenting expert Ann Pleshette Murphy is.

“This to me is putting way too much power in the hands of the kids, something that we know kids can often find anxiety-producing, and it’s also sending a message that they’re the center of the universe, which I do not think is healthy for children.”

With all the issues kids face in school – bad teachers, bullies and negative peer pressure – I can certainly see the appeal of homeschooling.  But unschooling – at least the way the Bielgers are doing it – feels all kinds of wrong to me.  Not for the lack of textbooks and lesson plans, but for the lack of parenting.  Is it not a parent’s job to prepare their children for the real world in which schedules, limits, rules and responsibilities exist?

I have no doubt the Bieglers mean well and I wish their children all the best.  But, as psychiatrist Dr. Reef Karim points out, they are children, not little adults.  Should they really be raising themselves?

Image: Terrapin Flyer/Flickr

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