How to Unschool a Teen

How to unschool a teen

Podcast: How to Unschool a Teen

This week, let’s talk a little more about the teen years. Lots of time, I here parents say,

If we don’t do classes or use curriculum, what DO we do?

The main worry is that we’re going to sabotage our kids’ chances for success…that’s the bottom line, right?

But that’s just a lack of confidence on parents’ part. Confidence can be restored with knowledge and information!

All sorts of reasons exist to not duplicate school. Your own teen’s experiences (and possibly yours too!) have probably led you to explore this option of unschooling.

Yes, it’s considered a pretty non-traditional or unconventional approach to educating children – but only during “the school years.” It’s actually how humans learn most of the time! We learned this way before we became “school-aged” – and this is how we learn as adults. Before the industrial age, this was how everyone learned! But somehow, we were convinced that this one-size-fits-all way is the most beneficial and most efficient approach. And because of the conditioning we’ve all endured for years – decades even – these thoughts pop into our heads off and on for a long time. And, we have a lot of fears wrapped up in parenting these teenage years.

I want to welcome you to the Unschooling Mom2Mom Podcast. I’m Sue Patterson, a writer, a community organizer, an unschooling coach, and a mom to 3 grown unschoolers. We’ve finished unschooling - they’re 32, 30, and 27 now. All off on their own young adult adventures. Doors didn’t close on them, because of our educational approach. In fact, more opened! They got into college or conservatories or trade schools - whatever was the right path for them. And it didn’t take a shift in our playful approach to learning. We kept on unschooling all through the teen years. That’s what I’ve built my coaching business around - helping parents know that this option WORKS. And after 25 years in the community, I’ve pretty much seen all the ways it works - and ways we make it harder or get in our own way, preventing unschooling from really doing it’s natural organic thing. So I want to help you. I have a group coaching program  I would LOVE to have you join, unschooling guides, a course, a website, all sorts of options!

You really don’t have to reinvent the wheel!

I have unschooling resources for you!

OK, on of the big question that I hear from coaching clients is,

“OK, I like this idea, but what exactly are we going to do all day?”

And the answer is going to be different for every family and every child. But that’s the beauty of a truly unique learning environment!
Yes, it may be much EASIER to toss a textbook at a kid and say, “Here’s what you need to learn.” But it’s going to be TORTURE to get them to do it! (But you already know that, right?) Why do you think that is? I think it’s because buried deep inside them, kids know adults are not telling the truth. They don’t really “need to learn” it. They’re hardwired to be curious – and they know what they’re curious about. And it’s not THAT.

When a family first starts out in home education, they have a lot of deschooling to do. They think in terms of subjects, tests, and grades. But Real Life doesn’t come at you all broken into categories like that. It weaves and overlaps, one topic leading to another.

Sue's Tips about Unschooling Teens

Here are some points to remember when you’re trying to figure this out:

Start with their interests.

Your teenager may be interested in a variety of activities/topics or maybe just one. Talk with him/her about each of them and start the adventure of getting to know your teen and their curiosities at a deeper level. Instead of saying, “Well, you’ll never get a job doing THAT!” – help them explore it, knowing that one thing does lead to another. Their life is unfolding in front of all you! Exciting, right?

  • What did they enjoy doing before school got stressful or too busy?
  • Recognize that solitary interests may be part of their decompression period – be supportive.
  • Watch out for projection on your part – they are not you. They have their own path to carve.
  • And even if you’re not that new to unschooling or home education, the teen years can be tough! And we don’t always get to know what’s stressing them out. But growing up is hard. Let’s give them room to learn how to develop some coping skills.

Conversations are key.

A lot of people overlook or undervalue conversations with their kids. And yet, this is where your data-mining is often going to come from! Your teen will give you insight into what’s happening in their world, how they’re prioritizing things, and what they’d like to pursue. Sometimes they’re even a little hesitant to share because they’re not sure what your reaction might be – or maybe past experiences tell them what your reaction is likely to be, so they’re worried! You have a chance to change that. If you want an honest dialogue, everyone needs to be able to share their thoughts without being worried about judgement or criticism. And, if their ideas are still somewhat naïve and unrealistic, know that they will change with maturity and especially if they feel you’re being supportive.

  • Some of the best conversations happen late at night – take a nap in the afternoon so you’re ready for that!
  • Realize that communication is sometimes nonverbal. Notice cues and indications as to preferences and dislikes.
  • Less is more when it comes to parents talking. Remember the Charlie Brown depiction of adults voices sounding like, “Wah-wah-wah-wah”? Don’t create patterns where tuning you out is the norm.
  • Avoid dominating the conversation – listen more.
  • When it comes to making suggestions, think of it as quick seed-planting. That’s it. Let them ponder your ideas without a lot of input from you.
So many families enjoy the easy way to connect with each other - by using these cards!

Enjoy opportunities to bond.

If you’ve been trying to get them to do their school work up until this point, you may have some relationship repair to do. Make the decision to drop any efforts to coerce your teen into doing anything. This only widens the wedge between the two of you. Instead, focus on enjoying your time together. (Truth is, you probably only have a couple years left of them home with you.) What you choose to do will depend on what the two of you enjoy doing together. But that’s the important part – that you enjoy the activity together.

  • Maybe you like baking together. Or maybe creating a meal, each doing a different aspect of it. Or maybe you’re cooking and they’re sitting on the counter chatting with you, keeping you company.
  • Maybe you like watching movies together, or talking about documentaries that are interesting or relevant in their lives. Or maybe it’s the Discovery channel for something new and different, or MythBusters, or Shark week. Maybe you need something quick and funny from YouTube or the Comedy Channel?
  • Maybe you’d sign up for a yoga class together, or a class at Whole Foods about using knives, or a speaker series at the local university. Not only will this give you more to talk about but making this a priority shows how you value the relationship. And shared experiences strengthen the bond.

75 Ways to Connect with Your Teen
Free PDF

Brainstorm about things they can do on their own at home.

Sometimes teens need to be reminded of some the activities that are available to do at home – create a big brainstorming session together.
I have an entire unschooling guide set up for seeing your home as the perfect place to unschool! There are some awesome ideas in there to help you shift your thinking a little.

  • Look around to see what activities happen in different parts of the house. Remember that learning happens everywhere. Shift from looking for places to do academics to finding what topics or opportunities are showing up all over the house.
  • Make a list of solo activities your teen enjoys but maybe hasn’t had time to do recently. Go room by room, because something in a particular place may jog your memory.
  • Let go of the idea of whether you consider the activity they want to do worthwhile or productive. This is THEIR path. Trust that they will get where they need to go. Trial and error is part of the learning process.

What’s out in their community?

What do they enjoy doing that is beyond your home? Now’s the time to brainstorm about this too!

  • Think seasonally. What rolls around in your part of the country each year?
  • Sports are available through recreation centers, private companies - not just at school.. And don’t forget about learning a new solo sport or something that may have always been interesting they’d like to try.
  • Community workshops and classes for fun are a good way to dip their toes in a classroom setting. Think of things like cake decorating, learning to sew, or how to use a camera.
  • Community service is something my family did a lot of. I’ll link to an article with a lot of options you and the kids could do. Making real contributions like this is empowering and helps them see that they are connected to others in the world and that they do, in fact, matter.

Blogpost: Heroes in Training


The answer is standing right in front of you: Your child – regardless of their age. They have interests, even if they might be somewhat buried at the moment. While your role is to help them uncover those curiosities, it may take a while. And it may look like they’re “doing nothing.”
This is the time to reframe what you’re expecting and focus on connecting with them. Remember that their communication isn’t always verbal. Your kids will give you all the clues to what lights them up, what they’re curious about, where they want to go in their lives. We have to get out of the habit of trying to direct everything. Have you noticed we tend to want to control more when we get fearful? Your job as the parent is pay attention to that – ask questions, listen, notice. Give them room to take the reins, helping as much or as little as they seem to want.
I have a free PDF with 75 Ways to connect with your Teen. Linked above.

I know that just scratches the surface!
And I know a lot of people have questions about unschooled teens getting into college. The quick answer is, Yes, they do! All the time!
I did an entire podcast on this - Episode #21: Unschooling to College. So that will give you a lot of reassurance.

And I wrote a book called Homeschooled Teens. I interviewed 75 Young people who talked about their lives as teens who didn’t go to school. It’s available at Amazon in hard copy as well as digitally through all your favorite sources. I’ll leave you links for this too.

I could go on and on about unschooling teens - so expect more from me. And feel free to ask questions in the comments. That will help me know which topic to explore with you next time!

I don’t see there’s any need to shift gears when kids become teens. Parents may need another refresher when it comes to Deschooling, because we may have more to unpack there. But focusing on trusting them, sharing your lives together, supporting them through this new phase of growth and development - these are the real keys to successfully unschooling teens.

We talk a lot about the specifics of how to do this in the membership group - I hope you’ll check that out. You don’t have to do this alone.

So that’s it from me.
Enjoy your kids. And I’ll be back to talk with you again next week.

Sue's Membership Group

We have so many resources for parents of teens in the Creating Confidence Membership group.

I'd love for you to have access to all of it! It's only $49/month - cancel anytime.

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