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Letting Go of the Fear:
How Trusting and Freeing Your Child Can Change Their World
By Carla Martinez

Unschooling Means Trusting Your Teen

I was fifteen years old when I got my first tattoo. The tattoo artist, my friends, and my community were shocked. How could a fifteen-year-old be trusted to make good decisions about her body? Aren’t teenagers renowned for being rebellious monsters, who make decisions out of spite, and who are naturally drawn towards outrageous behaviors? Teenagers don’t have self-control: How could they ever be allowed to make their own decisions? Many parents in my community shuddered at the thought; their children already attempt to do things they forbid; imagine what would happen if they gave them the reins.

Many mainstream parents don’t attempt to look at the cause of their teens’ behavior. No teenager is hardwired to do get a tattoo, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or do any other commonly forbidden things. However, every human being is hardwired to desire freedom. It’s part of our DNA; no one likes to be confined or restricted. Imagine if you told an adult that they couldn’t do something! Magically, whenever children turn eighteen, they are allowed to make their own decisions. If they have been controlled for their entire lives, this freedom can be intoxicating.

Many people, whenever they go to college, drink and party. They don’t do this because they have a natural desire to drink alcohol or not to study. They do it because they suddenly have no restrictions, and can now do all the forbidden things they were restricted from. Consider the rebellious teenagers, doing things their parents told them not to do, not because they have an overwhelming desire to do it, but because it’s forbidden and they crave freedom. Many parents who restrict their children watch as they break rules without thinking of the consequences (whether arbitrary ones set by the adults, or real-life consequences). In the mainstream mind, if rebellious behaviors occur whenever there are rules, terrible things would happen if there were no rules. Anarchy would ensue, the world would stop spinning on its axis, the economy would crash, and gas prices would skyrocket.

That’s very far from the truth. If there is nothing to rebel about, there won’t be rebellious behaviors. College students don’t get drunk because they have the burning desire to do so; they do it because their parents are no longer around to restrict them. All those off-limit behaviors are now fully accessible. Due to this standard of control, and lack of opportunity to make educated, logical decisions, teenagers aren’t mentally or emotionally prepared to regulate themselves. Ergo, they do things that aren’t logical. If a child is prepared to think things through logically, they realize it doesn’t make any sense to drink, get sick, get hung over, and not study. They aren't driven by a desire to rebel, because they are allowed to regulate themselves. The stereotype that teenagers don’t have self-control isn’t true: it’s just that they aren’t allowed to execute it.

Take me, for example. I made a logical, educated decision about my body [when I decided to get a tattoo]. I thought through all the potential complications and eventualities. I’m not unique; all teenagers can do this if they’re given the chance. I researched the process of getting a tattoo, picked an area that is relatively impervious to change and easily concealable, and picked a clean, reputable parlor to get it from. I chose a tattoo that I knew I wouldn’t regret when I was older. And, I did this with the full support and supervision of my mother. Instead of being controlled, I was allowed to make my own decisions, with my parents at my side to help and guide me.

This isn’t the only area I’m unlimited in. I have complete freedom over what I do, what I learn, what I eat, what books I read, what movies I see, etc. And here’s the crazy thing: I limit myself. No child wants to eat candy until they get sick; so they won’t. I believe that the reason children insist on cramming every cavity-causing calorie down their throats is because they are restricted from it, and they are getting what they can before it’s taken away. I naturally align myself with what I need, and what makes me comfortable. I don’t watch movies that I’m not emotionally prepared for. I read whatever I want, and regulate myself based on my interests. I learn in whatever way works best for me, without being controlled by the fear that I won’t learn unless I’m forced to.

All of my freedoms have resulted in many things, and I haven’t been able to find a negative result yet. I have been able to make my own educated, informed decisions. I have been allowed to think, not just blindly obey orders. I have been given the tools to be prepared for life, instead of restricted from living it. I am able to control myself. I regulate myself based on what I’m comfortable with, and am not driven to radical behaviors for the sake of tasting freedom.

It’s difficult to trust your child in a world that insists children aren’t able to be trusted. But if children are given the resources to make educated decisions, with someone helping and guiding them through their decisions, trust is natural. There is no reason to make bad decisions. We aren’t perfect; we make mistakes. But our parents are there to help us if we need it. The fears that drive mainstream parenting are scary. It’s difficult to face and overcome them. It’s a struggle, but the results are incredibly empowering. Embracing and trusting your children can help them find out who they are, what they’re comfortable with, give them the tools they’ll need in life, and most importantly, enable them to trust themselves and you.

Letting go of those fears can change your child’s world.

Carla Martinez was a sixteen-year-old self-described radical unschooler and writer living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when she wrote this article in 2014. She blogs at, where she shares how her education has changed her perspective, helped her discover who she is, and made her the bold person she has become. She recently began studying (with three scholarships) at a baccalaureate college in Massachusetts.

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