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 www.thelifeofanunschooler.blogspot.com, 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.