What to Do When Unschooling Kids Reach the Teenage Years

Yesterday, I scrolled through my blog archive hoping to find some inspiration for a podcast. I went back through a year’s worth of posts before discovering two unpublished stories about teenagers. I decided to share them in this week’s podcast, episode 119.

The first post is called What to Do When Unschooling Kids Reach the Teenage Years. At the time of writing, I was doing my annual reassessment: Would I continue blogging for another year? (Yes, the same old story!) I asked my daughter Imogen’s opinion and we ended up talking not only about blogging but teenagers as well.

I never got around to giving the second post a title. Maybe I could call it Can We Trust Teenagers to Make the Right Choices? Or perhaps Why We Don’t Need to Make Rules for Unschooling Teenagers. Or…? I might think about this a bit more and then publish the post. In the meantime, you can read the first story here in this blog post and hear both stories by listening to episode 119.

This week, I’m talking about:

  • The progress of my unschooling book
  • How unschooling transforms families
  • Duty and love
  • Supporting young adults
  • How it’s hard to admit mistakes and change what we’re doing
  • How it’s never too late to unschool
  • Possible reasons why there’s a shortage of older unschooling bloggers
  • Why we don’t need to make rules for our teenagers in order to keep them safe from the dangers of the world

What to Do When Unschooling Kids Reach the Teenage Years

It’s the Monday before Christmas. I’m sitting in a cafe with my daughter Imogen. While we sip coffee, we chat about our plans for next year. Will I continue to blog about unschooling in 2017?

“There are lots of good unschooling blogs written by younger mothers,” I tell Imogen. “I sometimes wonder if I should move onto something else.”

I describe how these bloggers are well informed and passionate. They write about unschooling and gentle parenting, sharing all the ideas they’re putting into action with their own children. They have built up big communities around their blogs. Other mothers can obviously relate to their posts.

Sometimes I’m envious of these bloggers. They seem to have very clear ideas about parenting and education. When I was at their stage of life, I spent a lot of time experimenting and failing and starting again. I certainly didn’t have any ideas worth sharing with others. I wouldn’t have been a good role model for other mothers, unlike the younger unschooling bloggers who are coming along behind me. Yes, they’re doing a great job spreading the word about unschooling. So perhaps it’s time for me to move onto something else.

Or maybe it’s not.

“Yesterday, I received a lovely Facebook message from someone who has just discovered my blog,” I say to Imogen. “She was delighted to discover my blog because there aren’t that many bloggers writing about teenage and older unschoolers, especially Australian ones.”

So why is there a shortage of older unschooling bloggers?

“I’m really fortunate,” I say to Imogen. “Many bloggers stop writing about their kids when they become teenagers. Their children no longer want their lives to be out there in public. But you don’t mind me writing about you. You even let me interview you. I can post photos. Without you, I wouldn’t have much of a blog.”

Yes, maybe many unschooling bloggers stop writing when their children reach the teenage years because of privacy issues.

But could there be another reason as well?

“I bet some unschoolers stop blogging because they stop unschooling,” suggests Imogen. “It’s fairly easy unschooling when kids are small. There seems to be a lot of time ahead. Why not relax and enjoy life? Then when a child becomes a teenager, things become serious. Parents start thinking about the future. Will their kids get into uni, get a job, have a successful life? They begin to put pressure on their kids to make up their minds about what they want to do. They are no longer happy for them to follow their interests in a relaxed way. ”

“One day everything is okay. And then suddenly, just because they’ve reached a certain age, things change?”


“Did I put pressure on you when you became a teenager?” I ask.

“Oh no,” says Imogen. “Life just continued on as normal.”

“There was no need to change? Unschooling prepares everyone for the future?”


“So what would you say to a parent who wants to know what she should do now her child has reached the teenage years?”

Imogen says, “Keep trusting.”

Day by day, gradually and naturally, our kids are growing into the people they are meant to be. They will get there. All we have to do is live one day at a time. Keep trusting.

And don’t jump ship.

In a month’s time, we’ll have another teenager in our family. What will we do? For the 8th time, we’ll celebrate a 13th birthday. And then the next day, life will go back to normal. We’ll continue living life one day at a time.

Imogen and I have been chatting about me and my plans for 2017. Now I ask,”So what do you want to do next year?”

What was Imogen’s answer? No doubt, you’ll find out what she told me when I write about her plans in future posts.

Future posts? Yes, I think I’ll continue to blog. Could there still be a place in the unschooling community for an older blogger with teenage and young adult children? What do you think?

In this episode, I ask the question: Is it okay if I sometimes share blog stories in my podcasts? Perhaps I can make some story episodes while I’m busy working on my unschooling book? Or is that cheating? I’d love to hear your opinion!

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  1. Reply

    Sue, I’ve thought about it for a long time now and I have reached the conclusion that bloggers like YOU are simply NECESSARY in this day and age! Especially for those of us in America. Of course, I’m sure the rules are not quite the same in certain ways, but that’s not what I’m thinking about.

    Years ago, before school was mandatory, the unschooling lifestyle was pretty much what everyone got. But, along with the industrial age came the need for teaching people how to submit to authority, stand and sit in lines and pump out a certain amount of work with a certain expectation attached. Not much life skill involved with that. Then college became a “thing” and college prep courses became all the rage.

    The reason I mention it, is that “college” doesn’t provide much in the way of a stable lifestyle, at least not in the part of the country where I’m from. Here’s a perfect example. I am one of five children and only one of us completed college, yet we all own our own businesses. And the one that completed college is definitely not in her chosen field.

    My husband and his only sister also never went to college, but she is in upper management at her job, and my husband is in management in his position. On the other hand, we have friends who are college graduates. One is almost $100,000 in college debt at the age of 50 with a menial job, while another is working in fast food. My daughter sees this and has made up her mind, she would rather have no college and the chance at a good job, rather than to accrue surmounting debt with a college education, and possibly no job. Because she’s certainly not interested in law or medicine!

    I know this isn’t where you were headed with this, lol, and I apologize if I’m out of line for mentioning all of this. It just came to mind, reading about teenagers and unschooling. Unschooling is the type of “getting back to basics” that will give teenagers EXACTLY what they need for life and for success in a way that typical schooling simply cannot do. At least, around here.

    And by the way, Imogen is simply beyond her years in wisdom, but I suspect she gets it honest 😉 She has such a wise teacher!

    I’m SO glad you’ve decided to continue writing! I look so forward to getting a frequent dose of inspiration from your blog! Thank you so much for continuing to share!

    1. Reply


      I’m so glad you chatted about college and unschoolers and shared your story and thoughts even though I didn’t touch directly on this topic in this post. (Perhaps unschooling and tertiary education deserves a post and podcast of its own!) Your comment has encouraged other commenters to share their thoughts too.

      College or university debt is something our kids really need to think about. When I left school, most of us automatically enrolled in a university degree and that was our life for the next few years. For some of us, going to university was a way of putting off the moment when we’d have to decide how we were going to earn our own livings. We were able to do this because tertiary education was free. These days, our kids have to think more carefully about going to university or college. Will it be worth the money?

      Three of my children have (or will soon have) a Bachelor of Arts degree. One of my sons has a Masters degree. So unschoolers can certainly study at tertiary level if that’s what they want to do. But, as you said, a college education doesn’t guarantee a job in a chosen field. Maybe, for some of our kids, there is a better pathway to a career, one that doesn’t involve a huge debt. Sophie (16) has decided not to do a university degree like her older sisters. Instead, she’s working in hospitality so she can earn money to buy the equipment she needs for her photography and videography passion. She’s using the Internet to gain the skills she will need to set up a photography business. (Maybe she’ll do a formal online course some time in the future.) She likes the idea of being able to support herself with a hospitality job while working towards the career of her dreams.

      Tertiary education might be very expensive, but at least our unschoolers have other options, ones that weren’t available to me all those years ago when I left school. The Internet has really opened up education for everyone.

      ” I am one of five children and only one of us completed college, yet we all own our own businesses.” Stacey, that is so encouraging!

      Thank you so much for your kind words, encouraging me to continue blogging about our older unschoolers!

  2. Reply

    I really appreciated this post (but I always love what you say!). My daughter was unschooled and has begun college; my two teen boys have had more structure to their days in comparison, but still have been home educated. There is certainly a difference in how they approach their education, though it can be challenging to tell whether it’s due to personalities or so forth. I think the key with college is to be wise about choosing the degree. I know a fellow with a BA in jewelry making. He is selling used cars instead. It’s lovely of colleges and universities to offer a variety of degrees, but we must be wise in choosing marketable courses OR courses that will allow us to have professions (in the old-fashioned sense of the word… lawyer, doctor, shopkeeper, in today’s terms “preparing us for small business ownership”), and THEN steer those skills to the field we enjoy. My daughter would love a BA in art, but she is first getting her business management associates degree and THEN will look at getting a BA in art. That way, she can work right away anywhere, and show that she can handle the office side of a gallery or museum, or sell her own works without losing money. We must encourage our children to develop their talents and passions but also to use the practical skills that will allow them to plant themselves anywhere.

    1. Reply


      Oh yes, many university degrees aren’t geared towards practical skills. Students learn a lot of interesting theory but what can they do with it? I love how your daughter has thought about this and is making a plan that suits herself. I also love how she is planning to do an Arts degree at a later date. Maybe too many people think degrees should be done straight out of school. But it’s never too late to go to universty. And maybe doing a degree when we are a little older and more focused is beneficial. My husband did a Masters degree (when he was a lot older!) about 8 or 9 years ago. He was very committed to his course and this, I’m sure, was the reason he ended up being a Dean’s medallist. He wasn’t doing it just because it was the next expected stage of his life like many school leavers.

      My daughter Charlotte is in the final year of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Digital Design. She loved the sound of the course, but didn’t realise that she’d spend much of her time writing essays and learning theory. She’s eager to learn how to create. DO stuff rather than just read about other people’s achievements. And that part of the course is very small. Sadly, if she wants to be an animator, she’s going to have to do another course that specialises in hands-on skills. I wonder if she would have been better off doing such a course instead of the university degree. But then again, no learning is wasted and she has dipped into and enjoyed subjects she wouldn’t have thought to learn about. It’s just the money aspect of it. We’re back to student debt!

      I’m so glad you stopped by to chat. It was good to hear your experiences and thoughts. Thanks for sharing them!

    • Rowanne
    • February 8, 2018

    I have 2 teens now…. 13 and 15. Truly, this is why I am attracted to this blog. There are loads of unschooling blogs for younger children. I struggle with trust in the high school years. I will even confess here that I tried to become more structured when my eldest “started” 9th grade. She even went so far as to enroll in a distant learning school. She began to feel very stressed out by the work and missed her time to focus on her passions. So, we dropped out and have gone back to one day at a time. What a relief!

    I have my amazing, motivated girl back. She did discover a love of math through the process and decided to continue learning algebra on her own. She even suggested starting geometry after she finishes! She wants to go into a science field and realizes she needs math, so she wants to learn.

    I tell my girls that college is only good if it helps you reach your goals. I would never encourage them to just try it out until they figure out what they want from life. If your goals can be attained without college debt, then do it! There are so many ways to be successful in life. Don’t limit yourself. 🙂

    1. Reply


      For me, your last paragraph sums up the university question very well. This is a really interesting discussion and I appreciate you and everyone else stopping by to share thoughts. Maybe I’ll talk about this topic in my next podcast. It seems to be of interest to a lot of us who have older unschooling children.

      “I have my amazing, motivated girl back.” Perhaps the distant learning school experience has given you a renewed appreciation for your freedom to learn in your own ways and to spend time together as a family?

      My daughter Sophie (16) has been working 5 days a week and she hasn’t had much time for her passions. She’s been squeezing them into the odd leftover hours of each day. I’ve missed spending time with Sophie discussing our latest ideas while we’ve been walking through the bush etc I’ve been feeling sad about this. However, the other day Sophie’s work schedule was changed and she will now be working ‘only’ 4 days a week. An extra day of freedom! I feel like I’m also getting back my amazing girl even though she will still be away from home for the greater part of the week. The days when we can arrange our lives to suit ourselves, follow interests and just be together are precious. Unfortunately, they don’t last forever. I’m savouring each day I can spend with my youngest daughter in this way while I can.

      Thank you for your comment!

    • Nancy
    • February 9, 2018

    As Nathan has gotten older I have gotten more panicky. But when I wait on the Lord he gives me peace, and just the other day Nathan came to me wanting to talk about plans for his future!!! Who knew, lol

    1. Reply


      I always feel inspired after reading your comments. Obviously, Nathan is a great source of joy for you. I love how you are patient and willing to give him the time he needs, rather than put pressure on him to think about the next stage of life. I often think about how God has a plan for each and every one of us, including our children who we might worry just a little about. Yes, wait on the Lord. He has got everything under control. I can imagine the smile on your face when Nathan asked if he could talk to you about his plans for the future. A great moment! Thank you for sharing. God bless you and your family!

        • Nancy
        • February 9, 2018

        Sue, I have to respond back by saying you are always very inspirational. Your experiences and the things you share always give me confidence and peace. Nathan is a wonderful joy and I’m excited to see what God will do for his future. And of course for the rest of my children. God bless you Sue and your wonderful family! Love you, Nancy

        1. Reply

          Thank you, Nancy! Sending you much love. I hope you have a wonderful weekend with your family. God bless!

  3. Reply

    The younger moms may have lots of ideas and energy, but they don’t have the experience of launching their children into productive lives. You do. That is a huge difference to me.

    I have lots of posts I want to write, but I’m keeping a running list. Once I graduate my child, then I can write them. But not now. I don’t have the experience to back them up yet.

    You do.

    1. Reply


      Thank you for your words about experience and your encouragement to keep writing. I appreciate your comment very much.

      A running list of blog posts? That’s a great idea. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how sometimes I look back at our parenting and unschooling journey and can’t remember all the details clearly. If I’d known I was going to write an unschooling blog, I would have made some notes for future posts to make sure I got all the facts correct. When you come to write your posts, you’ll find it very easy. I love how organised you are and how you’re thinking ahead!

      It’s lovely, as always, to chat with you!

  4. Reply

    I’m excited for the new podcast. Can’t wait to hear it on the way to tap this afternoon! 🙂 I really enjoy your way of parenting and unschooling so your blogs and podcasts are extra inspiring to me. It makes me smile to hear your voice, even when I read your blog posts! As for unschooling teens, I think it is equally important as unschooling young children. Maybe they will choose some more structured classes as they prepare for the future but allowing them to choose and not pushing is very liberating and I think helps teens to be more productive.

  5. Reply

    Chiming in on the college degree front that’s popped up here in the comments: here in the states we’re seeing strangeness where we’re being told we need more STEM degreed students while at the same time in physics and neuroscience, PhD graduates are going years without finding jobs. Students headed that route need to be cautious and make sure to talk to department advisors on exactly what jobs exist, how much they pay, and what their duties will be.

    I too am delighted to hear you’re going to keep on blogging! While you mention a number of unschooling blogs, I’ve found two, yours and Happiness is Here, that resonate with me. It’s nice to have new things to think about and ponder through your shared experiences!

    Our oldest is a little more than half way to being a teen. Since she’s unschooled she’s going to get a lot more freedom a lot earlier than most publicly schooled kids here in the States. I’m just trying to do what I can to prepare her for that freedom by getting out ahead of it. For example, next year, if she wants, it’ll be legal for her to take public transit on her own. Consequently, we’ll be practicing all year with her getting in the front of the bus and me getting in the back. She’ll be responsible for making the route switches and stop choices. If she misses one we’ll just have to backtrack. It’ll be a learning experience.

    Thinking even years further ahead, we have neighborhoods here that it can be bad to wind up in unprepared. We’re starting to visit those since now as a family to learn the geography and build up networks of contacts. We can’t plan for everything, but we’re having fun exploring, and getting ready for what we can!

    Other than that, I’m hoping we do exactly as you have and just cruise on through whether teenaged or not 🙂

    1. Reply


      Happiness is Here: Another Aussie blog! Yes, Sarah has a wonderful blog and I understand why it resonates with you.

      I really love how you’re not just letting your kids loose to sink or swim but instead you’re helping them gain the skills they need to be more independant. Back seat bus riding… that’s such a wonderful idea! I imagine your children will set off alone into the bigger world feeling confident, and you’ll feel happy too because they’ll know what to do and will be able to keep themselves safe. It sounds like you live in a very interesting place that offers a lot of experiences. (We live in a sleepy place compared to your home.)

      I always enjoy swapping thoughts and ideas with you. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Reply

    While my kids are almost teenagers (nearly 12 and 10), we only just started unschooling about 5 months ago! Reading about your successes (and seeing the proof in the pudding) always calms any doubts (the few I have!). Thank you and I hope you continue writing! -kristiina (gettingunschooled.com)

    1. Reply


      I’m so glad that you’re finding my unschooled teenager stories helpful. The teenage years really are wonderful.

      Thank you for stopping by to say hello. I’d love to hear more about your family so I’ll visit your blog!

    • Alison
    • February 9, 2018

    I am always so encouraged by whatever you share, Sue – whether via blogpost or podcast. I think that’s totally fine to read out some of your older blogposts or unpublished ones too. I enjoy hearing you read them out and make comments about them, especially if it gives you more time at the moment to work on your book (which I’m still very much looking forward to reading!).

    On this path of unschooling, we are all at different places in the journey, and even after a couple of years of unschooling my 2 girls, I regularly find I need more deschooling myself. Hearing older blogposts you read that I have read before, I find new and/or deeper meaning as I’m now in a different place on the unschooling journey.

    I agree with others who have left comments – your voice is very much needed as a mother with older children who has ‘runs on the board’ so to speak. I am so thankful for your girls’ continued openness to share their unschooling journeys when other older unschoolers (for whatever reason) don’t blog anymore. I am also so grateful for your voice as an Australian, Christian unschooler. 🙂

    1. Reply


      The aspect I enjoy most about blogging isn’t writing blog posts (though I do enjoy that). Rather, it’s the conversations that result from whatever I write or speak about. It’s always good to swap ideas and thoughts with you. And I like how we are forming friendships by encouraging and supporting each other.

      “On this path of unschooling, we are all at different places in the journey…” I sometimes wonder if any of us will get to the end of that journey. Isn’t it exciting how we keep learning about unschooling? There always seems to be something extra we can ponder. Maybe that’s why I can’t quite let go of my blog and move on. Yes, new and deeper meanings.

      Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging comment. I appreciate it very much!

  7. Reply

    Sue, I really enjoyed this podcast. I only have a second but I want you to know that as a mom in the middle (I am 42 and my six children range in age from 9 to 21) I value an experienced voice like yours so much. I will not name names but once I was listening to a podcast where a lady was talking about homeschooling through high school. She charged a fee for her online “how-to” course. I was shocked at the end of the podcast to learn her oldest child was 9! Some of these young, enthusiastic mothers certainly mean well, and they do have things to contribute to the discussion, but they lack long-range experience. I learn so much from people who are further down the path than I. 💙

    1. Reply


      I’ve also heard of mothers with younger children offering their ‘experience’ for a fee and I’ve been similarly shocked. I do admire their confidence, but I wonder how valuable their advice actually is. I find it impossible to believe that someone can learn all they need to know about parenting and homeschooling by the time a child reaches the age of 9.

      I’m so pleased to meet another mother with older children. You are younger than me, but I’m sure we have a lot in common. Thank you so much for stopping by even though you didn’t have much time. It’s been good to chat!

  8. Reply

    Loved listening to this podscast especially about your older children living at home. As my daughter turns 18 this summer I can see how having your kids out of the nest ASAP is the “thing to do”. I like how you talked about the joys of parenting. Every time I start to feel as if parenting is just complete drudgery I try to change something and it’s always helped. Thanks for the dose of inspiration! On a deeper level of “change” I like how you talked about how people can change. I’m working on not letting the anger and disappointment I feel about my in-laws make me an angry and selfish person or I’m trying to change that.

    1. Reply


      I’m glad you enjoyed my podcast. Thank you for your two comments. Yes, it’s hard when we don’t receive any support from our extended family. At least we can connect here online and be friends and share our feelings and encourage each other. I’m so glad you found something helpful in this week’s episode. I hope you have a joyful weekend with your family!

      1. Reply

        💕Thanks Sue. Yes, your friendship and support means a lot to me. You are a wonderful friend. 😊

        1. Reply


          I’m pleased to have your friendship too. Thank you!

    • Chelsee
    • February 10, 2018

    I wonder if it may have been a message from me that you mentioned in your post. I am very grateful to read blog posts about teenage Australian unschool life. My eldest daughter is 9 and already unschooling kids her age and older are thinning out. I most definitely value your sharing. Thank you.

    1. Reply


      Yes, it was your message! Your words made a huge difference. I really did ponder them and they helped me continue blogging at a time when I was feeling discouraged, wondering if I was doing anything of use. I’m glad you are still reading my blog. It’s good to swap comments again. Thank you for stopping by!

    • Rowanne
    • February 10, 2018

    Nissanne, I too don’t want my nest to get empty too soon. I enjoy my childrens company! I encourage them to stay until they can securely fly on their own. I do not wish to ever pressure them out of the house too early. We love being around each other (most of the time😉) and I try to make my home a place they want to return to every time we leave. By unschooling and respecting their teenager choices, we build lasting, trusting relationships. My eldest commented to me once that she really like that I talked to her like an adult and valued her input and opinions. I have not forgotten that. I strive to apply that to my everyday interactions with them all.

    Oh, and Sue! I was reading listening to one of your posts or podcasts a while back about how you told your children that you love being their mum. I have started using the same words with my girls, and it is reaping very bountiful fruit indeed.

    1. Reply


      “I try to make my home a place they want to return to every time we leave.” Oh yes! I love how my kids aren’t in a hurry to leave home. They like living with us. That makes me feel warm inside. I’m so glad that my kids, unlike many young people, aren’t saying “I can’t wait to leave home!” They don’t need to move away in order to live their own lives and be who they really are. They’re already doing that here at home with us. It sounds like that’s what’s happening in your family too.

      Words can make such a difference, can’t they? “I have started using the same words with my girls, and it is reaping very bountiful fruit indeed.” That makes me smile! Thank you so much for sharing!

    2. Reply

      Rowanne, I just noticed your response was meant for me. Thank you! It’s wonderful to have support and encouragement from other like-minded mothers. Unschooling feels so natural that it can be unsettling to look around and feel so different from the crowd. I appreciate your encouragement and reassurance!


    • Rowanne
    • February 11, 2018

    I too feel the pressures of being “different”. ☺ I just keep telling myself to fight the good fight! I am not good at that 100 percent of the time, none of us are. That’s why we are all looking for the support we find here.❤

    1. Reply


      Last night, I was watching one of my old videos. I interviewed my son Callum and we talked briefly about being different. Even though being different is hard, it can also be good. My children tell me they like being different. They have the confidence to be themselves and not worry about what everyone else is doing and thinking. Perhaps we pass on a gift to our kids when we are prepared to withstand the pressures and be different. Of course, we all need support and encouragement. I’m glad we can all provide that for each other!

  9. Reply

    I’m glad you’re blogging because I’m new to unschooling. My oldests are 13 and come from a public school background. It’s helpful for me to read your posts and not freak out that I might be doing something wrong with my teens by unschooling. Thanks! And Happy Blogging. 🙂

    1. Reply


      Welcome to my blog! I hope you find my posts and everyone’s comments helpful as you begin your unschooling adventure. Please feel welcome to comment or ask questions. Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by to say hello!

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