A life lived in fear

In the movie “Strictly Ballroom” the defining line of the film is one worth remembering:  “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.”

More and more when I look around at the way our culture raises and schools its children, it becomes apparent that fear is the dominant element.  Parents fear for their children’s safety and future beyond all bounds of reason.   They live anxious lives and they pass that anxiety and fear on to their children.    Parents tell their children to stay within eyesight at all times or they could get hurt.   Parents overreact to even the slightest injury and fear all strangers as probable pedophiles and/or kidnappers.  Parents send their kids to school out of fear for their futures; if they don’t get in to the best school and then don’t do well in school they are doomed.    If a subject is not mastered, a tutor is hired.   Test prep can extend for months or even years, because if a middle school child doesn’t do well on state mandated standardized tests, they are ruined.    Good grades, good test scores and almost every accomplishment is done, whether consciously or not, to stave off the ever present & overwhelming fear of failure.

Kids spend their entire life from almost birth to at least 18 years of age with fear as the main motivating factor in everything they are allowed or required to do.

All they know is living life in fear.  Living half a life.  Is it any wonder they grow into anxious, fearful adults?

In order for children to be able to live and learn in freedom and independence, parents need to let go of their fear.  If parents are fearful, so will children be.

As with so many things involving the decision to unschool, it is very simple, but not always easy.   A couple of tips for helping the process include turning off the TV and refusing to watch news broadcasts – this goes for online as well.    You’ll be amazed how that one act will reduce the amount of anxiety you carry around on a daily basis.   Also, if you are pulling your kid from school, do not use schoolteachers as your sounding boards if/when things get tough.   Despite their good intentions, they will only succeed in making you anxious about your child’s “progress” and your decision to pull him or her from school.

Let your kids play in their own way and as much as possible, preferably without your presence or supervision.  Don’t place an age limit on this; even adults could benefit from more free play, so it isn’t just for little kids.   Start small if you need to; an hour a day to assure yourself that nothing bad will happen to your child if you are not watching their every move.   Then increase the time and distance as you go.   Free play, as Peter Gray relates in this great TedX Talk, is key to the development of an independent and confident child.

If you worry, as many parents seem to, that your child will “fall behind” their peers in their learning, just ask yourself how much of what you “learned” in your K-12 years you remember and/or use in life today.

Be honest.

Then ask yourself what you would do if you suddenly needed/wanted to know about a particular subject that you’d had in school but no longer remember.

Yes, that’s what your kid will do, too.

If you fear that the lack of traditional schooling will harm their chances to get into college and/or have a career, I recommend reading two books:  Better than College by Blake Boles and Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg.    Also look for Blake’s new book The Art of Self-Directed Learning, coming soon.

Decide to stop living half a life.  Smash through anxiety and fear, inch by inch and step by step,  and breathe.  Your life and that of your children will be the better and happier for it.


Please note:  In this post I am using the words fear and anxiety somewhat interchangeably, but mostly I’m talking anxiety.  For a better distinction I encourage everyone to read Gavin DeBecker’s book “The Gift of Fear”.

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