3 Problems With ‘No School, No Rules’ Parenting


The current parenting trend of  ‘unschooling’ is a disaster waiting to happen. No formal education, no family rules, no bedtimes? Completely unstructured schedules and wide-open food choices are not a viable, alternative parenting style to ‘helicoptering’.

Yes – as children age they need to learn how to make choices, weighing the pros and the cons of short-term and long-term goals and outcomes, however they can’t learn to do this without the benefit of ‘limited choices’.

The Benefits of ‘Limited Choices’

1) They learn how to compare the benefits of the choices they make.

‘Limited choices’ are not a new thing, nor are they rocket science. When a child has the opportunity to choose what they want from a limited variety of choices, they feel a sense of control over their immediate reality. They can choose the hotdog instead of the mac and cheese, or the broccoli instead of the asparagus. Using this process of limited choices, even young children can learn how to compare the benefits of choices they make. Sure the asparagus is crunchier than the broccoli, but the broccoli has cheese on it. They learn to weigh the pros and cons of the choices they make.

2) They avoid overwhelm and develop a sense of stability in their world.

Limiting a child’s choices in any situation can prevent overwhelm. Ever been to a buffet and eaten more than felt comfortable? Childhood without limited choices can feel the same, and result in a whole lot of things that are never completed, never understood and never appreciated. This is because a child cannot assess the overall situation when they are overwhelmed. They will not ask themselves “how much effort must I put into this to get what I want out of it?”  Without this skill, they will have a hard time completing, understanding and appreciating things throughout their life.

3) They develop ‘grit’.

Dr. Angela Duckworth, a noted psychologist and researcher in the area of ‘grit’ has found a relationship between future success and experiences that require children to develop determination and perseverance. She calls this ‘grit’ – the capacity to stick to something when the going gets tough, rather than abandon it for something easier.

‘No school, no rules’ parenting may allow the child to avoid opportunities to develop grit, as a child will likely consistently opt for the easiest way to meet their needs. At a younger age, children meet their needs by asking adults to fix things – this is an important part of the parent-child relationship, which must be outgrown so that children may develop self-esteem. Without grit-inducing opportunities, children don’t learn how to solve problems themselves. They do not develop self-esteem based on their inner sense of mastery and their social abilities. ‘No school, no rules’ parenting can set a child up for a lifetime of frustration and co-dependence.

What is the real issue behind ‘no rules’ parenting?

Over the last 100 years, Western parenting styles have moved towards greater and greater permissiveness. As kids, the boomers ran wild when compared to earlier styles of parenting that demanded children be silent and disciplined. As parents, the boomers parented in a more child-focused manner, asking their own kids what they wanted and needed.

While this seemed like a good shift, the children of boomers moved back towards a more restrictive parenting style that kept the child-centred focus. Helicopter parenting was born.  Helicopter parents reclaim the control and authority of parenting in an effort to protect their children from the dangers of urban living. It’s characterized by the desire to create children that can compete and win in their adult lives. It requires constant and insidious management of children’s emotional, intellectual and moral development, as well as firm control over their schedules and skills development. And that is exhausting!

‘No school, no rules’ parenting is a reaction against helicopter parenting. It is just another swing of the pendulum back towards more permissive parenting, away from this intense, and exhausting management and control style. You can think of ‘No school, no rules’ parenting as a form of ‘anti-helicoptering’.

‘No school, no rules’ parents don’t understand that parenting is about balance and context – that in some situations children learn valuable skills they will need for future success in life from meeting expectations, following rules and doing things they would rather not. A healthy yet skeptical mistrust of public institutions and organizations is great, but not when it denies your child the opportunity to learn from these social environments.

Time is important in ‘No school, no rules’ Parenting

The one thing that most parents lack is time – time to talk to their kids, time to learn how their children see the world, and time to experience the world together. And the one thing that permissive parenting requires, in any form, is time.

In theory ‘No school, no rules’ parenting could work, but only where parents have considerable and conscious engagement with their kids. For example, home schooling can be brilliantly successful when parents build teaching teams and share their expertise and enthusiasm for learning with their children. No rules parenting when accompanied by discussions of expectation, outcome, strategies, and choice, and in the right context can help kids develop their critical analysis skills.

However, this is often not the case. In our time starved culture, ‘No school, no rules’ parenting can easily collapse into lazy parenting, with unsupervised and unguided children glued to their smart phones, lacking real social connection, and widespread opportunities to learn through experience in the real world. 

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