I just finished working my 12th summer of Not Back to School Camp: an annual milestone where I reflect deeply, talk with long-time friends, and choose new directions for my life and career.
After camp last year I determined that running Unschool Adventures trips doesn’t pair well with my longer-term goal of being able to work from anywhere, ideally with a family in tow.
I still love running big trips for self-directed teens, and I plan to continue offering one trip a year for a long time. But as I turn 35 I’m feeling ready to turn Unschool Adventures into a side gig and take a bold new direction with my primary career path.
Here’s a birds-eye view of this new trajectory.
New Focus: the Parenting of Self-Directed Teens
Teenagers are my jam. Ever since college, they’re the age group I’ve felt most compelled to serve. Now I have over a decade of experience working with teens through Unschool Adventures and summer camps; doing one-on-one coaching with teens; and speaking for teen groups.
My approach has been to work with teens directly, with minimal parent involvement. This began at Deer Crossing Camp, where I witnessed the transformational power of a 4-week teen leadership program away from home. Then I read Grace Llewellyn’s Teenage Liberation Handbook, the only education book I’d seen that directly addressed an audience of young people; I followed suit by writing College Without High School and Better Than College directly for teens. In Unschool Adventures trips, parents play almost no role beyond paperwork and payments: it’s really just the trip leaders and teens off galavanting around the world, sending an “I’m still alive!” email home every now and then.
I believe this has been a valuable and important approach to take: it makes young people feel like I take them seriously, it breeds mutual respect, and it encourages teens to act like the adults they will soon become. But I think I need to expand beyond this approach.
If I’m more honest and less self-congratulatory, the parents of teens actually do play a huge role in everything I’ve been doing. It’s overwhelmingly the parents (mostly the moms) who find my books and programs and share them with their teens. They provide all sorts of non-financial support. The fantasy that I hold of the self-empowered teenager who’s essentially a fully functioning adult living at home seems to be just that: a fantasy.
The teens with whom I work have incredibly involved parents. Not involved in the controlling, helicopter-parenting way, but involved in the deep-connection, deep-trust kind of way. They know their kids really well. From they outside they appear hands-off, but this approach is informed instead of neglectful. The balance they strike is really quite incredible. While the nature half of the nature/nurture debate seems to play a larger role than we imagine, it’s clear to me that the awesome teens with whom I work do not arrive in utero. Parents and parenting matter—big time.
Logical conclusion: If I want to help more teens, I should help more parents.
I want to learn more about the parenting practices that undergird the lives of the badass teens whom I serve. I’m not looking to accumulate parenting “tricks”—I’m interested in nuanced styles, beliefs, techniques, and philosophies. If I can identify these and distill them into something useful and novel, then perhaps I can inspire more parents to raise their teens in an environment saturated with more freedom, respect, consent, trust, and personal responsibility than they’d otherwise have.
This new focus could expand my reach beyond the narrow subset of families I’ve mostly served thus far: those with the motivation and ability to unschool their kids. Widening the circle of families I work with feels right to me on many levels.
(If you find yourself saying, “What the hell are you thinking, Blake, you don’t have any kids! Why would anyone listen to you about parenting?”—I have a few responses. First of all, many parents already do listen to me. Second of all, I have tons of face-time experience with teens, which isn’t the same as having a child, but it still counts for something. Thirdly, there may be a benefit to giving parenting advice without the bias of having children oneself: it lends a certain degree of objectivity.) Continue Reading