So, awhile back, Matthew C. left me a comment; in which he asked me about unschoolers and drug use:

Michele, I work in the field of drug and alcohol misuse.

I would be very interested if you could give some thoughts as to how an unschooler would handle the subject of drugs and alcohol.

There is a belief among many that education is the answer to getting young people to make sensible (?) choices about drug and alcohol use.

How would an unschooler deal with that subject?

This post has the aim to address how I (who happens to be an unschooler) handle/will handle drug use, but by no means do I speak for all or even most unschoolers. How one deals with drugs (and sex, figured I’d knock them both out) is a very personal decision and not one I can assume for others.

First, I feel like I have to address how I feel about drug use in general before I talk about how I feel about it and children. I am a huge believer in and supporter of cognitive liberty. I am not Me without the ability to alter or not alter my body & mind in the ways that I see fit. Obviously, I feel as though every man, woman and child is robbed of this liberty at birth, or rather never allowed to exercise this liberty autonomously from day one of their existence. Quite honestly, the fact that I am able to purchase acetaminophen or various cough medicines over-the-counter to take as I like (with the assumptions that I am using them as they are intended to be used), is a lucky fact at best. I alluded before on a past rant that about how drug ‘scheduling’ is out of sync with reality and research when I talked about hoasca (scheduled 1) being scheduled as worse than cocaine (scheduled 2) by our current drug schedule. Let me NOT get started on marijuana or pure heroin and opium or for that matter most psychoactive/hallucinogenic drugs that have been used in ritual on this Earth dating as far back as we can go.

(Wikipedia article) Drug use is a practice that dates to prehistoric times. There is archaeological evidence of the use of psychoactive substances dating back at least 10,000 years, and historical evidence of cultural use over the past 5,000 years.[1] While medicinal use seems to have played a very large role, it has been suggested that the urge to alter one’s consciousness is as primary as the drive to satiate thirst, hunger or sexual desire.[2] Others suggest that marketing, availability or the pressures of modern life are some of the reasons humans use many psychoactives in their daily lives. However, the long history of drug use and even children’s desire for spinning, swinging, or sliding indicates that the drive to alter one’s state of mind is universal.[3]

This relationship is not limited to humans. A number of animals consume different psychoactive plants, animals, berries and even fermented fruit, becoming intoxicated, such as cats after consuming catnip. Traditional legends of sacred plants often contain references to animals that introduced humankind to their use.[4] Biology suggests an evolutionary connection between psychoactive plants and animals, as to why these chemicals and their receptors exist within the nervous system.[5]

I really love the comment about children spinning being indicative to our innate desire to alter our state of mind. I definitely see this in my own son on a regular basis — the dizziness only happens once he stops the spinning and is brought back down to Earth. He says he likes spinning because it makes his mind do ‘funny’ things. In his book, The Rights of the Child and the Changing Image of Childhood (p. 139-140), Veerman quotes Holt on children and drug use:

In his own home an adult should be in a position to lay down the rules — for instance if he does not want smoking. But outside the home, the child’s choice should prevail. “On the whole I believe, ” says Holt “that people ought to be able to use the drugs they want. I don’t think we should ‘protect’ children against whatever drugs their elders use, and in a society in which most of their elders do use drugs and many use them excessively and unwisely. I don’t see how we can.”
Holt thinks that adolescents drink and smoke too much in order to look grown-up in a society in which there is no real and serious way to be grown-up. He admits that they are often driven to do this by social pressure from peer groups, but in his opinion this is a way to show their courage in a society in which their is no serious and authentic way to do so.

Wow! Children also seek relief from physical pain, emotional pain and stress, like all adults. We all make various and divergent choices on how we deal with, relieve or escape these issues — not all of them include chemicals. I am of the opinion that there is no difference between the proscribed anti-depression addicted (whether admitted or not) mother and the heroin addict on ‘the nod’ in the Denny’s bathroom or the Ritalin induced coma of an otherwise (previous to the Ritalin proscription) ‘normal’ 3rd grader. The only difference is that the heroin addict and the mother can choose to NOT continue on their paths in one way or another, whereas the 3rd grader has no say or rights — he can’t ‘go off’ his meds, because it’s required by the school, proscribed by an ‘expert’ and enforced by his parents (one of which is probably on anti-depressants). However, if he was caught smoking in the backyard in an effort to relieve some stress (or as an experiment), he’d be grounded, shamed or caused physical harm by some form of physical abuse disguised as ‘punishment’ — no wonder it’s that child who continues to smoke (and usually go on to ‘harder’ drugs) despite the possibility of more ‘punishment’.

I am not on this Earth to tell others how to live or what to do to their bodies. I CAN tell them how they might choose to live and what my experiences are, as well as what accurate and non-biased science has to say about their choices or proposed choices. Which is what I have done/will do with my child(ren). Being open and honest about your own experiences, choices, beliefs and current available research, is the only way to help a less experienced person gain the knowledge that *they* need to make informed decisions. Shaming, forbidden and punishing only make a person rash and act without truly being informed or as safe as possible.

I am at a quandary as to how to handle drugs in my own home. While I do believe that ALL drugs should be legal and regulated for purity sake and I believe in living as though the world already exists in the state you’d like to see it in, these two ideas conflict majorly with current reality. While I don’t want illegal substances in my home unless I am bringing them into my home knowingly and willingly ready to accept any legal ramifications, I also want my home to be a safe place for my children to experiment if they so choose to. I would much rather my son experiment with say, marijuana or LSD in my home with me as a sober (and experienced party) who is ready and able to keep him company during his experimentation and seek medical help if needed than for him to take a chance at a random party. However, the current law would only be harsher on me for trying to create the safest environment for my son to exercise his cognitive liberty than it would be if I was in the dark about his usage. Not only would he have legal action brought against himself, but I would suffer legally as well. I’d rather take that chance than to possibly passively force my child to seek out less savory or less safe means & places of experimentation.

Do not condone. Do not condemn. Seek to understand the desires & needs behind a choice (address and tend to those if possible). Supply information. Supply safety at the highest level possible given the choice at hand.

Now, let’s talk about sex. As you can probably guess by now, I am one of those ‘sexual liberation’ people. Sense I am quoting Holt through Veerman, let’s not stop now:

The Right to Control One’s Sex Life. Holt pictures a society wherein sex is much less perilous for children than it is in reality. We should not view children as innocent and a-sexual beings, says Holt, but acknowledge and respect their feelings in this regard as well as in all others, including a possible refusing of sex.

Holt [Escape From Childhood] (p.213) “Some people have voiced to me the fear that if it were legal for an adult to have sex with a consenting child, many young people would be exploited by unscrupulous older ones. The image here is of the innocent young girl and the dirty old man. Here, too, we are caught with the remains of old myths.” Holt does not seem to acknowledge that children might nevertheless become victims of adults. Farson in his article Child Protection that Backfires, argues that parents rather than strangers exploit and mistreat children. Holt and Farson do not fear that adults who seek the friendship of children may want to abuse them. “The best way to protect children, ” says Farson, “is to give them the same legal rights as we give to adults.”

I know I am going to get swamped with personal accounts of molestation, rape, pregnancy and so on from readers who would disagree that children can and should be in control of their sex lives. I would counter that a lot of these issues stem from a general lack of sexual liberation of Western Culture and because we do oppress youth and their natural biological desires instead of giving them information and tools to safely and intelligently navigate a world of people suffering from various neurosis stemming from sexual oppression. I would also express great sympathies towards these persons, because I too have been a victim. I can also say that if I had been given direct, open and honest information and given this information much earlier than most would deem ‘appropriate’, I would have successfully avoided a few situations. I am willing to accept that children are capable of determining their own level of sexual exploration (and safely do so if given correct information) on their own terms and timeline. I fully accept that these levels, terms and timelines might NOT correspond to how I might make decisions for myself.

I do not support abstinence only. I especially do not support religiously based abstinence programs — but this is also because I believe that children should have the same Religious Freedom that their elders enjoy. I do not support a ideology that flies in the face of human nature and biological design. Telling a hormonal teenager that everything their body is telling them is wrong, because some “guy-in-the-sky (read, G-d)” might not ‘like’ for them to engauge in certain activities until they’ve entered into a legal contract (er, I mean, have been married) is just asking for all kinds of problems and is wrong on SO many levels I can’t begin to touch on here. A better approach is real, accurate and honest information about sex, sexual identity, sexuality and how to explore/experiment (if one chooses to) in the safest way possible given the decisions a person makes.

Obviously, I plan on being as open and honest as my children’s comfort levels guide me to be. My son has already seen (up close and personally) numerous births (nakedness, messiness and all) and he has a fairly good grasp on the ‘hows’ of baby making. Maybe not so much the actual mechanics behind it, but the science at least with correct names of body parts and so on. I don’t usually plug too many books and such on here, but I will recommend a fantastic book that covers all aspects of sexuality from what makes a family and partnership (pro/neutral homosexual), to how twins & other multiples happen (artificially & naturally), to masturbation (normal, NOT sinful) and hormones at work behind sexual desire. This book has been one of the best things I have ever bought for my child and I have spread the greatness of this book to everyone I can. The book is accurate, scientific, but yet done in a manner that is amusing to children and easy to understand. I believe it is recommended for ages between 5 & 9 and up to 12…we bought it for E when he was about 3yrs. and he had me read him the entire book (it is a huge book) from front to back a few times. He’s since taken it off his self and read various parts of it many times. We’ve talked about things he’s read on many occasions.

I believe one of the hardest things for parents is for them to trust their children. Trust them to really listen to their bodies and hearts and to make informed decisions that resonant with who they are — especially when their choices do not align with their parents’ choices. The trusting comes very hard, because most of us were told that we can not be trusted and to not trust ourselves when we were young. We’ve been conditioned to rely on the gospel of elders and ‘experts’ and do often ignore the sound advice that our bodies are telling us. To fully detach yourself from your children, to accept and understand that they are their own-selves is hard. I know that had I been allowed the confidence to believe in and trust myself growing up, I wouldn’t have made some of the horrible mistakes I made nor would I have fallen into some of the situations I found myself in.

I hope this answers your question Matthew and others.



  1. Frank says:

    Hey! You forgot rock ‘n’ roll! (grin)

    Well said. We’ve always spoken openly and honestly with our girls who are now 15 and almost-17. I’m confident that they are competent to make their own decisions about sex and drugs. And rock ‘n’ roll!

    For the record, I should state that I find the AA, NA, etc. “12-step” approach in these areas to be inaccurate and ineffective. Also for the record, I played rock ‘n’ roll in New Orleans in the 60s and definitely did my share of drugs. Perhaps a bit more than my fair share. I’ve occasionally had sex, too.

  2. Frank~ You make me smile…and chuckle a bit! I’d also have to agree with you about “12-step” programs being inaccurate and ineffective…at best — I have some personal experience in that realm! And for the record, I too have played rock ‘n’ roll (however, not in New Orleans nor in the 60s) and I’ve definitely done my share or a bit more of my share of drugs. Coincidently, I have also occasionally had sex!!

    Funny, I’m finding more that it is those who have ‘been-there-done-that’ who are more open, realistic about and honest about their children’s sex lives and drugs (when and if they decide to try them). As in, I find myself to be in more of a position to ‘deal with’ the subjects of sex & drugs, because I’m not puritanical in thought or ‘innocent’ in these areas…I actually KNOW what it’s like to do it AND not do it. Most teens who try drugs just want to find out what all the fuss is about…and man, do I have stories (and some of those stories have kept a few teens from getting themselves in tricky spots).

  3. And as a side-note: besides taking some midwifery related courses in college, I originally went to college for Alcohol & Substance Abuse Counseling AND Victim Survivor Services. It didn’t take me too long to realize that what they were ‘teaching’ me was either common sense or blatantly wrong/ineffective for both areas. I decided that if social work was in my calling, I wasn’t going to get further knowledge and support for it from the ‘experts’ (most of which, have no first hand knowledge or experience).

  4. This is the best article on parenting I’ve read in a long time. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you’ve said, and have never seen these subjects written about in such an intelligent manner. You’ve really given me some things to think about, and helped me work through how I’ll deal with these issues in the future (I have a 2 year old and we’re radical unschoolers). I really appreciate this article. I think I’ll need to refer to it again in the future. I particularly agree with what you wrote about drug use, and it’s such a refreshing perspective.

    Thank you for challenging me and for writing this. It’s brilliant. I look forward to reading some more of your blog. 🙂

    • Well, thank you so much. I’m happy to know that you got something useful from this post. I often reread this post for my own benefit, not just as a parent, but as a person with a history of drug use. I always walk away from it with something new & a strengthened resolve.

      Thanks so much for your comment. I hope you continue to visit my blog when you can.

  5. Ha ha, I always seem to end up with some in there too. Nevermind. Mind you, my phone’s autocorrect doesn’t help matters.

    I too have used substances in the past, but never in a destructive way. Always in an exploratory way. And I see nothing wrong with my daughter doing the same when she is old enough to understand the consequences and issues of safety. However, it’s difficult to broach this issue without being made to feel like a bad mother, and like your line should definitely be that “drugs are bad” and forbidden. It seems like such an immature stance to take, especially since most people have no problem with their kids drinking alcohol. Even amongst the natural parenting community I’ve never seen a position other than that drugs are harmful and therefore should not be condoned. I dunno… sometimes it’s hard to take a different position until you’re inspired by someone else who thinks like you do. So, again, thank you for this intelligent and well considered post. 🙂

  6. Christy says:

    This came to my attention at the exact right time. I was hoping for some sort of guidance in this area, as we’ve just taken my 15 year old nephew into custody. He has many court dates, much trouble with the law. He is creative, intelligent, and pretty damn typical for a 15 year old. He enjoys pot culture more than he has had the opportunity to actually smoke pot. Now that he is in our custody, it is my job to make sure he pees clean for all court dates. It has been really hard to have to make a “sudden” decision about how I am going to “raise” him, if you will. This really gives me food for thought, and it resonates (especially the rant on sex) with how I feel (I ALWAYS get looks from my otherwise progressive friends when I insist we make kids wait too long for sex…when hormones kick in at 12-13!!!) Anyway, THANK YOU for writing this, and sharing your thoughts. It has helped a lot.

    • Oh, wow, Christy. What a tough road you have ahead. I wish for you & your family a lot of love & strength. I think you’re in a very unique situation. You ostensible have an adult living with you — an adult who is behaving a certain way as a response to the parenting, environment, or both that he’s experienced prior to coming into your home. I think you can probably talk to your nephew quite frankly, like you would with any adult, about his current situation. I’d stress that you love him & will love him no matter what he does — and he’ll probably do some outlandish, possibly hurtful, things.

      I’d explain the situation exactly as it is to him. I’d be very honest about how you feel about all aspects of it. Explain that you don’t want to be his parent, his adversary, but that you want to be his partner. Lay out exactly what it’s going to take for you & him to get through all this red tape. Explain that once you’ve jumped through all the legal hoops, maybe you & he can renegotiate some things. I’m around to talk to or for him, even — I’m always happy to put my skills to use.

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