“Whatever!” Surviving Home Education with Teenagers

The teenage years can be quite a challenge, however you decide to educate your child. If your child has been home educated for at least a few years before reaching adolescence, then they will probably be accustomed to the lifestyle. If you are lucky, your teenager will also have learnt how to educate themselves with support from you and others and will be reasonably self-motivated and confident in their abilities. But what if that doesn’t happen or if, for whatever reason, you decide to withdraw your child from school once they reach their teenage years? Many parents who approach me when they are in this situation feel they are in crisis and that there are many obstacles to their ensuring a suitable education for their child. This article identifies some of those challenges and explores how to move from crisis to opportunity.

What are the challenges and opportunities?

Changing responsibilities

Deciding to home educate your teenager changes the way you handle your responsibility to ensure that they receive a suitable education. Rather than delegating a large part of that responsibility to a school, you are now directly in control of all of it. Or are you? How do you do that when your teenager knows exactly what they do or don’t want to learn and it bears no resemblance to your ideas of what constitutes “an education”? What about if your teenager doesn’t appear to want to engage with anything? Parents in the latter situation have told me that this seems to be a normal reaction to stress. Many teenagers go through this when they are first removed from school as they need time to de-stress and find themselves again. A few may react in the opposite way and study manically, because they feel they “ought to”. Theywill need additional encouragement to take a break for a while.

If you find your teenager happily occupied but in activities that you do not consider to be “educational” then I believe this is another one of those opportunities for us to reassess our perspectives as parents. What is “education?” What constitutes a “suitable education” for our child? If you question your own assumptions on this then you may well find that your beliefs stem from how you yourself were educated. Many parents equate gaining an education with gaining qualifications and exam success. Do you still want to hold those beliefs now? How have your ideas changed with the benefit of your experiences as an adult?

From my experience with working with many parents, the key here is to reassess your role as parent/educator/facilitator and keep the communication between the two of you going. Educate yourselves on learning styles and methods and broaden your horizons beyond what was expected by the schooling system. Above all, remember this is team work. Between the two of you, you will find a way to proceed which suits you both.

Battle of wills

One of the challenges of living with a teenager can be that they seem to be programmed to rebel! It’s at this point in their childhood when just about all our values and beliefs as parents can be put in the spotlight and questioned by them. Discussions can become heated and personal and may lead to large amounts of stress for all concerned. This can be tough enough to deal with when our teenagers are attending school and being supervised by others for a large part of the week. Once we are home educating them, however, the thought of spending much more time around them can seem very daunting to say the least!

The opportunities that can arise from these situations are many. Perhaps we ourselves haven’t examined our behaviour traits, beliefs and values for a while and having them highlighted is proving painful! Reassessing how we lead our lives can be a very enlightening and fruitful endeavour and may well lead to some positive and useful changes.

Whilst many teenagers may not be adept at communicating with compassion and respect, these are qualities we can model for them, once we let go of our immediate reactions to being challenged. When we are consistent in this approach, our children will learn these more acceptable and wholesome behaviours from us and they are much more likely to do so by interacting with someone who models the behaviour than just by being told that’s how they should conduct themselves.

We can use these time to develop our listening skills.  When teenagers feel they are being heard, they are more likely to feel loved and respected. We can view this as an opportunity to strengthen or re-establish a bond of trust with our child and encourage their self-confidence.

Emotional and Physical Growth

Of course, at the same time as your teenager is engaged in learning and studying, they are experiencing marked growth both physically and emotionally. Just about any book on the psychology of learning will emphasise that your emotional state is critical for you to learn effectively. This is something many of us will have experienced as adults. Our teenagers may not be sufficiently self-aware to acknowledge or understand all of their feelings and physical strengths and weaknesses. This is another opportunity for us to aid them with their self-awareness and to model it ourselves. By cultivating self-awareness and self-motivation in yourself and in them, you will help them to empower themselves.


The prospect of home educating a teenager can seem daunting and indeed there may be many challenges we are asked to face.

The opportunities are the learning experiences embedded in those challenges. For those who choose to embrace those challenges, the rewards will be the emergence of a happy, self-confident and well-adjusted teenager, whatever!

Further Reading

Unqualified Education. A Guide to Learning at Home for 11-18 year olds.Gareth Lewis
The Teenage Liberation Handbook. Grace Llewellyn
Parent-Teen Breakthrough. The Relationship Approach. Mira Kirshenbaum and Charles Foster
Non-violent Communication. Marshall Rosenburg
Listening to our Children. Sally Lever
Free-Range Education and it’s Lessons for the Adults. Sally Lever

17 Responses to “Whatever!” Surviving Home Education with Teenagers

  1. Liz October 19, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    Hi there, I think your article here is spot on. I Home Educated my 13 yr old daughter for a year (last year after having such a traumatic experience at school it changed her personality completely and she lost her love of learning and appeared to go ‘backwards’) before she decided she wanted to go back to a different school this September. I remember very anxious times indeed, where I spent quite a lot of time panicking about whether she was learning and still falling into the trap of trying to get her to learn what I thought she ‘ought’ to be doing. As you can imagine this brought out the teen rebel in her! The thing we don’t do as parents and should do is listen. She was learning all the time and when she complained that she didn’t see the point in doing ‘such and such’ it’s because she was right! She knew what she wanted. When I began to relax and really listen to her and let go of my preconceived ideas her attitude changed completely. When our Home Ed Liaison Officer from the LA had her 6 monthly visit she didn’t actually have time to read or see all the stuff she had been doing there was so much and was thrilled to see the change in my daughter.

    Whether your teen ( home educated or not) says, ‘You never listen to me!’ it’s not that they are whining (though sometimes they do!) they are telling you the truth. As a parent to heed that sentence would do you and most importantly your child the world of good. The consequences in some circumstances of not listening to your child can be devastating. I’m happy to report that my daughter rediscovered her love of learning, her self confidence and self esteem, and realises she is capable of doing anything she puts her mind to. She seems settled in her new school, although the arbitrary punishments she receives, for example; forgetting her pencil, is something she complains regularly about. I should think so too! When she was reintroduced and assessed for school her reading, writing and maths ability was that of a 16 year old and yet in the interview, the Headmistress had told me that Home Educating my daughter was the worst thing I could have done. It wasn’t, it was the best thing I EVER did. My daughter will always have the choice and it will always be her choice but I am watching out for her at school now, I no longer believe state school is the only way or even necessary. My daughter taught me a great deal in that year. Listen to your children you could learn a lot. Teens are young adults, bright, clever, fascinating & full of new ideas! (she always used to beat me hands down in any debates) Teaching them to conform, brutalising them with state education can crush that spirit. If they do well at school it’s in spite of state education not because of it.

    Now my youngest daughter who’s 11 and has always enjoyed school up until now, is starting the journey of Home Education. She began to suffer with severe anxiety and refused school. This time I have listened, I’m not making the same mistake twice. She told me that school was unfullfilling, that she was being pressured to perform and made to feel a failure when she couldn’t keep up. That secondary school wasn’t what she thought it would be. She is a bright, self-motivated student who has always enjoyed studying, even in her spare time. Maths was her favourite subject but now she hates it. The homework is ridiculous and she complains that it is just boring repetition. The same patterns are emerging yet again! We are preparing for the inevitable backlash from friends and family members who think I’ll be ruining her life Home Educating her because she’s ‘University material’. It’s her choice and educating at home will not dull her chances should she decide upon that path, if anything it will increase them.

    Asked why she couldn’t get on with school she summed it up by saying, ‘ Because I’m an independent thinker!’ I couldn’t put it better myself. I’ve no doubt I’ll still make mistakes along the way and have a lot to learn, but Home Education is a journey you can take together and it builds bonds between yourself and your child which are in some cases damaged by state schooling.

    One thing I’ve learnt is to trust myself, you do know your child best and have their best interests at heart, you can spot where their talents lie and encourage them. That you don’t need a cert in teaching to be a good teacher, you already are and have been since your child was born. Trouble is, most of us parents have been state educated, we may have survived it, but getting rid of all those conformist, pre-conceived ideas that were drilled into us isn’t easy. It’s not always the child that needs a period of rest and de-schooling, it’s the parents too :)

    When I rang up my youngest daughter’s Head of Year to discuss the anxiety and school refusal I was met with a less than pastoral response. She’s playing on my emotions, she wants her own way, you’re too soft, it’s because her sister was previously HE. When I made suggestions about settling her in on a less pressured more gentle scale, quieter rooms, a lower group, the response was, essentially no. She’s capable of the work and should be stretched, yes I agree, but not to the point where she is so distressed that she is physically ill. I was told she should be made to go, all the other children have to ‘get on with it’. Tell her she has ‘no choice’. Err, yes, she does have a choice. She has a right not to be bullied by the system, by teachers, she has a right not to be so distressed that she is sick or has diarrhoea, she has a right to be an individual and not be humiliated in front of people (e.g. tongue lashed for wearing orange socks to school one day – not school uniform. What does it matter? Is it going to affect her academic ability? Do the teachers wear school uniform? NO) My child isn’t about to be recruited into the army nor is she some kind of ‘drone’ She has gifts and talents to share with the world as does my eldest daughter and in whatever way they choose to express it, whether down the perceived ‘traditional’ route or otherwise, I and my husband (who’s a disillusioned teacher by the way :) ) will be right behind them.

    Sorry for this very long comment. I should start my own blog I know, couldn’t help but get carried away. Great articles and thank you. Liz.

  2. Sally October 21, 2010 at 2:22 pm #

    Wells said Liz and I agree with you – you seem well on the way to starting your own blog! Seriously though, no need to apologise for the length of your comment – enjoyed reading every word of it and learning about your approach with both your daughters.

    Home educating a teenager can be a shortcut to examining every assumption we ever had about education and what it’s like to be a child. It can be a time to find out what really matters in family relationships and how to communicate effectively and resolve conflicts.

    An absolute gem! Thankyou for taking the time to post your account.

  3. Diane Carlisle October 15, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    I have just started Home Educating my Daughter (14 Years) years of horrendous stress of school refusing (SINCE NURSERY) i never thought we had a choice!!!! It’s not public knowledge that you can remove your children from the very situation that i making them unhappy.

    My daughter is still adjusting to it as to am i… Juggling my time with work and my daughter i thought it would be easier and she would find the subject matter and get on with it…. whilst i worked in my home office….. She has been good for the first few weeks throwing herself eagerly at the tasks that we set – but now a month or so in she complains she’s bored and doesn’t find it interesting….

    As she has had so many years of Public schooling insisting on timetables, uniforms, critisism must get good marks, must be on time, must be set out this way and that way – when i am saying to her it’s your work – It’s your essay you set out as you want to do it – If you want to write it in coloured pencils then do so – as long as i can read it….. It doesn’t matter…. You won’t get a detention for it. If you want to take friday morning as a duvet morning – it doesn’t matter we can do something else on another day.

    She seems to be finding adjustment from being moulded into a clone of all the other students into being an individual very hard to shake of…… I am listening and i and learning from you my lovely daughter – Just as you can learn from me…. It’s time to be your own person and be who you want to be.

  4. Sally October 18, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    HI Diane. The process you describe with your daughter sounds very much to me like ‘deschooling’, which, as I understand it is very much about learning to be your own person and be who you want to be. It can take some time though. When I first took my sons out of school, someone suggested to me that I allow 6 months to a year for them to adjust to a new way of doing things. (I think, in hindsight, it probably took me longer, as a parent!).

    Some interesting phenomena have come to light as a result of this process, for us. For example, history has never been one of my favourite areas of study, but my sons really enjoyed it, so I studied with them, for their sake. Nowadays they have retained far more of that info from our home educating time together than I have. On the other hand, I enjoyed science experiments far more than they did – they humoured me on those! And now, of course, I remember much more about those than they do…

    Have fun together!

  5. LIz March 8, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    Hi there, I’ve just started home educating my 14 year old after two years of her struggling to get into a new school in a new area. She’s doing brilliantly with learning independently etc, but has no social life as she hasn’t had the chance to meet people her own age because we moved and she didn’t get into school. What can I do? I can find very few social activities locally that aren’t school based; plus she is stuck at home during the day – any ideas for where she could go to get a change of scene during school hours? Liz

  6. Sally March 8, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    Hi Liz,

    You don’t mention whether your duaghter is in touch with other home educated teens near your new home. I think that might be my first line of investigation for finding others she can be with during school hours. If you’re in the UK, then I can recommend the Education Otherwise website as a place to start looking:


    Have a look at the groups buttons in teh green panel on the left had side of the home page.

    Hope that helps.

  7. LIz March 8, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Thanks – sadly there seem to be very few in our area (mid Dorset). The nearest home education network is in Poole

  8. Sally March 8, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    Probably worth asking on the online forums then, Liz, to see who’s living a bit closer to you. There are some listed on the Education Otherwise website and also here:


    Good luck with it!

  9. Liz Layton March 8, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    Hi Diane & Liz. It’s been a while since I posted and my home ed journey is coming to an end. The youngest went back to a new school where she is thriving. The eldest is now making plans for college.

    I’m not saying it’s an easy road, it certainly isn’t an easy option I don’t care what anyone says! The de-schooling process is a long one and can make you doubt yourself, Some have made suggestions that it’s approximately one month for every school year attended. De-schooling is also for the parent, who has probably been through the school system themselves. Remember children are programmed to learn they can’t help themselves. Just relax, chill, enjoy each others company, go out and about, take her shopping let her do all the choosing and adding up, cinema, museum, eat out, meet the public, go to the beach or the country, visit family etc. Watch tele together, it’s amazing how much you can discuss from watching Eastenders or Corrie e.g. relationships, critical thinking…what would YOU do in that situation. If you are embarking on autonomous education then allow them to find their talents and go with the flow. If they spend 3 months with their head in a book, or 6 hours a day drawing, then that is absolutely fine. Often they use this time to ‘catch up’ and re-engage with learning.

    I do suggest meeting with other home edders if possible, for support for you and to meet like minded friends. But remember home ed children get to meet people of all ages from all walks of life. There may be people in your area that also are home edders and feel a little isolated, start your own meet up! Advertise in the paper. As suggested get in contact by phone or email with others find out what can be done.

    Sometimes, you just have to trust yourself and your child in these uncharted waters. My most recent experience is my 16 yr old has for all intents and purposes done nothing these past few months. she then insisted she wasn’t going to college (against my better judgement) and was going to get a job, so I said o.k. here’s how you apply, write a CV etc off you go. (not quite as simple as that we had a few arguments along the way:) ) she did one weeks work after filling in hundreds of applications and said…I’m going to college. Neither do you have to go the GCSE route if the child (like mine) is very anti-school and anti- all school things, my D is doing a vocational course first year which will lead into level 2, 3 etc travel & tourism later.

    Hope this helps, but don’t feel you are on your own, it’s a learning process you both have to go on. Enjoy it, even the wobbly moments!

    Best wishes, Liz x

  10. LIz March 8, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

    Dear Liz and Sally

    Thanks, both of you, for the extremely encouraging and helpful advice. Thank goodness for the internet is all I can say. It must have been so much harder and more isolating in the old days!

    Liz x

  11. Jacqueline April 21, 2013 at 8:41 am #


    Just wondering Liz Layton could I inbox you somehow?

    I am having problems with school, secondary, my daughter had an experience its just messed with her head and ours, she is unable to speak about her wants and needs she has become quite closed, we are working on all her physical and mental issues ..I am thinking of home educating her but I have a small amount of info but would like to talk to someone who has had teenage daughters and gone through it..


  12. Liz April 21, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    Hi Jacqueline – I’m the other Liz in this thread here. I am now home educating my teenage daughter (15) after a very difficult and traumatic time over several years trying to get her back into school. Like you we had physical and mental issues that needed help (didn’t get the right help for ages!). Since I posted my comment above, things have settled down really well and she’s now even sorting out her social life which was my worry at that moment. I’d be very happy to talk through our experience of going from (impossible) school ed situation to where we are now. Not sure how I send you my email address though!

    Liz x

  13. Jacqueline April 21, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    Hi Liz,

    My daughter is 15 too, been trying to talk to her today, its a bit hit and miss with her, sometimes she wants to communicate and talk and then she just shuts me down, so anything you can give me through your experience would be gratefully accepted.
    Sally the blog owner will swap our email addresses if we say its ok, because she has just messaged me to say if its ok to pass my email to the other Liz.
    I am sure Sally will pick this up and she can give you my email or yours to me..
    hope to speak soon


  14. LIz April 21, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    Hi again Jacq,

    Yes, that would be fine, so please Sally can you swap our email addresses. :-)


  15. Liz Layton April 21, 2013 at 11:03 pm #

    Hi there Jacqueline & Liz, of course you can have my email address. Mine is public on other sites so no problem giving it here ealayton [at] hotmail [dot] co [dot] uk

    You’re more than welcome to chat, sometimes it’s just good to talk.

    Liz (the other one ;) )

  16. Kelly May 18, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    hi, I am seriously thinking about home ed for my son, he’s 13 and for the past 6 months has been suffering quite bad anxiety, due, I believe to a bad accident at school where he ended up with a dozen stitches in his face. He is on medication, but I don’t seem to be getting much help from pastoral, he to has had bouts of sickness where he gets himself so worked up at school. I was told by pastoral that in no way is his anxiety due to his accident, they obviously are doctors as well !!!. I’m just worried that I won’t be able to teach him all he needs to know. We are awaiting an appointment with the hospital to try some therapy to retrain his brain into thinking positive instead of negative when he’s at school, the dr won’t up his medication as they think it won’t help. I just don’t want to see him sad anymore when it’s school days, I’m sure home ed is going to be the best option for him?

  17. sallylever May 20, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

    Hi Kelly,

    I’m very sorry to hear about your son’s accident at school and that he’s feeling anxious about it. Whether to home educate or keep a child in school is very much an individual decision. One thing you might like to consider is doing a trial of home education. That is – taking your son out of school for a trial period to see how he gets on and to see if it works for both of you. As his parent, it’s your responsibility to ‘provide a suitable education’ for him rather than to teach him, so you don’t have to know everything yourself that he needs to learn, simply provide opportunities for him to learn. But first, he’s entitled to some time to simply de-school i.e. get over the more troublesome experiences he’s had and recover from the anxiety. Now might be a good time to try this, as he could, for example, be deregistered from school for the rest of this term and then have the summer holidays too in order to review things and decide whether he would like to resume school in September or not.

    If you haven’t done already, do check out the main home education websites for details of how to de-register, the legalities of home education and where to find other home educating families close to you.

    If you’d like some further pointers, do get back in touch.

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