Iris Chen, a VELA Meet the Moment grantee, is an author, an unschooling mom, a self-described “deconstructing tiger parent”, and founder of the Untigering movement. As an advocate for peaceful parenting and educational freedom for children, her mission is to inspire generational and cultural transformation, especially among Asian communities.
What is Untigering?
Untigering is a term Chen coined to describe her own experience of detoxing from the hierarchical, coercive, authoritarian parenting style that she grew up with, and her process of moving toward a peaceful parenting style she uses to parent her two children.
Untigering is a parenting style that allows each member of the family to have their own freedom and agency over their learning and lives.
“It’s a style in which the parents aren’t bending over backwards,” explained Chen. “It’s living together in harmonious ways so we can honor the things we each want to pursue. In a world where children are robbed of so much of their agency, let’s do all that we can to empower and honor them as whole persons with their own thoughts, desires, and boundaries.”
“Unschool” to See All of Life as Learning
Untigering parenting includes “unschooling,” a thoughtful move away from traditional schooling that Chen explains can be oppressive and anti-child.
“We’re all individuals. We all have individual learning styles. We learn at different paces. So why are we all expected to do things on a certain schedule and hit certain milestones?” said Chen. “I think this approach to learning is dehumanizing.”
The more Chen and her family practiced unschooling, the more they fell in love with the lifestyle and love of learning it brought.
Unschooling is not without its challenges. “When I decided to unschool, I started blogging about it. I was trying to put my thoughts and ideas into paper. I was still wrestling with some of it,” Chen explained. “Unschooling is good, yet it’s hard, and it goes against a lot of the things that I was conditioned to believe.”
For Chen and other untigering parents, putting unschooling into practice has really been about deconstructing traditional parenting, attitudes toward children, and beliefs around consent.
Chen’s Untigering parenting approach includes the fostering of good relationships with children and supporting them in their own learning, not dictating to them what and how they should be learning.
Chen explained, “When we expand our understanding of learning to include all of life, we begin to relax and enjoy our children more. Their ability to do a somersault is just as exciting as their ability to read their first word. Our anxieties and fears about “learning loss” and “falling behind” are quieted, even if they never quite disappear. We’re less likely to belittle their interests or feel the need to redirect them towards more “academic” endeavors. We relate to them as holistic and complex human beings instead of in bookish, boxed-in ways.”
Aspects of Untigering can be adopted by all families, regardless of whether or not their children are in traditional school. Untigering encourages down time and opportunities for free play so that children can get to know themselves and practice self-direction.
“We don’t need to be filling their schedules with lessons, sports, activities, and events that are most likely led by adults with adult agendas,” said Chen. “While these may be fun and may include elements of play, oftentimes, this impulse to keep our kids entertained and busy is actually deeply disrespectful and disempowering to them. They are not given the space to simply be nor the autonomy to choose how they want to spend their time”
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