Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Home Schooling and Socialization

By Holly Van Houten

New research out this month provides documentation for what anyone who has ever been in school already instinctively knows -- bullying can and does happen to anyone and often it's linked to popularity.  It's easy to assume as most research on bullying up to this point has, that bullies are just individual, maladjusted, overly-aggressive kids, but in reality the popular kids are just as guilty -- though often, more subtle.

The New York Times article (linked above) reports on studies conducted on social "webs" in middle and high school.  The kids at the very top of the pyramid didn't "bully" others much, but those at the 98% mark were the worst offenders.  Experience shows us that clawing your way to the top of the heap is likely to draw blood, especially for girls.  This kind of bullying is more difficult to detect though because the bleeding is internal and caused by small, sharp jabs that may cut to the bone, even though they often go unnoticed by parents and teachers.

I homeschool my daughters for a large variety of reasons.  At the top of the list would be academics.  I know I can and do provide them with a far more meaningful, interesting and often more rigorous academic experience than they would get at a school.

Yet, the most common question I get about homeschooling is:  What about socialization?  This question always puzzles me.  My first instinct is always to answer sarcastically (but honestly), "Yes, it's a huge problem -- it's so hard to find enough time to study."  The ridiculous stereotype of homeschoolers as isolated, lonely and socially inept kids is amazingly persistent.  But in reality, homeschooling happens only in small amounts in the home.  Our learning experiences take us far afield more often than not.  Kids stuck in a classroom all day, seem to me to be far more isolated from real life.  My kids are out and about all the time, interacting with both adults and kids from all walks of life, in a variety of situations.  They also have many friends -- more in fact, than I can usually manage.  My biggest problem is that I have to find a balance between visits with friends and school work.  The big difference though, is that my kids have friends from multiple arenas.  They have friends from choir, friends from theater, friends from their homeschool co-op classes, friends from homeschool park groups, friends from church, friends from gymnastics, friends from the neighborhood, and I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

The one thing they don't have is a place where they are required to encounter (5 days a week) the same large group of kids (some of whom are friends), all interacting together with relatively little supervision.  They don't go to school.

And lets face it -- the "Lord of the Flies" social scene in most schoolyards never occurs anywhere else in life.  I never encountered anything remotely resembling it in college, grad school or the work place.  Women in groups may at times verge on being a bit "catty," but maturity has deadened the sharper edges of the claws they may have had as schoolgirls.  And besides, maturity works both ways -- women have thicker skin than young girls.

No, the social cliques of the schoolyard are uniquely difficult.  Yet people still insist that I'm "sheltering" my kids by not making them learn to fend for themselves in such situations.  To them, I must say -- yes, I AM sheltering my children from that -- just as I shelter them from wind and rain and every other hardship -- until they're old enough and mature enough to fend for themselves.  I teach them the survival skills they'll need for life, but I don't think learning to defend themselves against the subtle and manipulative bullying instigated by the "popular" kids in a school is a skill they'll have much use for in their lives.  Besides, as the recent studies show -- most kids defend themselves by becoming bullies themselves on the road toward "popularity."  That's NOT a lesson I want my kids to learn.

No, "socialization" is something I rarely need to worry about for my kids at all -- BECAUSE I Homeschool.

31 comments:

  1. One reader emailed me raising the issue of the bullying that can also occur in homeschooling situations and she raised important points about parents, so I'm including my reply here....

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my article. I think you raise a really valuable point and one I should have mentioned in the article. Yes, so much depends on the parents and homeschooling is certainly not without it's problems. I guess the difference for me is that although my kids may encounter some bullying in one particular homeschool group, it remains ONE particular group and they belong to many. That doesn't mean it's not hurtful, but it's not a daily problem they have to endure and ultimately if things get too problematic, we can easily pull our of that one situation and enjoy our others. I don't think there's any way to completely keep our kids from being "bullied" to some extent and I don't even really think that should be a goal. But guiding them as they cope with it is a benefit of homeschooling I know I really appreciate. More often than not when we encounter difficulties in a home school group, I'm able to advise my kids how to work it out and fun times at the park are easily restored. But in the case where parents aren't willing to intervene and our efforts don't make headway -- I have no problem leaving for a bit and returning when things are improved or my daughters feel like they can easily ignore the situation and enjoy themselves. I want them to learn to work through difficulties in relationships with other kids -- but just as adults generally have choices about who they interact with on a daily basis, I want my kids to have the ability to walk away from an untenable situation.

    I think I'll move this to the "comments" section of my blog, so that the discussion can continue with others as well. I won't move your comments without your permission, but I'd love to hear other Mom's take on this too.

    Thanks again,
    Holly

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  2. Hi! Your thoughts closely parallel both my own thoughts as well as the experiences that we have had homeschooling. My grown children are well liked and can talk to people of all ages and kinds. The only time that I ever observed them being awkward socially was when they had to go into large groups of same age teens - a skill vital to high school but, as you pointed out, never again necessary.

    It appears to me that the way schools go about trying to reduce bullying simply drives it under ground and makes it more subtle and even more hurtful. There are interesting ideas on this in this article:
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201005/school-bullying-tragic-cost-forced-schooling-and-autocratic-school-governa

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  3. Hi Karen -- Thanks for your comment and the article you mentioned is indeed interesting -- though so sad to read. What an unfortunate reality this for some kids who experience this sort of thing.

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  4. Well said. My daughter was being bullied in a Christian School. That is the reason that I pulled her out.

    I went thru public school and learned first hand how mean people could be.

    I want my daughter to miss this mess.

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  5. I never got the idea that it was the lonely, maladjusted kid who bullied. In my experience, it was the groups of popular kids who bullied, and the lonely, maladjusted kid who *got* bullied.

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  6. Well, I tried to post a response to the anonymous comment, but my daughter just deleted my response and I see that you deleted the comment. Good for you!

    The thing that makes bullying so much worse is the way schools handle it, or I should say don't handle it. A local girl was beaten into unconsciousness by three older girls, who videotaped the whole incident and posted it on You Tube. The girls were suspended for a while. Now they are back, however, and continually do things like "accidentally" bump into the girl in the hallways.

    If the girls had been adults, they would have gone to jail for assault. Then, when they got out, years later, if they continued to harass the girl, she could pursue the matter with the police. I don't understand why the fact that these are children in school lessen this girl's rights? In the very least, I think the school should have sent the three girls to three different schools.

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  7. Maureen - that's such a tragic case. I can't imagine how awful it must be for that poor girl. And you're right of course, if these were adults committing the same crimes, this victim would have more recourse. And thanks for the support on my anonymous commenter. I've changed to moderated comments.

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  8. Holly, I am not sure if you know, but the first year DD returned to the public schools (3rd grade) the kids made a game of kicking her- like tag. Now, unlike most homeschoolers, DD is certainly socially awkward- but, that has everything to do with her nervous system (Aspergers). In any case, when they played the kicking "game" she liked the attention, but, of course, she had no idea how to diffuse things when they invariably went too far. Luckily, the school did step in and help- but only after we reported it ourselves to the principal. However, later in the year, a boy decided he didn't want her playing in the game he was playing and pushed her down, breaking her wrist! Girls would habitually "pretend" to be her friends, and then snicker at her and attack her. Honestly, it was awful. Neither she nor DS, who is genuinely one of the friendliest and kindest people I know, were able find any true friends in their school. It wasn't until we pulled them out and started homeschooling that their *positive* socialization resumed. Yes, their academics were also suffering. But, I think for our family, socialization has been the key *benefit* of homeschooling! When I look back at their time in public school I don't regret the lack of academics they were receiving, but I feel terribly guilty about the bullying and perverse social dynamics to which they were exposed.

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  9. Oh that's awful Deamatre. Your kids are so sweet, friendly and eager to learn, it breaks my heart to think of them having to go through that sort of thing. How cruel kids can be! They're so lucky to have a Mom like you who took care of the situation and gave them options. We're going to miss you when you're off to Germany! Though, I'm so happy you'll all have such a wonderful opportunity!

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  10. As a university recruiter, I've actually encountered that most home-based learners who apply to University are very highly-prepared for entrance into University and do exceptionally well. Sometimes socialisation can be a gap in their later development, and I think some of the points in your article capture this nicely.

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  11. I totally agree with you. I have wanted to ask the people when they ask me "What kind of socialization will they get? How to be afraid? How important to their health and safety to not stand up for themselves or the friends? Where the best places to hide? How to lie bold face to the parents when they ask why they need such and such of amount of money or where they got that bruise from?....." (my child was bullied)The list can go on and on. Thank-you for this post.

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  12. Kids will get bullied almost anytime they are with other kids. But we can mitigate the damage and keep the worst of it away homeschooling. People accuse us of overprotecting or sheltering our kids and my answer is "hell yeah", we are.
    Because kids should be protected and that kind of stuff should not happen. My kids know what the world is like, they are taught about age appropriate things like drugs, sex, cutting, all the social issues of the day, but here they don't have to wallow in it or have it be shoved in their face. Here we can equip and strengthen them to deal when they do get out there on their own someday. Here, unlike in the public schools, we DO have authority to discipline and correct and raise up. And so we sacrifice to do so.

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  13. I agree, very well said! It is a concern of mine, as my kids are in a PS this year, and possibly next year.

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  14. Very well said!!!!
    LivingJen.com

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  15. I think the book "Hold on to your kids - why parents need to matter more than peers" is appropriate to this discussion.

    My son has only experienced bullying at his karate class, where most of the kids are public schooled. The bullying child is homeschooled, too! Luckily, he is not trapped in this situation all day long and so we can discuss how to deal with it or take a break from class if he feels like it.

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  16. Nerodia -- I read "Hold on to Your Kids" a few years back too and thought there was a lot of good advice in there. And you're right of course, homeschoolers can be bullies too, but the option to leave a situation makes all the difference is your child is the one being bullied.

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  17. PinonKnitter - you are SO right!

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  18. I don't think you understand what they mean by socializatioon. It isn't getting along with other people, it is sacrificing your mind, your ideas, your values to the group.

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  19. Although our children are all grown I believe you have many good points about home-schooling and I tend to agree with your views. This is a very good and important post.

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  20. Hah -- Good point Jack. There is definitely another side of "socialization" to consider. We're discussing it as thought it were only "socializing" (w/friends, etc.), but there are definitely elements of conformity and "Group Think" that I'm happy to have my kids miss out on.

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  21. Phil, what do you mean by the socialization issues happening "later in their development"? Just curious...

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  22. I think it's a form of anonymous Stockholm Syndrome that bonds so many adults to an amalgam of our oppressors. Saying that the playground bullying made us better people gives the abuse meaning. If our homeschooled children thrive without that trauma, that could mean it was pointless. I homeschool, in part, because I already believe it was pointless.

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  23. When I hear of family members that are dealing with bullies-- including "mean girls" at school, it makes me thankful we homeschool. It is unreasonable to expect that teachers will be able to monitor all interactions in a classroom, and I am thankful that when those situations arise in my own home during playdates, I am able to monitor and if need be, step in to stop hurtful situations. Not only do i not want my children to be physically or verbally assulted by other children, I do not want them to think it is ok for them to participate in hurting others. Thanks for your post!

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  24. Your welcome Melissa and you make a really good point. Even the best teacher can't monitor all conversation and activity, especially as class size gets bigger and bigger.

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  25. My eldest had her very first encounter with bullying this evening, or that is to say the first that she was conscious of. Let me just say that she dealt with the situation much better and with more grace than I did upon hearing about it. I'm afraid the years of bullying that I endured and the defense mechanisms that I later developed to ward it off kicked in and I found myself in a full fledged rant giving her some unsound advice. Thankfully my husband, always the voice of reason, was able to talk me down off the metaphorical ledge and we were able to come to a reasonable solution for the future.

    This happened at a monthly event run by a homeschooling mom and the bullying was perpetrated by a homeschooled teen, so yes, it does still happen with homeschoolers. The nice thing is, if there is anything that could be considered "nice" about having your child both physically and verbally bullied, is that she doesn't HAVE to go back. She has decided that she would like to, but with her father staying present for the next meeting, and if it should happen again then she will decide if she wants to continue to attend the group. But that's the point, it's Her choice.

    Although this situation is completely about my daughter, it somehow also became completely about myself and old hurts. When I was finally able to calm down and we were able to come up with a supportive and viable plan, something very deeply and tightly held inside of myself released. There is a solution, and that solution is being there for your kid and allowing them to have a choice and the room to make that choice.

    As I told my daughter, I am very proud of her and how she handled the situation with dignity and grace........ unlike her hillbilly mother!! lol

    Sorry for the rant, but thanks for listening.

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  26. Hi Lisa -- Sorry to hear about your daughter's bad experience, but it sounds like she has a good plan for handling it. Isn't it amazing how much certain parts of motherhood can just hit a nerve from our past?

    I don't expect homeschooling to utterly shield kids from every bully out there, but the CHOICE you mentioned makes all the difference. Hopefully, your daughter's memory of this event will eventually be all about how her family rallied behind her and how she handled it with relative ease. :)

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  27. This is great! I love your line....

    No, "socialization" is something I rarely need to worry about for my kids at all -- BECAUSE I Homeschool.

    I hope you don't mind but I think this will be my response from now on when people ask me that ridiculous question!

    Thanks for sharing!

    ~Rach in CA

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