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.