“You wouldn’t believe how many friends I have!” was the reply my son gave to a neighbor who said, “Why don’t you go to school so that you will have friends?”
Many parents are hesitant to homeschool because there is this notion that their child will become socially inept, have no friends, and be isolated from the world. I can empathize with this fear because there have been times when I have wondered if my children will be able to “relate” well to children of their own age. However, I have found time and time again that this is not a problem at all. In fact, many times, people are drawn to them because they are kind, considerate, unpretentious, and able to adjust to the interests of children of all ages. What I have also come to realize is that treating your family members with kindness and consideration is often harder to practice. And since our kids have to work out their differences, accept one another and choose to love each other unconditionally, this carries over into the social realm.
I also like how a veteran homeschool mom put it when she said, “socialization begins with the relationship between child and parents, child and God, child and siblings, and then child and others.” (Her son is a youth leader, musician, and a highly intelligent young man who chose to remain homeschooled in high school despite being accepted to one of the top schools in the country.)
Most people think their children need to get along with friends in order to be “normal.” However, relating to others well is the by-product of certain factors such as good relationships in the home with God, parents, and siblings. And it is also the result of being trained on how to treat others with deference and respect.
Any parent can teach their children to relate well with others if they lay the right kind of foundation for healthy social development. It begins with teaching them how to relate to us, to God, and to their siblings. A good foundation doesn’t begin when you put them all together with their peers and expect them to learn correct attitudes and behaviour in that kind of environment.
My husband, Edric, often explains it this way to parents. “There is a difference between social development and socialization. Socialization is the ability of a child to conform to his peers while social development is the ability of a child to choose the correct behaviour in social situations.”
Over the years that I have interacted with parents who send their children to conventional schools, one thing is common: their children are confronted with negative peer pressure as a way of life, and many of them are not prepared to withstand it. Furthermore, unless they are grounded with the right values and principles, they rarely make a stand for what is right when the pressure pushes them in the opposite direction.
I’m not saying that homeschoolers are perfect. I just look at my own kids and there are times when I wonder why in the world they are acting a certain way. Recently, we visited Sarangani and one of the things we did was meet the Mayor of Maitum. The first thing one of my sons did was to lay down on her couch in the office with his feet up! I was mortified! I had to take him aside and explain to him that we don’t do things like that in public. But I can’t really blame him either. I have not been as intentional with him about manners and etiquette so this is an area I need to work on with him and the rest of my kids.
There have also been moments when my children are put into social activities where I get a little bit nervous about how they will interact with other kids. But guess what? They do just fine. The reality is they have lots of opportunities to be with other children. They attend Sunday School, parties, playgroups, music class, taekwondo class, our neighbors’ kids come over or they play with their cousins, etc. It’s hard to be unsocial in the Philippines! In fact, for Elijah’s birthday, we settled on a family party instead of a party with his friends because he said there were just too many people to invite. Whew! Better on our budget!
The point is that socialization for homeschoolers is not a problem for as long as parents make it a point to teach them how to discern and make the right choices, even at the risk of being unpopular. And, if children feel secure about their relationship with God, with their parents and with one another, their social development will be healthy and normal. They will put on the right behaviour and right attitude when it counts – when the world encourages them in the area of sexual promiscuity, to pick up a vice, to rebel against authority, lie, cheat or steal, and the like.
Edric and I recognize that one day our children will face these challenges, whether they are homeschooled or not. However, we have peace knowing that they aren’t being sent into the battlefield of life too soon. In the meantime, they are in training mode. We do expose them to social situations so they can enjoy friends and practice deference, learn to relate and communicate, be a good example, and come away with a host of other valuable lessons that come from group interaction. Sometimes, they make mistakes and they need to be corrected, but what is great is that we have the monopoly when it comes to time with them. This gives us the opportunity to dialogue and address issues that they may face in social settings.
For example, one day Elijah reported to us about his Sunday School experience and said, “The kids were not obeying! They were running around, being noisy and not listening to the teacher.” He was upset about it because we had asked him to obey and he had tried his best, but the others kids were not doing the same thing. So, I said to him, “I’m so proud of you for obeying. That makes Jesus happy! If other kids don’t listen or obey, you be a good example to them. Maybe they don’t know Jesus yet so they behave that way.” That made sense to him and he realized that he shouldn’t judge the kids for acting the way they did, but he should focus on what he can control which is his own response and behaviour. (We also need to make sure our kids don’t develop this self-righteous attitude that makes them look down on others!)
In a perfect world, the kids might have actually copied Elijah’s good example, but the reality is our kids might often feel alone when they choose to do what is right. But our job is to make sure that we encourage them and build them up when they make tough choices in favor of pleasing God and obeying us. And, home needs to be a place where these choices are applauded and followed – where we celebrate what is good and true, and where much love and acceptance abounds!