The Results of Homeschool Mis-Socialization

As I was thinking about homeschooling and socialization recently, I realized something in my experiences that at first seemed contradictory. You see, when I first started college I found frightening something as simple as walking through crowded hallways or sidewalks between class. However, I had never found walking through the crowded foyer in my parents’ megachurch frightening in the least, even though most of those individuals were also strangers (that’s generally how it is in a megachurch – you known only a small percentage of the total attendees). And so I asked myself why this was, and that’s when I remembered something else.

There was one place in that megachurch that I actively avoided. I hated going through that area, and if I had to for some reason, my heart rate would go up and I would move through as quickly as possible, keeping my head down and my eyes on the ground. What area was that? Simply this: The hallway outside the large high school youth group room. That hallway was always filled with high school kids, and while they were like me evangelicals, they were predominantly public schooled. I was, quite literally, afraid of them.

I think I need to pause here to say two things. First, I should clarify that all of my friends growing up were also homeschooled. Obviously, different homeschoolers have different experiences, but this was mine. I had lots of friends and was in lots of groups and clubs – but all with other homeschoolers. I was well socialized within homeschooled circles, but was completely unsocialized outside of these circles.

Second, when you’re a child or teen there is a huge difference between peers and adults. I was totally comfortable around all of the adults at my parents’ evangelical megachurch, but I was profoundly uncomfortable around the (non-homeschool) teens there. I grew up hearing that the whole “being comfortable around adults but not around peers” thing was not a sign of maturity, but that’s nonsense. It’s actually a sign of a problem. When you’re a child, interactions with adults are fairly formalized. I knew that if I talked to an adult, I would be praised for how mature and intelligent I sounded. But I could not for the life of me figure out how to carry on a conversation with one of those teens in the youth group area.

With that out of the way, let me contrast two situations. First, there was a time I had to go to a local public high school to take an exam. We’re talking sheer, visceral terror. I wrote about this experience here:

I was seventeen. I had to go to a public high school to take a test. I was the only homeschooled student there. My mother dropped me off and I had to find my way to the proper room on my own. Fear. Dread. A sense of panic. The teens who surrounded me looked so different, so foreign, so worldly. What if one of them said something to me? What if a teacher asked what I was doing? Fear. Dread. Every muscle in my body was aching to run straight out of the building and hide until my mom returned to pick me up, but I forced myself to keep walking. It was like walking through jello, my limbs felt so heavy.

I managed to find the correct room and sat at my assigned table with my eyes on my paper. I didn’t score very well on that test, perhaps because of the fear that continued flowing through my body. Interestingly, leading up to that day it was going into a public high school that I was afraid of, not the test. When the test was over my mother came back to pick me up. As she walked through the halls with me she was obviously totally comfortable with the situation – curious, even, about the posters on the walls and interested in scouting out new teaching strategies. All I wanted was to get OUT. I would have run if I could have, as my body urged me to do. Instead, I stayed focused on getting to the door as fast as I could, pulling my mom along with me and carefully avoiding eye contact with the teens who surrounded me.

Now, let me contrast this situation with something else. I was involved in homeschool debate as a teen, and used to travel to tournaments across the region. There were often hundreds of (homeschooled) teens at these events, milling around in the halls, moving from room to room, and eating together in the gymnasium. And you know what? These events didn’t frighten me at all. I wasn’t scared of the other kids in any sense, and I felt completely at ease among them. Sure, there were still cliques, and sure I didn’t know most of the other kids and found some intimidating (we are talking about debate tournaments, after all), but all of the other students were homeschooled and I felt was absolutely none of the fear I felt around public schooled students. None at all.

There was only one place I regularly came in contact with public schooled students, and that was AWANA (Bible club). The high school group was small (ten was a big turnout) and a majority of the students were homeschooled. I stuck right with the other homeschooled students, and we had nothing to do with the public schooled ones (nor they with us). The public schooled kids sitting across the room would talk about dating or pop singers, and we conservative Christian homeschooled kids literally had no context to understand what they were saying. So we didn’t try. The class was literally split across the room, and it was like two opposing foreign cultures. Sometimes we even had weird little turf wars as we each sought to claim the group as ours and mark the other as intruding. To this day I’m kind of curious what the adult leaders thought of the experience.

Given all this, it’s really no wonder college was such a shock for me. I was completely comfortable around the people I’d been socialized with – other homeschoolers – but public schooled students had always been completely foreign to me, so foreign that I found the idea of being surrounded by public schooled students terrifying. There were times in college when I would meet another person who had been homeschooled, and when that happened it was literally like meeting a compatriot in a foreign country. I felt completely at ease with those individuals in a way I did not with my peers who had been public schooled.

I think what it comes down to is this: I was well socialized in homeschool circles, but not socialized beyond them. I was completely familiar and comfortable with other homeschooled students, but public schooled students were completely foreign and therefore frightening. They were unpredictable because I didn’t know what made them tick. I didn’t know their language, their habits, their customs. To some extent, the reason that I do so much better now is because I have been living among people who were public schooled (i.e. in mainstream society) long enough to learn their customs. It’s like moving to a foreign country: at first everything is completely foreign and often unintelligible, but over time you learn the culture and begin to fit in.

I think about this when I watch my daughter Sally. She never had to learn to navigate mainstream culture – it’s completely natural to her. I think what I feel watching her is often similar to what someone raising children in a foreign country must feel as they watch their children naturally and effortlessly picks up the customs and habits that continue to feel strange and foreign to them. She never had to learn these things the way I’ve had to learn them.

In the end, I think the take away is what I told a friend who is a prospective homeschool mom: If you homeschool your children and want to minimize socialization issues, make sure to socialize them with public schooled students. Seriously. If you only socialize them with other homeschoolers, they will only know how to socialize with other homeschoolers. This isn’t rocket science. If you want your kids to be able to navigate mainstream society without it feeling foreign or lost, you have to not remove them from mainstream society. And also, if your kids feel more at ease socializing with adults than with their peers, that’s not a sign of maturity. It’s a sign that there’s a problem.

A Letter from Jesus and Living in Fear
Voddie Baucham, Daughters, and "Virgin Brides"
Homeschooling Parents Dismiss Alumni Voices Again
The Latest Threat to Homeschooling---a Citizenship Test
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • “Rebecca”

    When I first started hanging out with non-Christian public-schooled people, I was a young adult. Something I noticed was that when I had to go with them to the public school for something (such as to pick up a younger friend), they seemed totally at ease in the halls. I felt alien. But when I took these friends to church, they were the ones who were uncomfortable. I felt natural, even if it wasn’t my own church. It’s a bit funny.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    I agree with being more comfortable with adults than peers is usually a sign of bad social adaptation. At least it was that way for me. “Adults think you are so mature and well behaved” sooo true, completely marvelled that I had read about Plato and Socrates or knew other stuff.

    I can also relate to feeling scared and getting incredibly anxious when going to class and trying to avoid the stares but it’s recent and for a completely different reason.

    PS: You should proof-read the 4th paragraph that starts with “Second…”.

  • Lana

    Bravo post. The first time I went to a public school was to take drivers Ed. I had kids pick on me and call me names until I cried. And I flunked the scantron test because I had no idea how to take it. Clothes is another way I stood out for years because I had no clue how to shop for cool things and was self conscious thanks to modesty teaching.

    I live oversees and the culture shock I feel going back into America is the same I felt as a young adult going to college.

  • Christine

    I wonder how you would have felt with non-religious homeschooled children. I know that this wasn’t a logical thing on your part, but it sounds like your parents did a very good job in inculcating fear of normal children and of childhood in you. I’m sure that they didn’t think that homeschooling was some sort of magic formula that would allow even an atheist to raise a good child (in their minds), but I wonder if they taught you that.

    And your experience, being more comfortable talking to adults than to your peers, reminds me of my own. I have Asperger’s, so I’m expected to not socialize well. (It’s a diagnostic criterion!) In me that lead to still not socializing well with my peers, even though they’re adults now. Given that you were expected to be a SAHM your entire adult life, the compensatory skill in formal (i.e. work-related) conversations wouldn’t do much for you.

  • John Evans

    I was never raised religious, but I have a socialization experience which feels similar to me. Early in my schooling I was identified as ‘gifted’ by whatever the standards were back in the early ’80s, and transferred to a new school with special classes for such students. I stayed in this stream to the end of high school, pretty much always with the same core group of students. I had no idea how to talk to anyone outside the stream. They didn’t understand my words or references, and thought I was talking down and insulting them when I was trying to be friendly. It was very isolating.

    Of course, I don’t know if this sort of isolation was caused by, the cause of, or just coincidental to my social anxiety.

    • lucrezaborgia

      I had the same 15-20 fellow students because of gifted. It was awful.

    • Rosa

      Another “gifted” kid, though we moved around enough that it wasn’t as isolating for me (each school did it differently) – my armchair theory is that in the 80′s, before the various autism spectrum disorders were widely used, a LOT of Asperger’s/ASD kids got shunted into G&T programs with no social skills interventions, and ASD behaviors like monologuing and over-literalizing were so normalized in those circles that even neurotypical kids picked them up.

      • The_L

        I’ve been suspected of Aspie’s as a teen/young adult, but am terrified to actually get diagnosed.

        I still require self-directed speech* as an adult in order to keep track of what I’m doing long enough to accomplish anything, and it’s hard for me to tell if people are being sarcastic/joking unless I know them very well. I’m not sure how much of it is a combination of being effectively socially isolated as a kid, how much is just my ADHD, and how much is “Something else.”

        * That thing where preschool children describe what they’re doing as they’re doing it. I count crochet stitches aloud, or if I’m getting a glass of water from the kitchen, sometimes I have to repeat “Water, water, water” to myself or I’ll get to the kitchen and have no idea why I’m there. I’ve gone to get something 3 times in a row and forgotten what I was after all 3 times. “I need a towel from the linen closet! Right!”

    • Heather

      I was “gifted” and an “early bloomer”. I was tormented by my public school classmates, from grade school through all of middle school. High school was a good bit better, but there were plenty of times I was afraid in the halls of my school. I, too, went to school in the ’80′s. I was more or less the reason my district instituted a gifted program…but they started it with the youngest kids, and I was always older than the level the gifted program topped out at. I, too, always interacted better with adults or younger kids. Trust me, most of those “confident” public schooled teens were not as confident as they looked, AND they would have totally been fish out of water in the melee that was familiar to you. This is not “good” or “bad”, simply different. Also, many parents who homeschool their kids through high school are specifically, and for very sound reasons, trying to avoid various aspects of teen culture. The high schools in this country are a cross between zoos and prisons and get worse each year, and we (homeschooling parents) want something better for our kids.

    • The_L

      I had a similar experience, except that I lived in a rural county where there was no gifted track. So I was accelerated instead.

      Imagine having no one in your grade who is also your age, and vice versa, for your entire childhood. Now imagine being held back 2 years in high school when your parents finally realize that your cognitive and social development aren’t keeping pace with your intellect at all. I didn’t learn how to study or make friends until college, and both were much, much harder to learn for having been put off so late.

  • John Evans

    I guess my point is ‘isolating kids from the larger world seems to be generally detrimental, regardless of motivation’.

  • Chrissy

    The biggest thing for me (being homeschooled/socialized/raised EXACTLY the way Libby was – in fact, she could have written this post about me) was that when I got to college and was surrounded by public schoolers, I changed my mindset. It’s easy as a home-schooler to react the way Libby did, with fear & trepidation and an overwhelming feeling of displacement, especially when you have family at home watching carefully to see if you “stumble” or “lose your morals”. My tip? Don’t give a sh*t what your family back home thinks. College is about YOU, not them.

    I didn’t have an easy go of it, but instead of viewing myself and my background as being under attack – i.e. everyone makes fun of me, is out to get me, can’t relate, thinks I’m weird, etc. – I tried to see it as an adventure. If I was plopped in the middle of a foreign society in which I barely even spoke the same language, I wouldn’t run for the nearest building and cower in a corner. I would try to learn, adapt, and enjoy the experience of being part of something different. I was able to fall in with three girls going through the same super-intense art program as me, and they served as my introduction to “society”. I feel bad that Libby had such a rough time of it.

  • AztecQueen2000

    I went to secular public and private schools until I was 16, when I dropped out and homeschooled myself. I still got along better with adults than kids my own age. I was poor, dressed weirdly, moved every two or three years (eight brick and mortar schools in four states between preschool and eleventh grade) and read a lot. It had nothing to do with homeschooling.

    • Eamon Knight

      You sound like my younger son. As a teenager he never had much in the way of friends his own age and preferred to hang out on line with adults, who usually over-estimated his age by about 10 years. But our whole family is pretty strongly introverted, so that’s perhaps not surprising.

      But I think what Libby Anne is talking about is something different: I understand her to be a person of more average temperament who was socialized to a very narrowly defined in-group, of which paranoia w.r.t. the outside world is one of the defining characteristics (ie: there’s more than just HS per se going on there). It’s no wonder she would feel more than a bit of anxiety and dislocation when forced to interact with that world.

    • Makoto

      I went to public schools throughout my time, and also got along better with the adults better than the kids through the whole time. I never dropped out, but I did read and teach myself quite a bit along the way. And I also socialized much more with teachers than students until college.. at that point, I was very fortunate to fall in with a group of other students like me, and we got better.

      I agree, homeschooling is not the full problem, it’s more an issue of socialization.. which is basically what this article is talking about at the end, after the for examples, at least as I read it. I do think that homeschooling often leads to more seclusion from regular folks, just given the way it works compared with public schooling.

  • ronalon42

    I somewhat relate though I was always public schooled. I was bullied relentlessly in middle school so being around kids my age in a school environment really freaked me out. I still only feel comfortable in small groups of people that I know well. Even a few strangers in a group will up my anxiety.

    For instance, I have to pick my 5 year old from kindergarten at the school cafeteria. It fills with students and moms and younger siblings and I feel really self conscious and anxious being around the other moms especially. These women haven’t ever done anything to me, but I feel super out of place and like I don’t belong. After a couple months I finally don’t feel too bad, but it still makes my anxiety go up a little. I went to a birthday party the kid was invited to and nearly had a full blown panic attack from the over stimulation of parents and kids in the small space.

    The feeling you describe is similar to social anxiety I think, but more specific. And I hope yours got better with the integration in the general culture.

  • wanderer

    I was public-schooled but in a sense I can relate. The reason is that my family was involved in a very small “word of faith” church, and there were almost no kids my age at that church. Even the other Christians at my school were different than me I felt, because the underlying message our church gave was that we have the “whole truth” whereas other Christians have somehow compromised.
    The interesting thing I realize now in retrospect is that what stressed me out the most is the possibility that I would be questioned. If people started asking questions about my church, or what we believed, etc. it petrified me, because deep down to me it didn’t actually make sense. It was weird and off the wall and nonsensical. But I was stuck having to pretend I believed it and had to defend it.
    My best option was trying to avoid relationships that seemed higher-risk in the sense that I might be put on the spot or asked questions. Sad and isolating.

  • Kristie

    “And also, if your kids feel more at ease socializing with adults than with their peers, that’s not a sign of maturity. It’s a sign that there’s a problem.”

    What sources do you have to back up this statement?

    I am an only child. It is common knowledge among those studying birth order traits that oldest children and only children have a natural tendency to prefer the company of adult and authority figures. This does not indicate that there is a “problem” with the individual–it is a natural byproduct of their birth order.

    I always preferred the company of adults as a child, though I attended public school and did not come from a religious, sheltered family. I do agree with the idea that home-schooled children should be socialized with a wider range of peers, outside of the home-schooling circle, but that holds true for anyone–even us public schoolers. It holds true for anyone living in a society at all–the wider range of people/situations you are exposed to, the more comfortable you will be with new people and situations.

    • Anat

      You may want to look into Judith Rich Harris’ debunking of birth order studies in ‘The Nurture Assumption’. Birth order effects are very limited – they may show up within the family but do not extend to non-family environments. People who observe children cannot guess better than random the respective children’s birth order if they don’t know it.

      (I’m a first-born. I remember situations when I preferred company of adults over company of children. I remember situations when I preferred the company of children to that of adults. I have no way of quantifying which was more common. And depending on how I’m asked I’ll be biased to remember one or the other as more significant.)

    • Ashleigh

      I had a problem with that, too. I’m the oldest and almost always relate better to adults than to my peers. Actually, I think it’s more accurate to say that I relate best to those who are being authentic, which is more often the adults than my peers but more often young children than my peers or adults. I don’t think that’s inherently bad and though I wouldn’t say I’m mature, I do think it has more to do with maturity than socialization.

      • Shayna

        Yeah, I fit in this group too. Public schooled the whole way, even went to daycare through kindergarten. I was great with little kids, great with older kids/adults, but I could not stand people my own age. I was in G&T from K-12, was reading adult novels in elementary school (got my first Stephen King in the 4th grade), I remember holding complete conversations with adults before I even started school. I was weird in a whole host of ways, and learned to cover most of them up pretty darn quickly. I was so far ahead in so many ways, that I ended up behind in others (learning how to relate to kids my own age).

        This actually got better for me as I got older; I finally clicked with a large group of friends in HS and was involved in enough activities to make nice with some very different groups of people. Nowadays (mid-20s) I’ve got a husband and a circle of friends who share some/most aspects of my weirdness, and I get along fine in my day-to-day interactions with others. Sometimes, I still fail to grok them though…..

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      There were lots of good points in the post, but I also took issue with this statement. I also often felt more comfortable with adults than with peers and it WAS because I was, in many ways, more mature. (Not in all ways–there are different types of maturity.) I was a very serious, intellectual child who liked to think about serious, weighty things (always, even before I even started school) and I became a very advanced reader very quickly. These things set me apart and I often preferred to talk to adults because adults seemed to talk more about things I was interested in than kids my age did. And of course my precocious interests and bookishness (and the ideas and vocabulary I got from all the reading) made me “odd” among my peers which only exacerbated the situation. The friends my age that I did have tended to have the same personality type as me (and those friendships were few but close). I absolutely LOVED when my parents would go out and leave me and my sister with a babysitter when I was a kid, because most of our babysitters were local undergrad or grad students and they would actually talk to me about things I was interested in and not think it was weird to be interested in these things. Heaven!

      Was this a “problem?” Well, these traits certainly CAUSED me problems, like social ostracism and bullying. To some extent, they caused me problems later in life too–for example I had (and still have, to some extent) a hard time getting over a need for my parents’ approval all the time, because I spent most of my childhood and adolescence identifying far more with their values than with the values of those around me. (This also was partly a function of being an “odd” family in general in the area I grew up in.) But this is the personality I was born with and I can’t help but be bothered by the implication that it, in itself, is a “problem.” Are we going to say that everyone who’s a little different is a “problem?” That is EXACTLY what oddball kids do not need–and exactly the attitude plenty of teachers and authority figures had towards me when I was young. How can we “fix” this weird little kid? I am grateful for the adults in my life who didn’t take that attitude and instead, just appreciated me for who I was and provided me with understanding and connection. Is it ideal for a child to connect more with adults than with peers? Probably not. (Although it wouldn’t need to be nearly as problematic if so many people didn’t have such strong ideas about the way kids SHOULD be that they end up actually creating problems for kids who don’t quite fit that mold.) But it was what I had. Connecting with other children based on their abiding interest in “Mortal Combat” was never going to happen, because that just was not who I was.

      Every personality type has some problems associated with it and these are just mine–and everybody else’s who was like me. Some people have personalities that better suit them to the cultural mainstream (at any age) than others. Problems aside, I’m pretty okay with who I am–and who I was.

    • lucrezaborgia

      I think there is a difference in prefering adults and only having access to adults. For many years as a child, I did not have access to my peers outside of school and lived in a warehouse in an industrial area. I was surrounded by adults and initially socialzed by adults. I could not identify with my peers in any substantial way and often felt alone and isolated at school.

    • Jayn

      I see the problem as this–a child or teenager does not relate to an adult as a peer. It’s not possible. SO while it may in a sense be a sign of maturity, it also means that the minor in question has few or no peer relationships and isn’t learning those skills.

      I also always tended to socialise with adults and even though I am now an adult myself, my ability to have a relationship with other adults isn’t great. I struggle with the same problems now as I did when dealing with other children as a child. Would not having those relationships have helped me? Probably not. But having them didn’t help much either.

    • AnotherOne

      Libby didn’t go into detail as to what the “problem” is with teens who socialize better and more naturally with adults than with children. I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but as a person whose experience mirrors hers very closely, I’ll venture a few points.

      To me, the problem with teen/adult relationships isn’t rooted in the fact that they’re more “formalized,” but that they’re not truly reciprocal. Also, the kinds of teen/adult relationships common in the homeschooling circles I’m familiar with end up being vehicles of indoctrination in which adults lavish praise and devote time and attention to teenagers while simultaneously reinforcing which beliefs and ways of thinking and living are acceptable and which are not. I don’t think the adults consciously mean for them to be this way; it’s just something that comes with most conservative religious homeschooling circles. Another unhealthy dynamic of these teen/adult relationships is that they can so easily go from the safe realm of long, satisfying conversations revolving around shared interests and values to complete rejection if the teen happens to step outside the mind-bogglingly tight circle of what is acceptable.

      As a homeschooled teenager, I was frightened to death of other teenagers, and not just public schooled ones. My parents had such a holy horror of “peers” and “teen culture” that they even severely limited our interaction with other homeschooled teens. And, at least for a while, I swallowed whole my parents’ comments about how unnatural and unhealthy teen peer relationships are.

      At the same time I talked freely to adults and basked in their praise about how mature and well-read and intelligent I was. My mom would talk about how her friends were five or ten years or more older or younger than her, and how intergenerational relationships were the healthy norm, not the “herd” nature of peer relationships found in public schools.

      What she didn’t realize, or didn’t say, is that while her friends may have been older or younger than her by a decade, they were still her peers. They were at the same stage of life, and they could share deeply and freely their experiences, joys, and trials. In short, they had real friendships, with all the joy and messiness those entail.

      That doesn’t happen in adult/teen relationships. The adults I considered my friends as a teen were happy to have long, “deep,” conversations with me about intellectual, religious, and other matters. And I even confided some of my personal struggles with some of them (though never the things that were *really* a problem, like the emotional and physical abuse that went on in my home, or the family dynamics and poverty that made life hell).

      But there wasn’t reciprocation–which is a good thing. Mature adults don’t share with teens their marital problems, their feelings about parenthood, their joys and struggles that are outside the ability of a teenager to understand in any experiential way. I mean, there are teens I’m close to and whom I love and have long conversations with, but I sure as hell don’t go into the intricacies of my marriage, my fears and hopes for my kids, my sex life, my career angst, my financial life, etc. I save that for my peers. Teen/adult relationships can be immensely valuable to both parties involved, but they simply aren’t relationships among equals.

      There are many situations in which it’s not possible for a teen to forge healthy, reciprocal peer friendships. There are school environments fraught with violence and bullying and meanness. There are teens on the spectrum or who have personalities or interests that make it difficult to find friends among their peers. And even in better case scenarios teen friendships are often petty, shallow, or drama-filled. But a lot of that is because the teens involved are going through a learning process where friendship is concerned–a learning process many homeschooled teens are deprived of in their homogenous, echo-chamber social sphere.

    • Janna

      I was public schooled all the way through and I can say for a fact that this article has NOTHING to do with being homeschooled. I HATED dealing with about 98% of the kids at my school. The 2% I did like were kids I was in track with or in band with mostly. I was MUCH more comfortable around adults. College was worse than ever! I hated it so much I wanted to drop out before the first month was over. What convinced me to stay was not my peers! It was the college president who stopped to talk to me on campus one day because we happened to cross paths and that is the kind of man he was. What this has to do with is enjoying and being comfortable around like-minded people with similar experiences and interests. Not a problem as far as I can see. I would not be very comfortable walking into a huge group of people that I had absolutely nothing in common with (besides my age) and I was public schooled.

  • Teshumai

    My strange experience was in a small public high school that was almost all male. I loved it there, and felt right at home. When I went to college I had a hard time relating to girls my own age, and it took me quite a while to realize why. Last year I mentioned it to the other girl in my graduating class (yup, just the two of us, and we got on well with each other) and she said she’d felt the same in college.

    It occurs to me while I’m reading this that none of us feel particularly well socialized- maybe it’s just that everyone is good at faking it so we all feel below average in comparison.

  • Rosie

    My family is one of preachers and missionaries. My parents were only on the mission field for a year (I turned three overseas), but all of Mom’s siblings, and all of Dad’s siblings, were overseas for longer. My maternal grandparents were as well, and in fact Mom spent several of her growing-up years overseas before she went to Bible School and met my dad.

    Among missionaries, there’s a phenomenon called “third culture” that can happen to the children of missionaries who are in the bush for long periods of time. These children pick up some of the culture of the tribe they’re living in, and mix it up with the culture of their parents, but when they’re grown they don’t really fit in well to either place. And even though my parents were not overseas for that long, even though I was schooled in the public school system, I always felt like a third-culture kid. Because my entire family was a different culture from the one I was schooled in, and they definitely and consciously taught me that “fitting in” was not something to be desired or to strive for.

    I’m not surprised that religiously-homeschooled kids would feel the same. In fact, the system seems designed to intentionally produce those results.

    • Lana

      I live oversees. And I wrote a post comparing this same thing I’ve felt. cool!

  • Marie

    As someone who was never homeschooled and never noticed much difference in the homeschooled students I knew, what are the differences between homeschoolers and public schoolers? You make it sound like there are deep cultural and psychological differences, which surprises me a little.

    • Rosie

      I wasn’t homeschooled, but I was certainly deliberately isolated from the larger culture when I was growing up. So I feel qualified to answer in part, anyway. The biggest difference I experienced was a great fear in myself of all the “sinful” things that my more secular friends considered “normal”. Like exploring one’s sexuality in college, for example. Or questioning authority. Or drinking alcohol. And I was also kind of terrified of the people who thought that was “normal”, which is just about everybody not raised the way I was. I’m sure Libby Anne or someone else who was homeschooled can give you a better answer.

    • Amethyst

      It’s not a simple matter of one education method vs the other; Libby Anne and many of her readers were homeschooled by parents who were deliberately raising their kids in a parallel universe. Conservative Christian homeschooling developed a distinct subculture. It was kind of comparable to being raised Amish or Mennonite, or growing up in a minority ethnic community. People educated at home but socialized in mainstream society and not indoctrinated to view themselves as a “city on a hill” probably don’t have the kinds of issues Libby Anne and some readers are describing.

      • Anat

        I wonder how much this happens in other forms of non-mainstream educational environments such as kids who attend Montessori schools beyond preschool and kindergarten, or Waldorf schools etc.

    • Kristie

      “As someone who was never homeschooled and never noticed much difference in the homeschooled students I knew, what are the differences between homeschoolers and public schoolers? You make it sound like there are deep cultural and psychological differences, which surprises me a little.”

      I have been wondering the same thing. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I know a lot of people who were home-schooled, but I have known several, and they same just the same as anyone else I meet. I think part of the difference is maybe the ones I have been friends with weren’t from a very religious background?

  • Miranda

    It’s interesting to me to note that you had these reactions after being homeschooled. I shared these sort of reactions, but I went to private Christian schools. I didn’t like going to other private schools, nor did I like going to public schools. When we’d travel for sports tournaments, choir, or academic tournaments I found myself incredibly uneasy when surrounded by people from another school or area. I’ve slowly been able to recover from that, but it’s no thanks to any of my upbringing, that’s for sure. I definitely feel that going to a Christian school caused the same kind of “disconnect” with kids who were going to “evil” public schools or schools that were just as religious but maybe didn’t teach the “right” things. It’s a very convoluted way to grow up, for sure.

  • Naomi

    As someone raised in a homeschooling family AND in an insular religious community, I think the significance of Libby Anne’s post is not merely that homeschool students have trouble relating to their peers because–as many have point out–that’s not unique to homeschoolers. What is significant is that the issue of socialization is a very sensitive one for homeschoolers–especially for the pioneers of the movement. The advanced maturation of young people (fluidly transitioning from child to adult) was/is considered a sign of success, something to celebrate. Furthermore it was/is taught that if you can get along with your family, you can get along with anyone; therefore, socialization with peers is unnecessary at best and suspect at worst.

    However, like Libby Anne, I too have experienced how limiting this view is. The patronizing pats on the head came at the cost of important interpersonal skills. Healthy relationships require far more than merely “getting along.”

    • AnotherOne

      Yes, a thousand times yes. My family was at the beginning of the homeschool movement too, and yes, how they valued that seamless, teenager-less transition from child to adult. I could feed an army, wash clothes for a dozen people by hand, and take care of multiple children without batting an eye by the time I was 14, and their job was complete! I was an adult! But I started college with zero interpersonal skills. I still cringe in embarrassment when I think about what a strange combination of brash confidence, paralyzing terror, and awkward, unfailing over-politeness characterized my social interactions during my first few years of college.

      • B.

        I was raised by mainstream Baby Boomers and attended public school. The only difference between you and me when we started college was that one of us had manners and the ability to feed herself and wash her own clothes and the other didn’t.
        I agree with the basic point here, that diverse social exposure is an important part of development, but that pit of the stomach feeling in a new situation is part of the human condition.

  • Nathan

    It seems like, based on comments, that there’s no magic formula for mis-socialization. It looks like home schooling combined with an insular religious background is just one means to the end. I went to public schools, but my combination was as follows: a small church ,where my dad was the preacher, with a repetitious message that focused on ‘us’ against ‘the world’; moving to a new state and school before 2nd grade; living in the country; being shy and having parents that didn’t feel it necessary to provide any extra ‘push’ to participate in secular activities like 4-H, Scouts, clubs, etc.

    I never felt like I fit in in school and since our church had maybe 20 members, there was one boy my age. I depended on rallies, retreats, camps and – later – music festivals to meet ‘my own kind.’ My dad openly questioned the need for anybody to go to college, but I just sort of assumed I would go somewhere. Inexplicably, my parents didn’t require that I go to a christian or bible college; people at my church even questioned my parents as to why I was allowed to go to a public university. My parents took me to a church in my college town to make sure I had somewhere to attend, but didn’t give near that kind of attention to my academics. In hindsight, it seems like there was some sort of unspoken rule that it didn’t matter if you bettered yourself in this life because we’re just killing time until we make it to heaven.

    Thanks to my inability to make friends and some pretty poor study habits, I almost flunked out of college. I met a girl through the church I attended toward the end of my first year and maybe that helped me turn around my academics the second year. We married after my second year in college, when I was 20. Life happened here and there and I ‘came out’ as an atheist a few years ago while my wife still attends church with our three kids.

    It’s hard to shake the conditioning from childhood. Even though I don’t think there is any morality tied with alcohol, it doesn’t interest me in the least. And it’s difficult now that it seems like I’m the only atheist I know of; my dad was a preacher, as was his father, as was my mom’s father, as is my father-in-law. There are a few people I know from childhood who fell out of the church, but the vast majority are still part of it. After joining Facebook, all those old acquaintances ‘friended’ me; I think some would take it back now and it certainly is awkward for me to see these hard-core fundamentalists online when I didn’t even agree with a lot of it when I identified as a christian.

    I think going to a public school helped galvanize my faith in the beginning. Seeing all those ‘worldly people’ at school on a daily basis helped reinforce that what my church did was special and we had a monopoly on truth. Once I got to college that sense of being ‘special’ started to melt away and helped me shed my faith altogether.

  • shadowspring

    I love the advice to socialize your home schooled youth with other children their age, outside of home school support groups. That was originally the advice coming from HSLDA, to not isolate your family, be very involved in your community, etc. That was before they got the network of Christian home school support groups going, which served as replacement communities. Personally, I chose community sports leagues, summer programs at the YMCA, etc. for my children so they would have a broader range of experiences in childhood. Our family was the exception though, and many other home schooled families created home school Christian ghetto lives for their kids, like Libby experienced. Children sent to private Christian schools probably have similar experiences.

    OTOH, no life is without challenge, and every little person is affected in different ways by the things they experience. The shaming and humiliation I endured during my late elementary years were a horror no one could pay me enough to endure again. My children did not experience that. For this, I am grateful. However, there is no way they will ever be grateful for that. They don’t even have a hook upon which to hang that in their mind- every day being forced to go be around people who will humiliate and ridicule you, shove you around, make other people laugh at you. They have no similar experience with which to relate my public school hell.

    No matter what you choose, life will present challenges. Home school is right for some, public school is a place for some to thrive, private schools work for some people I guess, since there are so many. But, teaching isolation (or as the church calls it, being “set apart”) is damaging to a child’s ability to get along with others, and that is a very common mistake among home schooling parents make.

  • Alexandra

    I went to private Catholic schools, and had a very similar experience. I remember meeting my husband in college and being wary of him because he went to public school. I even once remember taking an art class at the local art museum as a kid and thinking that it was so sad that the other kids in the class had parents that didn’t really love them since they sent them to public school. It was messed up.

  • George

    I was not home schooled. Yet I still related better to adults than my peers. When I got to college, I had an extremely easy time, since it was now possible to find a set of people with my interests and maturity level. I have friends who home school, and their children have a larger circle of peer friends than I did at their age. Their friends come from both HS families and public school families, and their friends are from families of multiple religious and non religious backgrounds. The get along well with adults, but are fairly normal kids, through and through.

    I would caution against generalizing your experience too much. As many of these comments show, public schooling does not guarantee a perfectly socialized child. Homeschooling can be done correctly, though it often isn’t. And there are good public schools, but many are woefully deficient and not good environments for children to be socialized in.

  • sara maimon

    Seems like many homeschooling folks would be happy with the results- they dont want their kids to feel comfortable in the larger world.

  • Mariano

    Maybe when you first started college you found frightening something as simple as walking through crowded hallways or sidewalks between class. But if you had been homeschooled you may have found yourself walking through crowded hallways high on drugs, in a gang and looking for multiple non-committed sex partners.

    • AztecQueen2000

      I went to eight different brick and mortar schools in four states. None of them were like that.

      • Uly

        Or if they were, they weren’t for everyone. In a big enough school, you’re bound to find somebody who is the proverbial bad influence… but there are other cliques.

  • Karen Loethen

    Thanks for this post!
    I am homeschooling two kids and we do wonder how they will do in college. My daughter, age 15, has been in school on three occasions and felt “Odd and different” each time. A part of that is fairly normal for the age. But, it’s true, a part of that is feeling so different from public school kids and not knowing how to interact with them in groups.
    I appreciate your post for another reason. We plan on our daughter starting community college within twelve months. Maybe shee’ll make a few trips to the campus a few times with friends who are already going so that she can get the hang of it and get some pointers from her friends…

    Posting that you can claim some “socialization” problems due to your homeschooling is a brave thing to do since we homeschoolers bristle at the slightest suggestion of it! But I am happy to see “growth areas” in the system so that, perhaps, your experience can help another generation of homeschoolers.

    Thanks! Karen

  • Karen Loethen

    Thanks for this post!
    I am homeschooling two kids and we do wonder how they will do in college. My daughter, age 15, has been in school on three occasions and felt “Odd and different” each time. A part of that is fairly normal for the age. But, it’s true, a part of that is feeling so different from public school kids and not knowing how to interact with them in groups.
    I appreciate your post for another reason. We plan on our daughter starting community college within twelve months. Maybe shee’ll make a few trips to the campus a few times with friends who are already going so that she can get the hang of it and get some pointers from her friends…

    Posting that you can claim some “socialization” problems due to your homeschooling is a brave thing to do since we homeschoolers bristle at the slightest suggestion of it! But I am happy to see “growth areas” in the system so that, perhaps, your experience can help another generation of homeschoolers.

    In the meantime, I wrote THIS blog post in response to yours…I hope you find my post as moving forward with this issue:

    Thanks! Karen

  • John

    Sometimes when a person has trouble fitting in with their peers, the problem is the peers, not the person.

  • Lisa

    My son is 10 years old and has been homeschooled since birth. He began speaking in complete sentences around age 1. We joke that he talked before he walked. His peers frustrate the heck out of him, because they cannot seem to carry on a conversation with him. It’s not that my son’s words are lofty; he just finds that most kids his age have difficulty focusing. So, he prefers the company of older kids and adults. We do not homeschool for religious reasons; only so he can get a solid education (I am a degreed, certified, and experienced teacher). The church we attend has several bully kids, most of whom attend public school, yet the most prominent bully is homeschooled. This is the first school year (4th grade) we are not making our son attend the kids Sunday school classes. Why? Because he was putting up with nonsense, the crap that many people refer to as “normal boyhood stuff”. I don’t want my son to be turned off to any place of worship, due to putting up with distracting behavior and babyish Bible lessons. Instead, our adult verse-by-verse Sunday school class leader invited our son to attend our class. Guess what? My son is learning something now, and isn’t hating going to church. During the week, he attends PUBLIC martial arts classes. But, in a classroom setting (just like public school), the kids are not supposed to talk to each other, because they have to be quiet, listen to instruction, and do with the teacher says. We don’t belong to any homeschool groups because quite frankly, most of the ones around us “unschool”, which means they aren’t even doing any school work. They say that their focus is “loving the Lord”. That’s fine, we can love the Lord, but we also think an education is important. Am I handicapping my son by providing an excellent education, along with a variety of social interactions as they come up?

    • Lisa

      God already answered my question. My son and I went to Toys R Us this afternoon. While on the Lego aisle, he walked right up to another kid that we later learned is two years older than him. My SON initiated the conversation, got it flowing, the boys chatted together and looked at Legos for TWO HOURS, while the mom and chatted as well. When we got home, my son told me that because he talked with a boy, he helped me to find an adult friend. I am not going to worry about this socializing issue when it comes to my son, as it seems I don’t have anything to be concerned about!

  • Sharon

    I went to a private all girls school. Being around public schooled kids and in public schools always made me on edge, as did visiting schools with both genders, as did gigantic crowds. Isolation may be felt by anyone who is raised differently than the norm or someone who naturally is an introvert or loner. This is not exclusive to homeschoolers. Having to deal with crowds and large institutions may be part of our culture, but that doesn’t mean that those of us who do not enjoy either are abnormal or need of more socialization. Lastly, children who find it easier to socialize with adults rather than peers may often be highly intelligent and cannot understand the actions or immaturity of their peers. There is nothing wrong with this. Age segregated classrooms do not at all reflect the world outside of school and are historically, a recent development. I hope my children develop friendships with people of all ages, because there is something to learn from every person of every age.

    • Lisa

      I LOVE this post, and agree wth everything you said, Sharon!

  • Participant observer

    Just some perspective here – I was not home educated and experience exactly the same ‘phenomenon’ as you. I think it has little to do with Home Ed and more to do with personality, age and experience.
    Each school has it’s own culture as well – hence the parental angst of finding the ‘correct’ school- and some take competition to the point of ostracising those who don’t attend the same institution.
    On getting to college young people (for personal security reasons) look for those who have a similar stamp … and if you are home schooled and self- conscious (or schooled and self-conscious) that could be difficult. There were very few similarly stamped in my tertiary experience (or any experience) and it was something that I have had to negotiate throughout life. This comes with being gifted as well, your perceptions are just different, full stop. I suppose home ed is more likely to produce individuals. As you get older you realise that being true to yourself is the most important thing, not fitting in, and perhaps you are further along that path than most. I would recommend a course in Anthropology – iluminating. All the best.

  • Barry

    I am a home schooling dad. I went to public school and had the same issue as this author. I felt very at ease with adults and less at ease with peers. I think that can be the case without regard to the way one is educated.

    Our 12 year old son socializes with a lot of kids. Some are home schooled, while others go to traditional schools. Some of those schools are public and some are private or charter. He also socializes with lots of people online. He uses it as a forum to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and to contend for the faith.

    My eight year old daughter, on the other hand, has a small group of close friends. Most go to our church and the others are neighbors. Right now, most are home schooled. She is a people pleaser and would be very susceptible to peer pressure. Our son, on the other hand, does not mind being counter to the culture of the day.

    For us, we have found that getting them involved in inner-city ministries has helped a lot. They have interacted with some pretty rough kids, but have also seen kids take a stand for their faith when it was actually dangerous. I really do not think it is this writer’s schooling that developed the issues she is dealing with so much as her personality. That is my 2 cents worth.

  • Uly

    I know you found the after effects of being homeschooled to be bad for you. However, many people who weren’t homeschooled found school to have those same negative effects. Because you were homeschooled, you may be idealizing non-homeschooling in the way that those of us who were miserable at school idealize homeschooling! Just be careful to pay attention to your kids and your situation instead of your memories. If you do decide another option is better, you want to be able to see it, right? (Of course, most kids, no matter how they’re educated, grow up just fine.)

  • Cynthia

    I was public schooled but have often described myself in these terms exactly beccause of growing up in a conservative, evangelical family. I think that it’s part of growing up in a diverse society with so many cultures (and I’m using that word in the broadest sensor possible). It is a good idea to expose our kids to opportunities to socialize with several different tuples of groups while having the discretion. To know when/where to limit it.

  • Hugh McElrath

    I was (not divinely) led to your blog when a friend posted your article on the pro-life movement to Facebook. Your ruthless logic is a joy to read – how do you have time to do all this writing while pursuing a PhD?! What field is it in? Your story is especially interesting because my large, devout extended family has one branch who appear to be of the Quiverfull persuasion – homeschool 10 kids, refuse to participate in family religious services led by a clergy family-member of a different persuasion. My mother prophesied that they would go wild once out of the house, but that doesn’t appear to be happening. The grown kids seem to be doing well (I”m waiting to see if one comes out as gay). One more secular home-schooler I met pointed out that public school kids waste a lot of time in class waiting for the other kids, so homeschoolers can get through the material more efficiently. The rest of us “mainstreamers” sort of scratch our heads and wonder about this one cousin and her family, so your insights are appreciated. (At 62, I’m considered the “wild” cousin: pony tail, Episcopalian (gay bishop!)…)

  • Cindy

    Perhaps this reflects the fear of the families & parents with those who are “other.”
    The goal of education is not to perfect “socialization” but to prepare children for life. If you take this wider perspective, you become actively engaged in your community with people of all stripes.

  • Sara

    Your experience resonates with me, Anne. I went to a evangelical Christian school for grades 1-12, and there was only one other child my age in my neighborhood. Over the years, I heard my teachers say many times how horrible public schools were, how the kids were dangerous and wild (not because they were violent, but because they would lead us into all sorts of temptation and put our souls in peril), etc. The school wanted us to be afraid of the public school kids.

    I dated some boys who went to public school, though most of them were part of evangelical circles, so I didn’t spend a lot of time with kids who went to public or even Catholic schools until I started working when I was 16. I was a little nervous at first, but I quickly learned I had more in common with most of those kids than I did the kids I went to school with. I made lots of friends and gained some valuable insights about the untruthfulness of my school.

    I am still friends (real friends–not just Facebook friends) with some of the kids I met through that job, yet I am no longer friends with any of the people I went to school with.

    • Sara

      Libby Anne! My apologies–I’m half asleep this morning.

    • Lily Strom

      Today, some of the kids actually ARE dangerous and wild! We’ve had teachers sent to the hospital after being beaten up by students this year. Down at the elementary, a 3rd grader recently grabbed the school resource officer’s gun out of his holster (fortunately, the lock was on). Earlier this year, we had a parent physically assault our principal at school. She was upset because we didn’t have an empty room for her to go to to have a time-out during parent/teacher conferences when she felt like she couldn’t control her behavior! She said we were not accommodating her invisible disability (which she had not disclosed) and that the school was violating the American’s with Disabilities Act by not freeing up a room for her so she could have a place to throw temper-tantrums when she visits the school and one of the teachers tells her something she doesn’t want to hear.

      • Anat

        I think the word ‘today’ is superfluous. There have always been some kids who were violent and lacking all regard to authority. I remember some from the 1970s, I’m sure they weren’t the first.

  • The_L

    I was accelerated in school. I, too, was more comfortable being “shown off” to adults than I was talking to other kids. It’s a major problem, and one my parents and I didn’t recognize either.

    • Lily Strom

      I had similar experiences despite the fact that I was not accelerated because my parents were worried about my ability to socialize with older kids. The irony is that I got along much better with older kids than kids my in my grade. I did get along very well with adults and had some difficulty socializing with kids my own age throughout high school. I got along with the popular kids, but I was not popular. Rather, the popular kids acted like I was their psychotherapist. I listened to all the crazy shit these supposedly picture perfect prom queen types had going on in their lives, and I was invited to most parties with the implicit understanding that I would take care of everyone and make sure they all got home safely without their parents knowing where they had been. I did (and do) care about people, but I still longed to feel more like one of the group. I remember one girl from my high school stating it quite succinctly when she said, “You’re like the adult everyone wishes they could talk to, except that you’re not actually an adult”.

      Once I got past my first two years of college, though, and especially in grad school and as well as in the “adult” world, I fit in just fine. I have great friends, a wonderful husband (who had even more trouble than me socializing as a kid but is seriously the nicest person I’ve ever known and who is liked by nearly everyone), and a job I love. I get along just fine with my similarly-aged co-workers, and I actually think I do a better job than most of avoiding workplace drama. I am much happier now than I was when I was a kid.

  • Anthony wow player

    Very interesting article I really enjoyed it.

  • netcrimes

    You make it sound like the biggest divide between you (as home schooled) and the non-homeschooled was the schooling angle, when the biggest divide is what you were taught to believe. An example of what I mean comes with the following question: How many of the “masses” of home schooled kids were you ever around (& felt comfortable with) had no belief in Christianity whatsoever? When you say you were comfortable around other strange home schooled kids, I’m betting that although they were strangers to you, you took comfort (& a sense of safety) from the fact you “knew” (projected onto them, whether you knew it for a fact or not) that they were all Christians. The moment you got thrust into a bunch of non-believers (ie, non-home schoolers), is when you were all at sea. You had no idea how non-believers navigated their way through life, hence had no common ground on which to meet them. That they were your age was irrelevant – how did you meet & navigate socially with non-believing adults? Outside of social authority figures from everyday life who you met through their having pre-prescribed roles (like a non-beliving policeman, for instance), I’m betting you simply didn’t meet any. Hence the divide you’ve focused on in your posting above is the home schooling divide, when the predominant divide in play is going to have been the belief one.

    So your advice to other Christian parents is to really have their kids socialised around non-believers, more than it is to have the home schooled socialised around the non-home schooled (since Christian kids who aren’t home schooled automatically have common ground on which to meet home schooled children).

    • Anat

      Actually if you read Libby Anne’s posts about her experience in the mega-church her family attended, you’d see the evangelical homeschooled kids did not associate with the similarly evangelical non-homeschooled kids. So it seems that to Libby Anne the homeschooling divide was indeed the more meaningful one.

  • Lily Strom

    We want to homeschool because I’m a teacher in a public high school, and I think we waste entirely too much time in public school classrooms on behavior problems, reteaching to remedial or just plain lazy students, and teaching to the standardized tests. Our kids deserve a better education, one that involves accelerated curriculum, opportunities for enrichment, non-traditional learning environments and chances to study non-traditional subjects, and one that emphasizes critical thinking, creative problem solving, analytical skills, and (non-religious) moral development. My husband and I are very liberal, and we grew up Protestant and may consider attending church again once we have children, but we are NOT evangelical or fundamentalist. I do not want church to be my childrens’ sole or even their primary source of socialization.

    What suggestions do you have for how to help socialize secular homeschoolers? Thanks!

    • Libby Anne

      From talking to a lot of other homeschool graduates, one suggestion I would honestly have is to try to find a way that they can at least attend a high school. Homeschooling for the elementary years, for most of us, isn’t a huge socialization problem—so long as there are frequent activities, classes, etc. It’s the high school years that become the problem. Beyond that, though, I would highly encourage you to be careful not to limit their interaction to other homeschoolers—and this is something you can do accidentally, where you just end up mainly hanging out with other homeschoolers, homeschool groups, etc. The trouble is that in that case public school students become the other, foreign and different and in my case, scary. Maybe find out if your state or local district allows homeschoolers to do sports at the school, or to choose some classes to take. If you make sure that the schools and the kids’ public school culture isn’t foreign to your kids, that’ll go a long way.