Homeschool Parents Need To Take Socialization Seriously

I’ve been thinking more about socialization, and I think I’ve reached a point of clarity. Ever since writing my first post on homeschooling and socialization several years ago, many people who attended public school have told me that they, too, had struggles with socialization, and others have insisted that there are homeschoolers who are well socialized in diverse circles and end up with no socialization problems at all. The issue is obviously more complicated than well-socialized public schoolers versus unsocialized homeschoolers (a dichotomy I have never endorsed, to be clear). So let me see if I can pull my thoughts on this topic together here.

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to address three aspects of socialization:

  1. Creating a shared common culture
  2. Learning to interact with peers
  3. Learning to deal with people of other beliefs

For more on what all constitutes socialization, take a look at the wikipedia page on the topic. As a child I thought socialization just meant having friends, but it’s much more complicated than that.

I, personally, have suffered socialization challenges. I’ve written a lot about those problems over the past couple of years, and I think it’s perfectly fair to blame those problems (whether in part or in whole) on homeschooling—or to be more specific, on how I was homeschooled. And here we start to get to the meat of it.

I don’t think homeschooling automatically dooms a child to suffer socialization problems and I don’t think being in public school automatically grants a child good socialization. I would hazard a guess, though, that it takes less effort to end up well socialized attending public school than it does to end up well socialized being homeschooled. For one thing, institutional schooling is the normative experience, meaning that children in school become part of a loose common culture and shared background experience. For another thing, when children are in public school they’re constantly exposed to interaction with peers. Finally, while public schools vary in how homogeneous or diverse they are, children in public school will almost invariably be in contact with at least some variation in belief and background. In contrast, homeschool parents have to be very conscious and intentional in ensuring that their children have each of these things. Should parents of children in public school make an effort to guide their children’s social development rather than just assuming that sending them to public school will take care of it? Yes. But homeschool parents are going to have to do more.

I say this all knowing full well that many parents choose homeschooling specifically to remove their children from these very aspects of socialization. In other words, for them, removing their children from the regular socialization of the public schools is a feature, not a bug.

First, there are homeschool parents who don’t think this whole “common culture” thing is a good idea. That’s their right. But they have to recognize that if they consciously raise their children outside of any sort of common culture—away from TV or movies, fads and normal kid experiences—their children may grow up to feel like they’re forever on the outside. Some will probably enjoy feeling different, but others will hate it—and this is a risk these parents need to be aware they are taking.

Don’t tell me that children in public schools become mindless automatons who are slaves to a homogeneous common culture of fitting in while homeschooled children are freed from this pressure and able to be themselves. I understand these objections, I really do. However, I know too many people who attended public school, or are currently attending public school, to buy the idea that children there turn into mindless robots forever stuck copying each other. Having a common cultural background doesn’t mean the erasure of difference. Further, I do think children can have exposure to this common culture without attending public school. It simply means not keeping them from socializing with public schooled friends and letting them take part in normal kid experiences like everyone else.

Second, there are homeschool parents who don’t believe peer interaction is important. These parents generally say kids should grow up socializing with people of a variety of ages. I’m not concerned about those who grow up socializing with those of a variety of ages on top of having plenty of peer interaction. My concern is for those who grow up without sufficient peer interaction. Whether these homeschool parents like it or not, peer interaction really is important. Fortunately, most of those homeschool parents who devalue peer interaction and talk about the importance of their children socializing with all age groups don’t actively seek to limit their children’s peer interaction (though they may not seek to broaden it).

Don’t tell me that the vast majority of homeschooled kids have tons of friends and take part in lots of co-ops and activities, and that I am buying into a stereotype of homeschooling and incorrectly assuming that homeschooled kids just sit at the kitchen table alone all day. I know that’s a stereotype. However, regardless of what most homeschoolers do, there nevertheless are homeschool kids who grow up with little peer interaction to speak of. I know some of them today, including young adults who only left their homes once a week as homeschooled teens. But beyond that, my parents, too, would have said that I had lots of friends and was involved in lots of co-ops and activities. And to some extent that was true. However, my parents vastly overestimated the number of friends we children had. Things can appear different from a child’s perspective than from a parent’s.

Third, there are homeschool parents who don’t want their children exposed to people with different beliefs. My parents, who homeschooled for religious as well as educational reasons, often used a greenhouse analogy. They said homeschooling us was like raising plants in a greenhouse until they were strong enough and ready to be exposed to the harshness of the outside climate. They were therefore keeping us from those with different beliefs intentionally. Because of this, we only got together with those who were like-minded—meaning other conservative Christian homeschooling families. As a result, I didn’t know how to interact with people beyond this group. When I went off to college and was exposed to those who are different, it was painfully difficult. My parents always told us that we were to be “in the world but not of it,” but we were never in the world in the first place. Instead, we were in our own little Christian homeschool hothouse.

Don’t tell me that most homeschoolers have plenty of interaction with people with different beliefs. I don’t think we actually know that, because I don’t think we’re entirely sure what percentage of homeschoolers share my parents’ religious motivations for homeschooling. There are probably plenty of religious homeschoolers who think their children have exposure to different beliefs and lifestyles when in reality there’s a big difference between hosting an international student in order to evangelize him or volunteering at a soup kitchen on the one hand and having daily exposure with peers from a variety of backgrounds on the other hand. Also, even those homeschooling for secular reasons need to be conscious about exposing their children to those of different beliefs because it is easy to unconsciously limit one’s social circle to those with similar backgrounds.

I’m not anti-homeschooling. I think that there is a lot homeschool parents can do to help their children become well socialized. This may surprise some homeschoolers to hear, but homeschooling has become hip in the progressive circles I now run in, so I’m continually giving my “how to make sure your kids avoid socialization problems” speech to friends and acquaintances who are prospective homeschool parents. Among other things, I advise them to socialize their children beyond homeschool circles, to involve their children in at least some public school activities, and to listen to their children rather than just assuming that all is well. But most of all, I tell them that they need to be conscious and intentional about their children’s socialization.

Whether they realize it or not, homeschool parents take their children’s social development wholly into their own hands just as much as they take their children’s academic development wholly into their own hands. And they need to take that seriously. Perhaps you, reader, think this is obvious, but I grew up in homeschooling circles where the socialization question was laughed at. It wasn’t taken seriously, it was considered silly. And that, quite simply, is the problem. I have no problem with homeschool parents who take the socialization issue seriously. I do, however, have a lot of problems with homeschool parents who laugh at it.

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.

  • NeaDods

    Plants raised only in a greenhouse are never as hardy as those raised outside; any gardener can tell you that!

    I was just saying over at No Longer Quivering that we’re about to see real-world results of this with Josh Duggar. He’s been raised in a bubble with a camera in his face, trained to think that he is special and an important warrior for The Lord.

    No matter how welcoming the FRC is, he’s about to be tossed, camera- and bubble-less, into a world that does not care who his family is, to fight The Lord’s Fight against people who are not going to act according to his internal script, who have much more education and experience that he has, who are fighting for their vey lives and most basic of rights.

    I think the greenhouse theory is about to have a very public train wreck.

    • Sally

      OK, I’m out of the loop on the latest with the Duggars. What is Josh about to do?

      • Katie

        He accepted a job with the Family Research Council and is moving to Washington D.C.

      • Sally

        OK. I don’t know that a position in a Christian organization such as this is going to be much of a real world experience.

      • AnotherOne

        Yeah, I hate to be a pessimist, but I think working at the FRC is just going to perpetuate the bubble and affirm the internal script.

      • NeaDods

        Within their walls, yes. Outside, with the protestors and the tourists, and all the people who don’t look and think like him? Nobody’s going to be saying “Nike” lest he see a sundress. Or a gay person.

      • Lana Hope

        When he is tossed into a world where everyone hates him, he may connect the dots. The best example where this has happened is Frank Schaeffer. He was a hero to the religious right and had regular meals at the White House, but somewhere along he just realized it was all a bunch of BS, and he changed, even supported Obama now. Josh Duggar has hope, but it will be painful to leave…after he has a huge paper trail as a gay hater. It’s not easy being the son of a famous fundamentalists. I feel for the kids.

      • NeaDods

        He can’t avoid dealing with the real world unless he lives inside the FRC building. It’s right there, like it or not.

    • Ahab

      :: hits LIKE button repeatedly ::

      I’m wondering if he will have the resilience to withstand the culture shock and even. dare I say it, rethink his upbringing.

      • brbr2424

        I question whether he is smart enough. It requires some serious critical thinking skills and raw intelligence to see through the fog of that brainwashing. He may not be up to the task.

    • Hilary

      Not to mention what is going to happen when he googles his family and reads the full range of opinions about them, uncensored by his father, church, or the TV show producers.

      You can start seedlings in a greenhouse, but if they are to be outdoor plants, they need to be hardened off by being set outside to get used to real wind and weather. Otherwise, they are just not as hardy.

      • Sally

        oJush Duggar has been married for several years, has 2 kids (I think they’ve had 2 now) and has certainly had uncensored access to the internet for quite some time. I have no doubt he’s aware of detractors. I agree he’s stayed in the Christian bubble … but that of adults. He’s not a new kid just leaving the house.

        But if you work for a Christian organization, you can still stay rather in the bubble, imo. I guess at some point we’d have to define the bubble. I’m saying he’s already been out from under his daddy’s control and is theoretically the man of his own house now for at least several years and has encountered at least some real life.

      • Hilary

        Good point. I watched the show maybe three times a couple years ago out of curiosity, but that’s it. I don’t like reality TV very much, most of it is quite boring (not including mythbusters) and I really do not like those shows with kids in them. If an adult chooses to make a fool of themselves, fine, but kids deserve their privacy while growing up.

      • SinginDiva721

        Josh and Anna Duggar have 3 kids as of a couple weeks ago. I can’t stop watching their show eventhough I am in no way a fan of them. It’s like a trainwreck, you just can’t look away (although I admit I kinda like Anna…she’s just so stinking cute). lol

        I know he’s on Instagram and LinkedIn. I would imagine both sites are not Gothard approved and not at his parents house (lord knows what “defrauding” would occur if they saw girls with resumes on LinkedIn looking for actual professional jobs with college educations and scantily-clad girls on Instagram). But I think they are still in for shock. Sure, they’ve lived on their own but not outside of their tiny Arkansas town.

        In the latest special they had on, it showed them househunting in DC. They seemed to be shocked at the price of houses in the city. I wouldn’t suprised if they ended up in the MD or VA suburbs.
        I do think they are in for a bit of a shock though. Will be interesting to see if they are still featured on the show or if they make a spin off.

      • Sally

        Wow, three already! Now really surprised, except that time flies!

      • MrPopularSentiment

        That’s three with rather long (compared to to Josh’s parents) wait between them, too. It took them *forever* to have their first!

  • Sally

    I completely agree with you on this issue. I was a part of a non-sectarian homeschooling support group (as a parent) which had meetings for parents and activities for kids. There were certain themes that ran through this group. One was that if you don’t unschool, you’re ruining your child’s hsing experience. The other was too actively scoff at the question of socialization. Now, we were getting together and socializing, true. And if anyone walked by and saw the kids playing at the playground together, they might wonder whey the kids weren’t in school (this was some years ago), but they would have at least thought the kids were socializing. But one of my kids suffered socially anyway. The contact just wasn’t frequent enough for him to make friends. He needed daily contact. When we finally put him in a little private school, it took him many months, but he made his way into the group and he’s still friends with these guys many years later.
    The other place I had contact with hsers (and still do) is at an online forum for the curriculum I used (oh, and a Yahoo group based on how to use that curriculum in a secular way). Particularly at the Yahoo group, people would post articles that were skeptical about socialization and hsing, and then there’d be a thread that followed where everyone made fun of how stupid and uninformed the non-hser was for writing the article. When I posted at the main forum very concerned about my child I mentioned above, people shared their stories. Many of the stories were about their kid making friends at work or college … so it all worked out. What?! My kid was 9 years old and suffering. He couldn’t wait till adulthood!
    There was a mom in our local support group who, once her kids became teens, drove an hour each way once a week in order for her kids to participate in a hsing program at a community college. They could have had classes like that locally, but this program was designed to be more than just classes. I believe she did this for the social time for her kids. But an hour away? They couldn’t have connected much in person beyond that day once a week. And then that program closed down before her kids were grown.
    Socialization isn’t something hsers just don’t talk about or think about. They actively do talk about it and make fun of the issue, in my experience. So if your kid is struggling and you know it and care, you’re going out on a limb if you try to talk about it with other hsers.
    Of my kids, at least one did well, one did so-so, and one really struggled. And we live in a neighborhood with lots of kids, joined park district sports, joined a support group, and a co-op, and the kids went to Sunday school. It still wasn’t enough really for at least two of mine in our case.
    I think the socialization issue is a dirty little secret.

    • Sally

      Sorry about the typos; I can’t edit after posting. I think I was so into the topic I forgot to proofread!

    • sylvia_rachel

      I have an online friend who’s homeschooling her kids (for totally non-religious reasons) and is loudly and publicly dismissive of the idea that socialization could be an issue. Her older child (very bright, with some behavioural things) had a genuinely and non-trivially bad experience in public-school kindergarten, and I totally understand why *that school* was a bad fit for *that kid* and why they decided to try homeschooling. And they are involved in some kind of collective and the kids play with the neighbourhood kids and I think they really are paying attention to the socialization angle. If it works for their family and everyone’s happy, great! Yay! But … she seems to have decided that all public schools everywhere are categorically bad for all kids, and that the idea that the peer interaction that kids get in public school has any value or importance is ridiculous. As the parent of a kid having a mixed but generally positive experience in public school, I find this over-generalization … irritatingly over-generaliz-y.

    • MyOwnPerson

      Good for you for recognizing your child’s struggles at age 9! I’m 29 and my mom still thinks the fact that I hardly had any friends was partly my choice. :(

  • Mel

    My husband and I have decided not to home-school our future offspring based solely on socialization reasons. We are both quite smart and could probably teach our kids what they need academically. We think, however, that our kids need to be around more different type of people than we could expose them to on their own.

    • Avatar I’d do it again and ag

      You need to do some more research. First of all, go out an meet some homeschooled teens.

      • Mel

        I’d be more impressed by your injunction to do more research if you had proof-read your response first.

        I’ve met many home-schooled teens. They are generally prepared for academic work at the collegiate level. Many of them can socialize with other teens and adults reasonably well. None of these generalized facts make it a good idea for my husband and I to home-school.

    • Soni Hymn

      Homeschooled kids are pretty diverse where I live. And they don’t require as much in the way of conformity as most the public schools do.

      • Mel

        How are you determining diversity? Do the home-schooled kids match the rough census data of your city or state or nation? In my area, home-schooled kids that I’ve met are white, middle-class Christians. That lacks the economic, racial and religious spectra of our local area, state and nation. I would not be doing my children any favors to limit their exposure to other families that do not act or look like us.

      • Soni Hymn

        I would say its close. I can’t say what religion most of the homeschoolers are, because the homeschool Org. is secular and we don’t discuss religion. There are a lot of white people, maybe only 10% or so hispanic (including us) compared to 20% hispanic county wide. We are bicultural, hispanic/italian and the neighborhood kids are at least 2/3 hispanic. The public schools in my town are more segregated than the homeschool community, i.e. schools are either mostly hispanic or mostly non-hispanic, with the other 5% distributed equally between schools. Mostly, poor people don’t homeschool, though we are officially living below the poverty level. Many homeschool moms work from home to make ends meet.

        However, I won’t pretend that Homeschooled kids are more diverse than public schooled kids, but they aren’t necessarily less either. I live in a place where homeschooling is becoming much more mainstream. The more common something is, the more different kinds of people tend to participate in it.

  • Joykins

    My son is 12 and has always had difficulty making friends at public school. He has some subclinical social issues which we have been addressing, but he’s gotten along fine at camp and church. At school he has one friend in 6 years and was bullied. Now he has moved on to middle school, he has made more friends (smart, competitive overachievers like him) but the bullying has also accelerated. Being around people who are different from you is no good when they see you as a target. Note that I don’t think homeschooling would have solved this either, but public schooling is hardly a panacea. For some kids, it really is something they are afraid of.

    • sylvia_rachel

      I was also bullied in public school, and it was worst in junior high school. Not coincidentally IMO, that was the smallest school I ever went to (only about 300 kids). My high school, OTOH, had 1750 kids, which it turns out is enough that pretty much everybody can find a simpatico peer group, and it was GREAT. But what you said about camp and church is important too, I think, because the thing that saved my life when I was being bullied so much at school was having *other* social groups — choir, Guides — where the other kids didn’t go to my school and therefore didn’t know I was the least cool person they could possibly hang around with … which meant they actually got to know me before passing judgement.

    • Jayn

      I strongly believe we need to do a better job of actively teaching children (ALL children) social skills. Because lets face it, kids can be little shits to each other–I varied between being unpopular and being bullied, and while the teachers clearly knew there was an issue they just as clearly didn’t have any idea what to do about it (Community groups kind of helped, but being a rural area the most local ones didn’t work well since it was the same group of kids I was having problems with in school). And on my end I had undiagnosed Asperger’s and needed more formal instruction on the matter–being pulled out of school would not have solved the underlying problem, and while I did eventually start making friends again I’ve had repeating issues since my teen years with friendships either fizzling (because the other person never initiates contact) or imploding (because I’m being annoying and have no clue about it). And as hellish as school was for me at times, I can only imagine that the social issues I still deal with would be worse if I’d been pulled out of that environment.

      • Rosa

        a lot of public schools have formal social skills help available to kids now. At my son’s school, it’s dependent on having a diagnosis & IEP, but one of my neices goes to a public school that has the resources to just offer social skills classes to any kid that seems to be struggling with it. It’s an amazing shift from when I was a kid.

    • Rosa

      Public schools are really working to address this problem, on a number of levels, but it’s definitely something we need to keep working on.

      OTOH the worst bullying stories I hear are ones where adults were either complicit or actively participating. I don’t think homeschool groups (or even families) are immune to that.

  • TheBigBlueFrog

    Great article.

  • Gillianren

    You know, I’m thinking a lot of people would have seen me as a poster child for “should have been homeschooled.” Yet I’ve continually been grateful that I wasn’t, for a whole huge list of reasons. I was extremely gifted. I was emotionally troubled. I was picked on in grade school. Even junior high, which was probably the best of my schooling from a social perspective, was still painful. What’s more, I’m capable of self-guided education. And heck, my mom could fill in the math pretty well, and that’s my weakest subject.

    However, my mom didn’t have the time; Dad died when we were little, and she had to support us. She was unequipped to deal with my mental illness, and my sister’s was more detrimental, so things would have been worse for her. I developed a thicker skin–and learned how to find other social groups, even if it meant going outside my own classmates. In my high school, it was literally impossible for me to have a social circle made up of people just like me; leaving aside the mental health problems, my school was too ethnically and economically diverse for that. Maybe if I’d been middle class and black.

    I learned. My experiences were nowhere near as bad as a lot of other people’s, and the one time I was really physically abused, my mother stepped in and made sure it never happened again. But that wasn’t even one of my own classmates; I was an elementary school student at the time, and she was a sixth grader at the junior high down the street. However, even that experience taught me about handling the system, which is its own valuable lesson, right?

  • Hilary

    Well, if I ever have to homeschool, I’ll definitely pull up your archives and re-read this stuff. I’d still rather a positive enough public school experience, but I’m learning about homeschooling as an option if needed.

  • lollardheretic

    It’s interesting because you’ve talked about homeschool and public school, but not private school. I’m assuming you’re lumping in “private” with “public” in terms of socialization, and for the most part I think that’s fine. I went to a small (there were fewer than 30 kids in my class) private, Christian school from pre-school-8th grade. I learned some socialization, but was pretty much more comfy with adults than kids my own age until I was in college (though hs was a blast, once I got to a large (over 3000 kids) public HS. I was at the private school because the local public one was quite weak academically, though my parents were not very religious. So I wasn’t much accepted. Not quite bullied, exactly, but not popular either. It was interesting how mean “good Christian girls” can be. But I thought I’d throw in a 3rd option when talking about schooling and socialization between homeschool and public–and that is small private. It isn’t one and it isn’t quite the other either.

    • Alix

      Basically the same story here, except I attended private Catholic school from kindergarten to the middle of 5th grade. The transition was weird, especially because my old school and the families we socialized with outside of school had the same very negative view of public schools Libby Anne describes.

      I was always an introvert, but at a small school you kind of can’t help but socialize. At the public schools, few people bothered with me one way or the other, so I somehow slid right through without dealing with people, and people were mostly content to ignore me. Most of my socialization skills came when I landed my first job.

    • Teri Reed Davis

      Catholic school was a far worse experience for me than 10 years of public school that I had. The school was small….two classes per grade. In 7th grade, I had long ago reached my full height of 5’10″ and I weighed about 105 lbs. Most kids were starting to be interested in the opposite sex and it just hadn’t clicked in for me yet…not to mention that there was not a single person in the school that matched me in height, including the teachers. One day a huge ruckus developed and I learned it was because someone wrote on the girls bathroom wall, “Teri Reed are you a lezzie?” I had never even heard the word and had no idea what it meant, but, apparently, being a tall bean pole with no interest in boys when you are 12 makes you a lesbian. :p Not the most christian experience.

  • Rachel Heston-Davis

    Keeping kids from the “common culture” of their generation may have farther reaching consequences than their parents imagine. Even beyond feeling left out for life (which has got to be painful enough) you just never know what relationships, activities and opportunities might be missed as an adult because of this persistent difference on the part of someone who did not truly grow up WITH his/her generation.

    • I’d do it again and again

      I was “all in” as far as public school goes and I still don’t fit in with my peers and I’ve come to learn, I never will. School will not change this for anyone. My son is an outlier and he’s proud of himself. He’s mentally strong and confidant. Had he gone to public school he would just be a sad, lonely freak like his mother was. It’s taken me 25 years to get over my public school experiences. It seems like sending kids to public school is like playing Russian Roulette. It’s not worth the time or trouble and everyone who can should homeschool. And those who can’t should be given the best, safest, funnest educations money can buy at the cost of the state and with the help of volunteers.

      • Anat

        Why isn’t homeschooling also playing Russian Roulette? See Libby Anne’s various posts about how her well meaning parents left her with gaps in her education and social deficiencies it took her years to overcome.

      • Soni Hymn

        It sounds like most kids are not growing up in the best situation socially. In school or out. As a former school teacher I am glad my daughter chooses to homeschool. Conformity is the word of the day at school. There isn’t enough options outside of full-time school.

  • Jenesis

    From personal experience, it is frighteningly easy to breeze through
    “mainstreamed” childhood with little to no peer socialization if neither the child nor the school has the inclination otherwise.

    I’m intrigued at the suggestions for schools to “teach social skills” —
    certainly it’s not something we can expect all children to just sort out
    on their own — but what if the child thinks his/her peers aren’t intelligent, or unable to share in child’s (insert esoteric interest), or are too loud/talkative/obnoxious, or just enjoys being alone for hours at a time? I remember being a child and always preferring to talk to the adults rather than the other children; my reasoning being that since intelligence was one’s most important virtue, and adults were more intelligent than children, relationships with adults were therefore more fulfilling than relationships with other children.

    (Personal aside: I’ve been a casual reader of this blog up to now, but something a deeply religious cousin of mine posted on Facebook last week struck a chord
    with me: she picked up some books about Christian parenting at a home schooling conference. Far be it from me to tell her “don’t homeschool” (after all, it’s not like I turned out all that great) but after reading all these horror stories, I do worry a little for her and her children. I can only hope she socializes them outside of homeschooling circles so they don’t wind up learning these lessons the hard way.)

    • Sally

      I think the challenge is how well social skills are taught. Believe me, this can be one thing that goes in one ear and out the other. The atmosphere in which it is done, the size of the group, and the actual lessons could make such a difference. Just because we say we’re teaching something in school doesn’t mean the kids are learning it. Still, it’s a start… maybe.

    • Rosa

      The difference between the person who just wants to be alone, or doesn’t care for available peers, and one who wants to be included but can’t manage it for whatever reason (monologuing, too loud, obnoxious, too shy) is that the first one has the skills to accomplish what they want. The second, doesn’t. And that deficit is just as important to address as a reading or math deficit.

      You don’t have to do math if you hate it, but if you grow up never being taught how we consider that a serious problem with the way you were educated.

  • Sam

    I used to frequently grow frustrated with constantly having to explain to people that “yes, I was homeschooled, but yes, I still had friends, and yes I still had a normal social experience.” My other homeschooled friends had the same frustrations. And then one day, it occurred to me:

    Constantly having to EXPLAIN to people that you had a normal social experience is NOT part of a NORMAL social experience!

    • Soni Hymn

      People don’t like non-conformists, so they will test you. What is a normal social experience?

  • Karleanne Matthews

    The socialization question was laughed at in our family and homeschooling circle, but not because it wasn’t thought of as important. We often joked, “What with field trips, group science classes, Girl Scouts, ballet, music lessons, art lessons, park days, and daily playdates, when do you expect us to fit some socialization in?”

    It makes me sad that some parents don’t recognize that this kind of peer interaction is part of healthy development. At the same time, I understand why at least some families either laugh at this question or are offended (or laugh to cover that they’re offended, which I think was us): My parents constantly felt that strangers (we’re talking people in the grocery checkout line) felt free to assume that I was undersocialized and confront them about it–while admitting that all they did was pack their kids off to school in the morning and trust the school to oversee activities. The solution, I think, is to have homeschool insiders be more intentional about policing each other’s activity, encouraging each other to provide their children with diverse peer interaction. I’m glad you and other homeschooled kids are writing about your experiences, because it’s pretty tough to graciously take constructive criticism from strangers who know absolutely nothing about your family. But no one can say you just don’t understand!

    • Sally

      Exactly. It has to stop being a taboo subject within the community. We’re allowed to talk about creating social opportunities, but we’re not really allowed to admit any of our kids are struggling. You just have to solve it on your own. And if solving it means sending your kid to school, well, you’ve kinda failed- at least in some circles.

      That said, the homeschooling curriculum forum that I frequent has been through many stages of what the tone is there. Right now it’s actually become amazingly refreshing in this area. While I didn’t get very good advice a few years ago on this subject, I now see people encouraging others to send their kids to school if that seems like the best thing to do. This is suggested along with other ideas to try while still homeschooling. It actually seems very balanced. I guess I can hope this is a reflection of a general change; let’s hope so- at least among those that are otherwise open-minded. It’s not that I want a bunch of hsed kids to be sent to school. It’s that I think including that as an option, along with other still homeschooling options, means that the subject is not taboo and real problem-solving can take place.

      • Karleanne Matthews

        Absolutely, and I think you’re spot on in your comment that there’s pressure to never admit that your child is struggling, as if that makes you some sort of traitor to the cause of proving homeschooling as the One True Form of Schooling. I think the healthiest thing all round would be to realize that neither homeschooling nor public school (nor private school, which is where I spent high school) is THE BEST form of schooling. There’s what works for your kids and what doesn’t, and that’s all that should matter. Of course, it makes things even more complicated when, as I’ve seen in many families, homeschooling works extremely well for one child, but a sibling who would be better off in school gets stuck at home (or vice versa, though I’ve observed more of the former).

  • Allison

    Thanks for sharing your concerns. i have three offerings you may want to consider:

    First, have you forgiven your parents? All of us fall short and have ways we need to chance/improve, but an air of bitterness seems to be coming through. Can you see yet how God has used your time at home and your limitations for good?

    Secondly, do you understand that being “in the world” does not refer to a location or circumstance or particular people but a heart that’s living and focused on God and His interest in what/who is around you? It’s death or being consumed with self, no matter where we are or who we’re with, that takes us out of the world.

    Thirdly, have you considered Christ’s purposes for education, teachers, students, tuition, etc? Were these considerations before choosing a college? Is it possible every college is a bubble…it’s just a matter of choosing the wisest one? Proverbs 27:17

    Just some thoughts to ponder…I’ll be praying for you, Libby.

    God bless,

    • Sophie

      You are breaking Libby’s comment policy, you might want to have read that before posting.

  • Maryjane

    I believe that homeschool should be an individual option according to the child in question. I am an extreme introvert that would have loved homeschool, but there was no such thing in my day. Instead I was thrown into a system of public schooling that unfortunately was too much for me to handle. I was bullied incessantly and made fun of because we were poor and I didn’t have all the latest clothes and gadgets that other kids did. It didn’t help that I got free lunches either. I really didn’t make friends well and because of all the secrets in my house I felt that I could never really be honest or open up to people. So socialization? Not much.

    However, my older daughter who is extroverted, friendly and loves to be around people did very well in public school. Yes, she was picked on sometimes, but she is not an HSP,(highly sensitive person), so she just shook it off. We never made her wear weird outfits or anything either and she “fit in” a lot better.

    Now, my younger daughter has asperger syndrome and is an HSP introvert who
    was homeschooled. We tried to put her in regular public school three times, but there was no way for her to have a good experience with it. She was harrassed and bullied even physically assaulted. Both of my girls graduated and NO we didn’t homeschool with religious text books so they both have an equal education. Actually my younger daughter’s education is probably better because we could explore subjects in depth and I set up the curriculum in a manner that was tailored for her. Such as one subject all day, a different subject the next day all day etc. because she can’t handle quick changes. As far as socialization is concerned, well she has problems because of who she is, not how she was schooled. Also, most kids in regular school don’t expose themselves to different types of people either. They hang out with kids mostly like themselves and make fun of everyone else anyway. IMO most people generally make friends throughout their lives with other people pretty much like themselves. That’s why we have black, white, latino, asian etc. neighborhoods.

  • ladycopper

    “Don’t tell me that most homeschoolers have plenty of interaction with
    people with different beliefs. I don’t think we actually know that,
    because I don’t think we’re entirely sure what percentage of
    homeschoolers share my parents’ religious motivations for homeschooling.
    There are probably plenty of religious homeschoolers who think
    their children have exposure to different beliefs and lifestyles when
    in reality there’s a big difference between hosting an international
    student in order to evangelize him or volunteering at a soup kitchen on
    the one hand and having daily exposure with peers from a variety of
    backgrounds on the other hand.”

    Loved the whole article, but THIS bit was such a HUGE, HUGE problem for my family. My parents were in ministry my whole life, and they frequently counseled people with everything from marriage problems to drug problems (they should not have done that, they were not really qualified), so they thought that they were exposing us to “different beliefs and lifestyles.” They didn’t realize that this set up an even worse dichotomy in our minds than the one they were already teaching us; i.e., either people were Christian homeschoolers with relatively stable families or they were drug addicts who were promiscuous and never had enough food for their kids. It would be hard to overstate just how bad that belief was for us kids as we grew up, or just how difficult it was to even recognize that belief underlying so many of our interactions with people.

  • romacox

    According to Websters online dictionary: The definition for socialization:
    1. a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal
    identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills
    appropriate to his or her social position. 2. the act or process of
    making socialistic (socialism): the socialization of industry.

  • Judith Pyrah Arnold

    I’m the parent of six, with four older kids who were publicly schooled and two younger homeschooled children. I can tell you that daily peer contact does not always equal opportunities for friendship when the child in question is gentle and bookish and the dominant peer culture is decidedly not, and only leads to further alienation, depression, and lowered self-esteem. I can tell you that I have one child (now an adult with a long criminal record) for whom daily peer contact fed a need for social interaction but also provided multiple opportunities for learning and practicing criminal behaviors that were apparently quite to that child’s taste. I can tell you that some children will never feel that they have ‘enough’ friends. I can tell you that as the step-parent of another child (now adult) that academically the education in our little corner, culminating in a high school diploma, was not sufficient for at least one student to pass basic literacy and numeracy tests for menial labor work through a national staffing company. There are many reasons for homeschooling, but please remember that for those of us who are parents at least a few of us are honestly trying our best to do what we think is best for our kids (and not all of us are religious or give a darn about that kind of thing). We may not be right all of the time (who is?) or we might misunderstand a child, but at least we care and we are present and trying.

  • MrPopularSentiment

    I’m not really a homeschooler yet since my son is just a toddler, but I am a stay-at-home parent, so the socialization issues are the same.

    I don’t agree with the “common culture” thing. As a many-times-over immigrant (which means that I don’t even fit in with other immigrants), this has just never been a stumbling block. I do think that there are many reasons to absorb and reflect on pop culture, but generalized knowledge just doesn’t strike me as being that important for socializing. I think it’s far more important to cultivate your own interests and to learn how to share those interests with others. It’ll make you interesting to people who don’t know a lot about your “areas of expertise,” and it’ll give you the opportunity to geek out with people who do. I think that this opens the door to far more profound social experiences than just “hey, remember pogs? Yeah, I remember pogs too!”

    That being said, I do follow places like Cheezbuger because I do enjoy keeping up with pop culture, and it’s something we talk about at home with the toddler present. We don’t have a TV and we don’t buy into a lot of the fad stuff, so I know that my son won’t have many of the same experiences as his peers, but he should at least grow up knowing of them – at least to the level where he can get the jokes.

    I don’t think that peer interaction is all that important either – at least when we’re talking about seven year olds getting to meet other seven year olds. I think that the far more important concern is that kids have opportunities to meet lots of other people *who are also kids* and that they are allowed to make their own friendships. When I was growing up, my best friend was two years younger than me, and we were constantly discouraged from playing together because of the age difference (because choosing her company meant that I was “being a baby”). I didn’t fit in with my classmates, but I had so much in common with her – we had many of the same hobbies, likes, and dislikes.

    So for my son, obviously I arrange playgroups with the children of my own friends – some of whom are a little older or a little younger than me. But I think it’s important for him to get to make his own friendships with people who aren’t “pre-approved” by me. So I take him out to the library during toddler time, and we’ll be starting gymnastics when he turns three, so he has the opportunity to meet people who come from families that are different from ours. That’s something that I do take very seriously.

    The last bit is something that I definitely agree with. I’m an atheist, but I read my son books from other belief systems as well (for example, just the other day we read a picture book about the life of Muhammad – in which Muhammad is always pictured as a silhouette). I’m candid with him – in an age appropriate way, of course – about my own lack of belief and the things that I do believe in, but I let others do the same. I am much more concerned with raising my son to have a solid understanding of “what makes people tick” rather than that he believe in the same things that I do. I think that the former would serve him far better than the latter.

    Anyways, all this is just to say that I do think that providing social opportunities is important, but I do disagree with some specifics. The main thing is that children be raised *inside* the pop culture. Some pop culture knowledge is useful, but I think that a critical outsider’s examination is far more valuable than just providing kids with “shared experiences.”

  • Susan Raber

    “Conscious and intentional” should be the mantra of every parent. We need to know our children’s friends, and our children’s friend’s parents. Public school parents need to know teachers, coaches, and the environment that their child spends a significant amount of the time in.

    Homeschoolers need to be purposeful and creative, and offer their children a broad range of experiences as well. Volunteerism is a great way to do this (since most public schools close their doors and football fields to homeschoolers). We have had many great times and met wonderful people, helping local agencies with food drives, fund raising marathons, making blankets for Project Linus, visiting nursing homes, and fostering puppies to become service dogs for autistic children.

  • Me

    I homeschool my daughter. We’ve met a lot of um… interesting homeschool families. I will tell you 95% of the families I know that homeschool say they homeschool because they don’t want their children hearing about other beliefs.

    I joined a homeschool group because they said they have playdates “all the time”. They have them once every 3 months…

    I will say I went to public school and I had very poor socialization. I grew up not respecting other beliefs or having very many social skills at all. That was because of my parents. If I had been homeschooled it probably would’ve been worse. I think family situation can have a lot more influence than what school you attend.

  • Stacey Atwell-Keister

    Public school child for 13 years. Ostracized for various idotic reasons (intelligence, fatness, agnosticism, social awkwardness). Never part of the “normative culture.” Not to mention my tiny rural school district was the most homogeneous and un-diverse you can imagine – with even tinier Catholic schools as the only alternative in elementary grades (no private middle or high schools). I fit in quite well with adults now and have found my tribe, so to speak. No problems socializing, making friends, or existing in the world. I am, however, homeschooling my own children, as I see no benefit to the shared culture or normative experience of institutionalized schooling.

    I also am a certified teacher who taught in private and parochial schools, and didn’t like that shared culture either.

    What happens in the first 18 years of someone’s life informs their adulthood. In what ways, we can rarely predict.

    Just sharing my experience as an ostracized public school child in a very insular religious rural community.

  • Concerned

    I just don’t see this as a problem in my community. I homeschooled for 16 years. Our HS group is 95% white and male and yet these kids are far and away better socialized than the schooled kids I know. They are bright, open and friendly.

    I know many schooled kids and they went to public school (the best in town), arts based charter schools, magnate schools, private schools and award winning university lab schools. For the most part the schooled kids are pretty screwed up. If they managed to keep their academics intact they’re overly stressed out, if they managed to have a lot of friends they’re on drugs and if they’ve managed to have both of those, they’re mean and pick on others relentlessly. ALL of them have an unhealthy concern about what others think of them and are constantly trying to one up everyone, including adults.

    I can see how religious fundamentalist homeschoolers that shelter their kids can be a problem. But from what I can tell, this is a fringe issue. Your article adds to the negative stereotypes about homeschoolers without really addressing any problem. Especially since the people that need to read it the most probably wont.

  • Sherri G

    I was bullied and an outcast in school because I was smart AND poor. Middle school was horrible and I tried to HIDE in high school to avoid anymore negative treatment. I have been SCARRED for life and I think your argument is B.S.
    I have 5 kids—(1) who graduated (barely) from B&M high school and was involved in smoking and likely drinking; (2) who graduated a YEAR EARLY from alternative self-paced alternative high school program and attending college, (1) who graduated via the same program once 2E and medical problems were identified (labeled unmitigated and lazy by school staff but scored higher on SAT as 7th grader than 55% of national graduating seniors– not only did he have ADD but he also had narcolepsy)….All (3) are better off in social skills, diversity of friends and ability to appreciate/interact with all groups of people BECAUSE they didn’t have to worry about clicks, peer pressure and all the B.S. that a 2,000 student high school involved.
    My youngest (DD14) is homeschooled after fighting the school system for over 5 years to provide her LEGALLY REQUIRED FEDERALLY REGULATED services called CAPE 1974 and IDEA 2008 (HFAS, ADD, SPD, LD writing & math, GAD, Migraines, etc, etc, etc). Because of her low social skills, she was bullied and the teachers ignored it because of her disabilities; she was 2 years behind in core subjects and the school pushed her through anyway. We have completed 3.5 years in 2, she has been exposed to not only homeschool groups but multiple secular youth groups, sports, and volunteerism in the community. She was at the 5% for height and weight but has gained 30+ pounds and 7+ inches, improved health, increased appetite, academics, emotional and social maturity that she would NEVER have gotten in public school.

  • Teri Reed Davis

    You, obviously, had a very rough homeschool experience. I am sorry for that. I will say, though, that the homeschoolers that we run around with would consider the socialization question at the bottom of their concerns. I would have to agree. In a given week, some combination of my three children are at Chinese school (a school for native speakers that has completely accepted my daughter, German dance (again, with German and American families), ballet 3x week, co-op, piano, boy scouts and girl scouts, American Girl club and numerous other incidental activities.

    Having been through public school myself and my oldest son having attended 13 years of public school, I would say that your expectation of what public school achieves in the area of socialization is also misguided. It’s not unusual for any kid to feel out of place at any given time. And while there might be a diverse group of kids in a given school, kids will clique off and find the ones that they are similar to. Band kids hang out with band kids, cheerleaders with cheerleaders, jocks with jocks (and cheerleaders) and academically gifted with academically gifted. Indeed, I spent my entire high school career with band and academic honors kids. There were kids that I never saw (including the minorities that weren’t in band because the busing system would get them there in time. The cafeteria was the same….freaks, jocks, band geeks, cheerleaders, drill team all had their own cliques.

    While your concerns are certainly justified among a certain homeschool population, there is nothing to suggest that they would have better luck in a public school situation.

    • Rosa

      don’t you think it’s relevant what the kids – and grown ups who were homeschooled kids – think? It worries me that the homeschooling parents who comment here are so unwilling to reflect on their practices, and so dismissive of the observations of the formerly homeschooled.

      • Teri Reed Davis

        I think it is relevant to THEIR experience, not necessarily to everyone else’s. Just like they absolutely cannot speak to what it would have been like it in a public school. I am not unwilling to believe or hear that her experience was horrid or that she feels like she was somehow shorted in her education, but she needs to consider that it might not have been terribly different in another situation. If her religious parents were unwilling to take her outside of their bubble when they homeschooled, why would they be willing to let her socialize outside of her school hours if she were in public school? I spent 12 years in public school being told that it was not the place to socialize.

      • Rosa

        So you think it’s reasonable for homeschooling parents to hear these stories and then say “But socialization is not important so I don’t have to think about it!” or worse what some of the homeschooling parents say they hear in their circles – that socialization is a laughable concern?

        Libby Anne is not arguing that homeschooling can’t include good socialization, just that it’s a concern parents should take seriously. You responded by saying that socialization is at the bottom of your concerns. Is that a contrary way of saying you feel you’ve addressed it? It comes off very belittling and combative.

      • Teri Reed Davis

        I am saying that it was a concern in her situation. It is not a concern in our situation. I don’t see it vastly different than “socialization” for a kid in public school. There are always going to be awkward kids, there are always going to be kids who make friends wherever they go. Her situation was extreme and not indicative of a non-fundamentalist homeschooler.

      • Anat

        Awkwardness isn’t necessarily the mark of poor socialization and having many friends isn’t necessarily the mark of good socialization. Socialization is about acquiring the norms of one’s society and learning to behave in expected manner. The child with many friends may be socialized into a group that isn’t representative of broader society and this might lead to problems at a later time.

      • Soni Hymn

        From what I have read and from the adults that were home schooled that I know, the majority of adults that were home schooled have positive reflections. Almost all the negative ones were adults who were home schooled for religious reasons. Studies show homeschoolers do great in college, both socially and academically.

  • Kim

    I socialize my dog. I choose to teach my children!

  • Great Educational Experiences

    Great post. I haven’t worried about socializing. We belong to different hs circles and with family, we know plenty of kids in and out of homeschooling. But I’ve always advised parents to get to a park day for parental support. After reading your post, I think I’m going to be more zealous on reminding parents to keep working on finding a peer group for their kids, whether it’s going to different classes or a different park day. Thanks for the insight.

  • Christine

    I’m not understanding something here in this recent influx of comments. What’s the link between having friends and interacting positively with other children and being socialized? I understand that if you’re homeschooled, then having friends will most likely result in you being better socialized than if you don’t. But how would having friends and fitting in be a part of being well socialized in public school?

    I was consistently the outsider kid, and yet I still learned the names of popular bands, picked up some idea of the pop culture jokes (as well as the perpetual kid culture ones), read Harry Potter (not that I’m saying that was a positive outcome from public school, just that it’s a useful one), etc. Neither a lack of a group of friends, nor being bullied and outcast means that you don’t hear the other kids talking to each other. What am I missing here?

  • Dianna

    thank you for stating this, I cannot agree more! We live out in the county and it’s very hard to find other homeschoolers that are accepting of us to let us in their groups (we are atheists, but in no way to we flaunt it). I so badly want my kids to be around other kids their ages that I’ve lied more than once about our religious affiliations so we can be part of a group. We’ve made a couple of friends that way that we’ve eventually let them know our true beliefs, but usually we quit the groups because we feel like we are living a lie and I don’t want that for my kids. My kids also desperately want friends their age, and while it can be hard for us, I keep trying to find that for them.

  • elderberryjam

    #1 error: Your first reference is a Wikipedia article.

    # 2 error: You’d hazard a guess.

    The only long-term study (note: “long-term”), I have found on socialization of homeschooled children, and I’ve looked several times, for hours, stated that none of them were on welfare as adults; as in zero. Homeschooled children fare better as adult public citizens. That’s all I need, and you have not written anything to change my opinion.

    You are free to express yours, of course, but it does little to add to a conversation that has been shot and killed numerous times among homeschooling parents. Wow, another “bang, bang.” I quit reading before I got halfway through. I clicked a link to this article on a secular homeschooling page I subscribe to, and was very disappointed. I pulled my third child out of public school halfway through high school, BECAUSE of “socialization.” As in B.A.D.. I have never regretted it, and have never looked back. If you want to say something, do a study, or compare studies. Please just don’t reference Wikipedia, and try to come across as having an educated opinion. Before about 1940, most of humanity did not have a public school education, and we survived. Most of the world still does not have a public education, in fact.

    • Feminerd

      Before about 1880, oh aye people survived. Illiterate, mostly unable to advance past subsistence farming or low-skill construction or factory jobs, and poor. Education was a luxury for the rich, and they used it to maintain their privileged status. Public education in the US stretches way back way before 1940, by the way: my great-grandparents, who immigrated in the early 1900s, were educated and assimilated through the US public school system, as were my grandparents (born in the late 1920s/early 1930s).

      No one argues public education is perfect. It isn’t. There are bad schools and bad situations. That does not mean that 1) homeschooling is the answer, 2) homeschooling has no problems of its own, or 3) every criticism of homeschooling must be answered with tu quoque logical fallacies instead of acknowledging a widespread problem that you, personally, may not have faced. I can tell you that every homeschool student I met has had severe socialization problems; most of them overcame at least some of them with great effort, but not all. Dueling anecdotes mean precisely nothing.

      If you could link this “only long-term study”, that would be great. We here at LJF know there isn’t sufficient data on homeschoolers to do academic studies, as they all suffer from inappropriate sample selection at the least and often other methodological flaws as well.

    • Soni Hymn

      My favorite study on home schooled, vs public schooled, vs private schooled demonstrated that home schooled children are the most likely to think they can change the government. That’s what I am all about. Positive social change.

  • Soni Hymn

    While I see a lot of wisdom in these posts, and yes, homeschool parents need to take socialization seriously, but I think this post is leaning too much towards blaming homeschooling when the problem seems to rest more in religious fundamentalism and sheltering children from the real world and of course these people probably aren’t the ones who will heed the a dvice. I spent a couple years in a small, (fundamentalist) church run school, and loved it because everyone was nice, I worked at my own pace and I didn’t get paddled cause I was quiet. The rest of the time I went to public school and hated it and was traumatized there in fact having panic attacks at school due to the stress. I was picked on for being different and it never stopped because I never assimilated, which is what many people from “many different backgrounds” do in schools. I ended up dropping out at 15 getting my GED and going to college, where I fared very well, as being unique is more accepted in college than elementary and public school.

    BUT, I must say, I would be hard pressed to find a group of home schooled kids worse off socially than the kids from the Christian school, many who I knew as an adult because my father remained in the church afterward, as did these families and the kids that grew up in it.

    Also, Parents of Schooled Children Need to Take Socialization Seriously. Public school is not a magic socialization pill. And there is such a thing as bad socialization. I mean, if you think the dominant culture is awesome, then yeah, let the dominant culture socialize you children. Me, I have a bone to pick…like ostrification and violence against kids that diverge from gender norms (which has lead to many suicides of school kids)…or the over sexualization and objectification of girls bodies. I happen to have a daughter who fits the cultural norm of “beauty.” (Though usually plays with boys cause she is the rough and tumble type) Tall and slender, long legged, out-going, smiley, hispanic (read: very tan) blond with large almond shaped eyes, curves and a natural swing in her walk. At the age of 6, neighborhood boys were already making comments. I homeschool my daughter, she has not received theses sort of comments from home schooled children. A recent study revealed that by the age of 10, more than 30% of girls have received unwanted sexual advances. I am by no means opposed to sex by consenting teens, but seriously…I worked in public schools for 5 years and am not so sure they are the best place to socialize children.

    My daughter homeschools by choice. She is a leader among her peers, both the home schooled ones and public schooled ones. I am not opposed to public education, just the way its done now. Every year we revisit the school idea (we do have some great “alternative” options here) and my daughter says NO!

  • Anna

    Sometimes kids grow up without being “properly socialized”. This can happen in both homeschool situations as well as in the public school (you think kids who commit suicide due to bullying they face in school would consider themselves in a good social situation?) As someone who was homeschooled K-12 and is now in college, I can say that I had plenty of social opportunities when I was growing up and didn’t have problems adjusting to college. I realize this was not the case with you and several others (none of the numerous families I know but i believe that you are not alone in this). I believe that homeschooling IN GENERAL is moving in the right direction in this area (this is based purely on the fact that I had a better social situation than my oldest siblings and I see similar trends in the homeschooling families I know). But you can always find an abusive/unsocial/un-academic/etc. homeschooling family to back up whatever point you currently choose to make. I do hope you realize it doesn’t shine a light on homeschooling in general. You probably don’t though, and that’s cool…you’re welcome to your opinion. Just please don’t consider yourself the ‘voice’ of homeschoolers cuz believe me, you’re not.