One Thinging High School: Principles 4-5
We looked at the first three principles for keeping your sanity while raising your teens. Let’s add to the list.
4. Teens deserve a social life.
A few weeks ago at our homeschool co-op, I stood in front of the white board with a green marker in hand. I asked my 9th and 10th graders to throw out terms often associated with homeschool. Our goal was to compile a list of cliches or stereotypes to then rebut in writing. These kids were passionate in expressing the commonly used terms that were intended to malign them. Almost as one voice, the words they see associated with homeschool were ‘nerd,’ ‘social misfit’ and ‘backward.’ I asked them if these were words they used to describe themselves or if these were terms applied to them by others that they rejected. That’s when class opinion split. Half felt that these terms were unfairly applied to homeschoolers. They explained that after all, homeschoolers have friends, they have activities that bring them together with their peers. But the other half of the class argued that in fact, they sometimes did feel like social outcasts. They considered the world they lived in smaller, less populated, less engaged in common teen activities.
In my experiences of working with teens (and having some of my own), it’s clear that by 14, most of them crave peer relationships. Homeschooling protects young kids from negative peer influences in some cases (though I have to admit that my oldest son was bullied in our neighborhood from age 6-10 because he was homeschooled, because he was different than his peers… a very painful experience for all of us). High school is often seen as a scary place where bad things can happen to our kids (some adults know this from personal experience).
Yet it’s during the high school years that our teens first flex their maturity wing span. These test flights include hanging out with peers, spending what looks like tons of wasted time gossiping, flirting, checking out each other’s facebooks, texting three different friends all at once over dinner, sending photos to each other… Today’s teens live in a networked world the likes of which we parents have never seen. They are enrolled in a sophisticated socialization program that requires a level of expertise and etiquette that can only be learned by jumping in.
One way to look at the growing need for peer relationships (and providing space for these to occur) is that in encountering other viewpoints, personalities and life experiences, your kids develop their ability to value and evaluate their own previous experiences. Sometimes the sense of lethargy or negativity aimed at you or the structure of your family is simply the absence of contrast. Kids who have been in the homeschooling world for their entire lives find it harder to individuate since their world has been controlled by home and parents with much more attentiveness than those in school. By giving your teens the chance to broaden their experiences through outside relationships (whether those come through parttime school, working at Starbucks, volunteering in a vet’s office, dancing in a studio, acting in a theater troupe, playing on a competitive sports team, hanging out at the local gaming store), you encourage them to discover differences between what they’ve had at home and what they find elsewhere.
You also help them discover how to manage themselves in their relationships. These friendships give them the chance to test their values, to imagine the world through someone else’s life experience, to figure out how to balance responsibility against the temptation to spend all free time hanging out at the mall. College is one huge dose of unsupervised, peer-drenched experiences. To put a tightly supervised homeschooler into that environment without previous experiences is like asking your teen to go to college without enough math or writing… and perhaps worse.
So make time for your teen to broaden his or her world so that while they still have you around, they can sort through the complexities of emerging into young adulthood and the wider world.
5. Teens live in a wired world.
Len Sweet wrote in one of his books that today’s teens and young adults are the “natives” and we (their parents) are the immigrants in this technological world they inhabit. The kids speak the language fluently, naturally, without an accent while we parents sound like we just got off the boat. It’s a mistake to imagine that because we can get through our days with small doses of technology that our kids should do likewise. Similarly, limiting access to the Internet or computer to protect teens from seeing things they shouldn’t doesn’t wind up achieving the effect of protection. Instead, these teens end up behind the curve in terms of learning this complex, vital language that is driving the world they will enter.
I’ve had a couple of local students who have grown up without the Internet. One of them was a senior in high school last year. I use the Internet all the time to send vital course information, to receive drafts of papers, to send grades and so on. This student could not receive any of that information. When I asked her mother why they didn’t have the Internet, she told me it was because her husband had a pornography problem. The irony here is that while the home had no Internet, the husband’s work place did. So as a result, he had Internet access all day away from the home, while the family at home all day had none.
I explained to the mother that she was severely handicapping her college-bound daughter. Today’s colleges and universities use the Internet and computer programs to conduct everything related to enrollment, tuition, grades, housing and class work. Students today are expected to know how to create PowerPoints for their oral reports complete with accompanying music, they participate on discussion forums to discuss material in class, they often turn in papers via email, they work in small online groups for group projects using the project managing software offered by the school, and of course they use the Internet for research for writing projects and e-reserves. In short, everything college kids do is tied to the Internet.
Additionally, the Internet provides a way for kids to stay in touch when they leave home. Those special homeschooling friends will be a source of real strength when your kids move away to a world of all new people. Keeping up with friends through facebook, for instance, helps your kids maintain the relationships that were anchors to them. I recommend getting your own facebook account to be able to stay in touch with those young adults and teens. There’s a lot to be said for that tool in the parent-child relationship too.
Today’s entry is really summed up in one word: risk. It feels risky to put our teens out there into that world where bad things can happen. We have worked so hard to make home a safe, nurturing, healthy environment. Additionally, the world of technology feels like a leap into the unknown for some families. One of the best things you can do to lower your anxiety (if you have it) is to ask your teens to teach you about that world. Find out what they need to thrive (cell phone? digital camera? facebook account?). Provide them, and learn from your teens how to use them and what they do. As they get involved with new friends outside the network you’ve cultivated, learn those new names. Have the kids over, if your kids will let you.
All of these new connecting points create more opportunities to talk about the things that matter to you, too.
Consider “friendships” and “technology” as two of the vital courses of study your kids need to make it in the adult world. Don’t see time spent in these areas as wasted, but as critical to healthy growth and maturation. Teens are amazing. I’m in awe of how much they can juggle successfully.