A Whole New Look at Socialization, Part 3

by Marlene Molewyk

Part 3 of a series (link to part 4 is at end of article)
Originally published in Practical Homeschooling magazine
July/August 2010 issue

In the first two parts of this series, I questioned whether the accepted methods of socialization are even good for children, and whether we as homeschoolers should be jumping through hoops to prove our children are "just as socialized" as everyone else's children. 

I then went to some length to show that the long term results of the accepted socialization process are lonely, hurting adults who don't know who God created them to be, or what he created them to do with their lives; who have trouble withstanding peer pressure as adults; and who often allow their children's peers to influence the way they parent their own children. A big reason behind this is the herd method of socializing, where kids are turned loose in a group to raise each other.

Given all of the information I have presented thus far, am I saying that large group socialization is bad across the board? No! Sports, scouting, etc., are all good things. Instead, on a broad level...

...I simply believe it is better for children to develop positive social skills with individuals, then bring those skills into large group settings, rather than learning negative social lessons in large groups and taking the associated negative behaviors and beliefs into individual relationships.

Furthermore, I believe that we as parents need to stop viewing socialization in terms of, "How can I help my child fit in?" This question yields superficial solutions such as putting our kids into group activities and training them to talk, dress, look, and act like other kids. 

Instead, the real socialization questions that parents should be asking are: "How can I help my child develop the character traits and communication skills that will help him/her be a good friend and eventually develop deep friendships? And on a deeper level, how can I help my children know and be who God created them to be, even when facing peer pressure as a child and as an adult to act otherwise?" 

Homeschooling provides an excellent opportunity to approach socialization from this perspective, because it removes a huge level of daily, value-based-on-externals, chameleon creating, soul crushing peer pressure from our children's lives. But even so, we do need to recognize that homeschooling is not a silver bullet for socialization.

As homeschooling parents, we have the power to inflict huge amounts of emotional damage upon our children, and...

...we have the power to crush our children's spirits and God-given uniqueness every bit as much as a classroom of twelve year olds. 

We have the power to demonstrate, through our words and actions, that our children's value as human beings is based solely upon how they look, how they perform in schoolwork and athletics, how many friends they have, and how good they make us look and feel as parents.

We have the power to create our very own screwed up family social hierarchy by showing conditional love, playing favorites among our children, playing favorites by gender, and allowing sibling bullying to go unchecked. We have the power to teach family-specific social rules that are unspoken but followed by all, rules such as: the loud, intimidating people in the family get their way; or block how you really feel and pretend everything is fine. 

We have the power to teach our kids the socialization rules we learned at school, and to train our kids to play by society's social rules and pecking orders. And in the end, we have the power to raise children who are every bit as conformist, focused on externals, chameleon-like, and unsure of who God created them to be as their schooled peers.

But as homeschoolers, we also have the power to help our children learn to socialize in a vastly different way, and from a vastly different, God-centered perspective!

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey counsels his readers to "begin with the end in mind". That is—before jumping into a new project, think first about your ultimate future goal for the project, and then work backwards from that point to figure out the steps you must take, to reach your goal.

Given this framework, my future goals for socialization are focused on raising my children to someday be men and women who:
  • Are comfortable being who they are, no matter who they're with.
  • See and understand the fallacies behind social hierarchies and accompanying social rules.
  • Function with character and integrity within a society of social game players.

I also want them to understand and embrace their unique, God-given personalities and talents, as well as the fact that:

  • Their identity and value lie in their relationship with God.
  • God loves them for who they are, not for what they do.
  • We're all equal at the foot of the cross, regardless of race, gender, beauty, possessions, achievements, etc.
  • God's opinion, and obedience to his opinion, is more important than other peoples' opinions.  

Next, I want them to demonstrate the character traits of a good friend:

  • Loyalty
  • Compassion
  • Self-awareness: recognizing, identifying, and owning one's emotions/motivations vs. carelessly inflicting them on others
  • Integrity: being the same person in all situations and with all people
  • Authenticity: able to get real with others, admit weaknesses, and ask for help, rather than hiding behind a mask 
  • Fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control
  • Honest: includes not manipulating or using passive-aggressive behavior to get something one wants
  • Ability to handle envy in a God-honoring way
  • Courage to stand up for, protect, and defend victims of injustice 

Finally, I would like my children to have effective, empathic comunication and conflict resolution skills, including the ability to:

  • Examine and discuss motives
  • Talk through misunderstandings
  • Ask for and offer forgiveness
  • Speak the truth in love
  • Set and enforce healthy boundaries, rather than being a dominating jerk or a passive doormat

If my husband and I can raise our children to do and be a large percentage of the above, then I believe they will have no problem cultivating and maintaining deep, meaningful friendships throughout their lives. The reason I say this with such confidence: 

Imagine that you've met someone who demonstrates a large portion of the traits listed above. Wouldn't you want to be friends with this person? Of course you would! Who wouldn't?

But this is pretty tough stuff to teach a child—or even an adult, for that matter. So how on earth does a parent go about developing these attributes in our children? As you'll see in next issue's article, it begins with us. 

Click HERE to go to part 4, the final installment of this article series. 

Marlene Molewyk has homeschooled her five children for the past twelve years. Her career has included work as: a broadcast journalist for the NBC affiliate in Traverse City, Michigan; a production assistant for the Oprah Winfrey Show; and a corporate public relations manager for Ameritech.

Copyright 2010, Home Life, Inc., Fenton, MO, 800-346-6322, www.home-school.com. Originally published in Practical Homeschooling Magazine. Used by permission.


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