A Whole New Look at Socialization, Part 1

by Marlene Molewyk

Part 1 of a series (link to Part 2 is at end of article)
Originally published in Practical Homeschooling magazine
Jan/Feb/March 2010 issue

When people ask, "What about socialization?", something inside me snaps. My blood pressure and annoyance levels spike up, and I feel like Bruce Banner, just as he's about to turn into the Incredible Hulk. In recent months, I've started wondering why I have such a highly charged emotional response to this question. Is it because my personal socialization experience involved being picked on and ostracized for years, right under my teachers' noses? Is it because millions of kids today are having their souls crushed in the exact same way, all within the process our society calls "proper" socialization? Or is it because "What about socialization?" really means:

"Don't you realize that homeschooling will turn your kids into weird, geeky social deviants?"

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

To be honest, all of these factors affect my reaction to the socialization question. But something even deeper bothers me: I've realized that the socialization question is like a set of hoops that we homeschoolers are being asked to jump through. 

We jump them by going on the defense, by playing the questioner's game and testily responding, "Yes, our kids are indeed being socialized, through sports (hoop 1)! Through scouting (hoop 2)! Through church youth group (hoop 3)! So there!" By playing this game, we give our questioners the right to decide whether or not we've adequately jumped through their hoops. But let's face it, our hoop jumping rarely satisfies our critics.

In this article, I propose an alternative. Instead of playing along with this impossible and annoying hoop jumping game, instead of always being on the defensive, why not go on the offensive? Rather than hoop jumping, I believe we should instead spend time examining the hoops themselves. Are the beliefs they represent valid? Are schools and large group activities truly the best way to socialize our children? The best way to answer this question is by looking at the end product of hoop jumping.

Kids who are socialized primarily through school and large groups learn to habitually and obsessively compare themselves with others. In addition, the following rules of socialization get seared into their brains:
  • Your value as a human being and your place in the social hierarchy are based completely on externals: your looks, clothes, athletic ability, who you hang out with, and what others say about you.
  • The social hierarchy dictates which kids you're allowed to associate with, and which kids aren't good enough to associate with you.
  • If you violate the social hierarchy, you'll be ridiculed and possibly ostracized.

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

To protect themselves from rejection in school and large groups, kids develop socialization strategies that include: 
  • Focus on externals, because that's how you're judged.
  • Remember that quantity and social status of friends trumps quality of friends.
  • Herd around with as many other kids as possible, because being alone means you're a loser.
  • Be a chameleon. Change your personality and behaviors to blend in with the people you're around, even if it means compromising your convictions about what is right and wrong.
  • Don't reveal weaknesses, because they can and will be used against you.
  • Being around parents and siblings is embarrassing and should be avoided at all costs.

The end results of the accepted socialization process are actually quite negative: educators and psychologists say it's very common for seemingly normal, well-adjusted teenage boys and girls to actually be in enormous emotional pain, because they've been socialized to suppress who they truly areIn her book Reviving Ophelia, clinical psychologist Mary Pipher describes the impact on girls:

"Just as planes and ships disappear mysteriously into the Bermuda Triangle, so do the selves of girls go down in droves. They crash and burn in a social and developmental Bermuda Triangle. In early adolescence, studies show that girls' IQ scores drop and their math and science scores plummet. They lose their resiliency and optimism and become less curious and inclined to take risks. They lose their assertive, energetic and "tomboyish" personalities and become more deferential, self-critical and depressed. They report great unhappiness with their own bodies." (p.19)

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net & David Castillo Dominici
Harvard psychologist William Pollack provides similar commentary on boys in his book Real Boys

"The boys we care for...often seem to feel they must live semi-inauthentic lives, lives that conceal much of their true selves and feelings, and studies show they do so in order to fit in and be loved. The boys I see—in the 'Listening to Boys' Voices' study, in schools, and in private practice—often are hiding not only a wide range of their feelings but also some of their creativity and originality, showing in effect only a handful of primary colors rather than a broad spectrum of colors and hues of self." (p.7)

Sadly, kids bring their knowledge of childhood socialization rules into adulthood, where these rules play out in similar ways. Just look around and you'll see cliques, social hierarchies, and ugly social climbing in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, and sadly, even in our churches. To cope and survive, we adults tend to rely on childhood socialization survival strategies, which we modify slightly for adulthood:

  • Know your place in the social hierarchy at work, church, your neighborhood, your child's school, and society in general, and function accordingly. 
  • Focus on externals to define success and happiness in life: your looks, job title, salary, square footage of home, make and model of car, and social status, as well as your spouse's and children's externals—their looks, social status and achievements.
  • Continue hiding your true self, if you even remember who you truly are anymore.
  • Blend in and act the way the "in" crowd acts in your neighborhood, at work, and especially at church.
  • Don't reveal weaknesses, don't get real with people, and don't ask for help from anyone.

The end result? A society of adults who:

photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

  • Are lonely and hurting.
  • Don't know who God created them to be, or what God created them to do with their lives
  • Have a hard time withstanding peer pressure in adulthood.
  • Allow their children's peers to influence their parenting decisions.
  • Have a misguided philosophy regarding the purpose and significance of friends.

In the next article in this series, we'll take a closer look at each of these points to see what has gone horribly wrong with the accepted socialization process, and how homeschooling gives us the opportunity to give our children something so much better. 

 Click HERE to go to Part 2 of this 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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