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Homefires: Exploring the Ultimate Urban Legend: Homeschooled Teens

by Diane Flynn Keith

Diane Flynn Keith
Diane Flynn Keith

I knew most of the kids in my local homeschool support group from the time they were second-graders. So, when the pliable little-boy-bodies gave way to broad backs and biceps of rock-solid muscle, and the previously waist-less, little girl bodies took on the form of Botticelli’s Venus, it took some getting used to. The changing bodies brought new and different energy, attitudes, thought, and behavior -- and along with it, parental anxiety. This was a surprise to me and many of my homeschool friends who believed the ultimate urban legend – that homeschooled teens are immune to the pressures, social expectations, and behavior dictated by pop culture in America.

How did this myth evolve? I think it began many years ago with the teens that were targeted by the media (including the homeschool media) as fine examples of what homeschooling produces. The quintessential examples are the Colfax boys who were raised on a homestead in rural northern California and went on to graduate from Harvard. Fresh-faced and right off the farm, they exemplified the success that hard work and clean living in a homeschool environment can produce. Because they were in their teens when they achieved national notoriety due to their parents’ book, Homeschooling For Excellence, the image emblazoned in the public psyche was that all homeschoolers would somehow turn out like them. These poster boys for homeschooling promised an easy transition from childhood to adulthood bypassing the rebellious, culture-driven angst commonly associated with the teen years. The fact that the Colfaxes were isolated, TV-free, and never steeped in popular teen culture was, for the most part, overlooked and unexamined.

The Colfax mystique was bolstered by similar stories of homeschooled teens who displayed none of the mainstream teen preoccupation with fashion, rebellion, music, and dating. The stories were told countless times in Growing Without Schooling magazine, Home Education Magazine, and in homeschool newsletters nationwide. Homeschooled teens were often depicted as college-bound, advanced academic achievers. They were not only content with their solitude, but preferred adult company to that of their peers, listened only to classical music, wore fashions straight from Ward & June Cleaver’s closet, and even sneered with ultimate contempt at the idea of football games and cheerleaders, partying, and The Prom. Some of these kids acted as if the whole popular teen culture experience was beneath them. As a result, many of us came to believe that homeschooled kids would sail smoothly through their teen years never challenging parental strictures and never dabbling in common cultural teen pastimes.

While this news may have been a relief to some parents, it was a naïve leap of faith to assume that all homeschooled teens would be the same! The growth of homeschooling among the mainstream population means homeschooled teens are now more proportionately representative of the teen society at large.

Homeschoolers are human beings and as our numbers grow we reflect more accurately the same assets and liabilities common to all of humanity. For those of us homeschooling in urban America, it means we have the same attributes and quirks seen in the popular culture. Homeschooling will not liberate parents from discussions or arguments with their teens about appropriate attire, activities, friends, music, movies, social behavior, dating, sex, drugs, and the rest of the items on the agenda.

In various locations and situations with homeschooled teens I have seen all of the calling cards exhibited by mainstream tweens and teens (ages 11-18) who go to school: crop tops and low-riding jeans; body piercing and punky-colored hair; public displays of affection (deemed natural and healthy or risky and promiscuous, depending on your point of view); loud music in all of its variations with and without parental warnings; group outings to popular movies (with a demand for PG-13, and a penchant for R-rated films); and sometimes bad attitudes accompanied by bouts of rudeness and profanity even when addressing their parents.

I have also witnessed behavior among homeschooled teens that demonstrates integrity, character, respect, and concern for others -- including their parents. And you know what? It doesn’t necessarily come dressed in polo shirts and khakis, or demure dresses.

I have seen academic excellence, but more importantly, I have seen kids who love and direct their own learning, and as a result will author and edit their own lives.

I’ve seen homeschooled teens unselfconsciously and respectfully interact with people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, and abilities. I was truly struck by this at a recent homeschool conference. In a typical high school cafeteria teens generally sit with kids of the same age and social “type.” (For example, all of the senior jocks hang together, all of the sophomore stoners bunch together, and all of the freshman nerd-geeks sit at another table.) At the conference, homeschooled teens of all ages who might be described as preppies, jocks, nerds, and other assorted labels sat together. There was an incredible tolerance among this group of teens for differences — and, in my opinion, they demonstrate hope for the future with their impartiality and open-mindedness.

The energy homeschooled teens exude could jump-start a doorknob. When it is channeled in a positive direction it becomes a chain reaction of benevolence in the form of good deeds, good work, and good will. When it is misguided or neglected it swallows their opportunities for growth and detours them from their natural course of development to adulthood. The same is true for all teens.

Because homeschooled teens are not in school they are subjected to less peer pressure and coercion for risky behavior on a daily basis, but they are not immune to it -- particularly if they live in an urban area, watch TV, go to movies, read newspapers and magazines, and interact with non-homeschooled kids in the neighborhood and community.

That said, I still believe that parents have more opportunities and a better chance to share discussion of teen-centered issues (and therefore positively influence their teens) when they are homeschooled.
We spend more quantity time with our teens and so have a better probability of quality time that can lead to conversations about everything from awakening sexuality to tattoos and mosh pits. Homeschool parents tend to be involved in their teens’ lives, a factor underrated by mainstream society. They are willing to dialog with other homeschool parents about areas of concern too. In my support group the parents tackled every subject from clothing to sex to drugs with regard to our burgeoning teen group. We were not always in agreement on these topics, but we did talk and listen. Respectful discourse can go a long way to form opinions, strategies, and guidelines for how to help teens safely make that miraculous passage from childhood to adulthood.

Our conversations confirmed that teens want what we all want -- to be appreciated, acknowledged, accepted, needed, understood, and ultimately loved. Homeschooling presents the opportunity to create an environment that supports those needs.

My hope for all of you homeschooling teens is that once your children safely transition into healthy and well-adjusted young adults, you will look back on this stage of their development with some amusement, and also with deep appreciation that through homeschooling you became your teens’ allies in the process of growing up.

Copyright 2007, Diane Flynn Keith, All Rights Reserved. ■