Between 12 and 20: Teen Style Socialization
by ERIN CHIANESE
The irritating S-word. It rears up its pesky head at every stage of our homeschooling. Like an itch, it begs attention: Does my child have enough socialization in his life? How do I help in her social realm? When our kids are young it is pretty easy to deal with: Make play dates with the kids your children enjoy; start a club with a theme that your child is interested in. Then kids hit the teen years and they want to arrange their own social calendar. It gets harder for parents to see that they are helping. The S-word’s itch still persists. Things seem more serious. Teens will soon venture out into the world and fend for themselves. Just as we worry if our teens have the proper academics to get into college, we worry if they have enough social skills to deal with whatever they may encounter. Will they get along with coworkers and roommates and partners?
Most people think of friendship when they hear the word, socialization. Parents often worry: “How many friends does my child have or how deep is the friendship?” Many of us knew most of the kids in our high schools and considered them friends. This experience is what we base our measure of social success on for our teens. Added to this is the prevalent, ill-conceived notion that kids are automatically socialized when they go to school. These nagging ideas need to be dispelled. We need to remind ourselves that our kids are enjoying a different lifestyle and they are not basing their measure on our model. This is hard to remember but in every aspect of homeschooling we need to consult our kids on their own expectations, needs, and wants, including their own socialization.
I asked my kids what they want. My 15-year-old wants many friends. She would like a group of friends to go places with, as well as individual friends to spend time with. She also wants one very close friend who is understanding. My 13-year-old wants one good friend. She had a great description of what a good friend is. It is someone interested in her as much as she is interested in her or him, and when they are together she feels good about herself. My 15-year-old is an extrovert and my 13-year-old is an introvert. This dictates their individual needs. The tricky part for me is to not project my own wants for my girls by thinking I should set up opportunities for them to meet friends. I feel I can help them mainly as an ear to their expectations of friendships. I listen to their difficulties concerning their friends. I remind them that acceptance is a part of being a friend. There are different kinds of friends and different friends can fulfill different needs. One friend may be valuable for her intellect and another may be valuable for her sense of fun. Everyone has a gift to offer.
Developmental stages dictate a teenager’s social needs, too. I have noticed reluctance by many teens to initiate conversation with a newcomer or to decide what to do or where to go with a friend. They have become shy, reticent, and unwilling to assert themselves. Embarrassment must be avoided at all costs. It reminds me of when my 4-year-old would cling desperately to my pant leg for two hours during a play date. Five minutes before the play date ended she would detach herself and play delightedly with the other child. Teens are doing essentially the same thing they did as a toddler. They are observing and learning. They like safe and comfortable social situations. Our job as parents may be to allow them (and to reassure them to allow themselves) to be observers if they wish, without thinking that they are inadequate. Just as toddlers do, they will eventually share themselves with another person. They will feel the rewards if they take the risk.
Socialization has definitions other than the connection with friendship. One is the ability to get along with others. This includes all kinds of social skills: How to be polite and considerate, how to say no, how to negotiate, how to respect others even while disagreeing with them, how to speak up for oneself, and how to accept others. It involves virtually any interaction between people. This is a lot to learn and our guidance is vital to how our children will conduct their lives in the future. This is the job of every parent and as homeschooling parents we must make time for this as we juggle the time we schedule for academic pursuits. The easiest and most natural way to teach these skills is through modeling. We inwardly can take this as an opportunity to improve our own social skills as we outwardly model for our kids. For example, being diplomatic or solving problems without anger are difficult tasks for most of us, but are great skills to master and to pass on to our children.
Socialization also brings to mind the concept of social groupings in our culture. I have thought a lot about social isolation because we homeschool: Are we meeting the same kind of people since we have similar views? There are not that many ethnic families in our own homeschooling world; is this isolating in our diverse world of today? I have come to the conclusion that we are no more socially isolated than anyone else. Neighborhoods are made up of people in the same socio-economic background so too, then, are the schools. There are many societal isolation barriers in place surrounding money, religions or ethnic backgrounds. I am not sure how to get past these except to work on my own family’s attitudes. My kids treat anyone they meet with the same regard. They have not been taught by cruel remarks about any group different than their own. Their homeschooling has been diverse and respectful in their study of peoples of the earth, and they enjoy children and adults of all ages, as that is normal life to them.
A new social arena has arisen in cyberspace. The Internet is now playing a huge role in social interaction. For many jobs, a person must apply online rather than beat the pavement like we used to do. Instant Messenger is used constantly by many teens to communicate and the kids can write to many friends all at the same time. This used to worry me too: Where are the face-to-face conversations or even the phone conversations of old? Yet kids are comfortable with the computer. They have great typing and computer manipulation skills, and they are still interacting in the moment. I even wonder if this will cause our society to use more vocabulary to explain ourselves clearly since there is no eye contact or body language involved. For homeschoolers that live far from each other, email and “IM” are really great for socialization. Writing can open a person up to its freedom. Teens can express themselves thoughtfully and learn from reactions to their writing. Pouring your soul onto a page is much easier than saying some things in person. Saying no is less difficult too.
Socialization is very important to being a whole person. A person devoted to dance must be physically proficient but must also work well with others. In every interaction, life is easier with social skills. Offending someone can lose you a job, a friend, or a spouse. Having friends is rewarding and fulfilling. It involves love and how to give and receive it. What nobler pursuit is there to help our children with? Our guidance to our teens may have changed somewhat from when they were young, but our attention, advice, and modeling in social endeavors is still vital to their journey in life. -- E.C. ■
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