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New Research on Homeschoolers and Socialization
Dr. Gary Welton, 2/3/2010

Gary Welton is both a homeschool father, the teacher of one of our AP Psychology classes online, and a professor of psychology at Grove City College. He's been doing research into aspects of socialization and the homeschooling experience, and shares some of his findings in this article. 

Socialization as a Religious Phenomenon

Gary L. Welton
Center for Research on Positive Youth Development
At Grove City College

            Every home schooling parent has been asked the S-Question: “What about socialization?” The implications (real or imagined) of the question are less than flattering:

  • Students who attend schools outside the home are socialized better because they spend so much time with their immature peers, whereas students who attend school within the home are poorly socialized because they spend so much time with their mature parents.
  • Home school families do not interact with one another.
  • Socialization that occurs on the soccer field, during debate rounds, and in church doesn’t count (or is somehow inferior).
  • Students who attend school outside the home are always well socialized.
  • Your kids are so weird.

I would like to put the S-Question to rest by summarizing research I conducted along with my colleagues. We surveyed 223 families (a teen and a parent), 95 of which were schooling at home. The results point to three important observations: home schooling teens socialize more than other teens, they socialize differently than other teens, but that both of these observations miss the point. Socialization is not a home schooling issue; it is a religious phenomenon.

First, home schooling teens socialize more than other teens. Using a standard measurement scale of 21 questions, we measured the extent to which the teens spend time interacting with their family, their friends, and other significant adults. Home school teens indicated significantly more social interaction than other teens. The S-Question assumes that home schooling teens are not engaged in social interaction. This is contrary to what is actually occurring.

It is true, however, that the home schooling teens are not in every category engaged in more social interaction. There is a difference in the target of the interactions. When asked about interaction with their families, home school youth indicated significantly more interaction in comparison to other youth. They indicated significantly more interaction with other significant adults. However, they indicated significantly less interaction with their friends. Home school youth interact more with family and adults, less with friends. The social interaction of home schooling teens is different from that of others.

The teens tell us that home schoolers have more social interaction overall, but less with their peers. We are confident that this reflects genuine differences because we saw the same differences when we asked their parents.

However, all of these observations miss the point. I would argue, in the end, that the goal is not socialization, per se. The larger view would suggest that socialization is one important aspect of our teens’ lives, as they develop character, or positive youth development. For example, socialization in an unhealthy subculture that fosters criminal behavior is not healthy socialization. In order to assess positive youth development, we measured five traits which, as a whole, suggest that a teen is developing character. The five aspects that we measured are contentment, selflessness, forgiveness, resilience, and gratitude. Combined, these provide a reliable measure of positive youth development.

One of the important predictors of positive youth development is religious faith. When we use religiosity, social interaction, and home schooling to predict positive youth development, the home schooling variable drops out of the model. Home schooling youth are high in character development, higher than others. They are high in religiosity, higher than others. Likewise, they are higher in social interaction. Nevertheless, as a predictor of positive youth development, school choice drops out of the model, being overwhelmed by the religiosity variable.

Religious practice creates a community that encourages social interaction and fosters positive youth development, so much so that it overwhelms differences in schooling choice. There is no evidence that home schooling youth are poorly socialized. However, there is evidence that we are asking and addressing the wrong question. Instead, the data suggest that children and teens in our churches and other religious institutions are engaged in more social interaction and are being better socialized.

Jodi Picoult makes a valid observation in her recent novel, Change of Heart, when she says, “What religion did for me went beyond belief—it made me part of a community.”

It is time to quit asking home school parents the S-Question. If you must ask the S-Question, ask it of the families who are not engaged in religious activities. Those are the kids we should be concerned about.

Comment by Barb Finnical, 2/9/2010:

I'm a first year homeschooler to my 13 year old son, and I'm in it for the long haul (through high school). We came on board because the school system (private, Christian, never public) didn't do an effective job with him. He's slightly LD and they tried, but just didn't have the time to invest. I also love being able to change curriculum midstream if it's not working.

But socially, we're struggling. I live in a moderately urban area, yet it seems like many of the homeschoolers are busy. When we do go to events, it seems like there are mostly younger kids there. I'm not sure where all the homeschooled middle schoolers are. 

We do attend church, and he has one close friend there. But because we're only there for 2.5 hours on Sunday and 1.5 on Wednesday, it a little harder for my son to connect than when he was at school 6.5 hours a day and had two 45-minute bus rides each day. He's not athletic, so sports are out as a social means. We do homeschool gym 2 hours a week and I'm hoping something more will come of that.

Most of his friends come from his old school, and I'm glad for that, otherwise he really wouldn't have many close friends. Maybe my late start has contributed to the lack of socialization.

We have reached out to others and have gotten together on occasion, but it's a far cry from a classroom full of kids and recesses every day.

I'm hoping things will change next year. Let me know if anyone else shares this struggle, especially with middle or high school kids.

Response to this comment by Susan Richman, 2/18/2010:
Hello Barb, Thanks so much for adding your thoughts here. My sense is that things will get better for your son as you have more time in homeschooling-- but definitely others have had similar problems with 'where are the older homeschoolers' when it comes to things like group field trips, etc. People with older kids tend to 'drop out' of such activities, and so things get more geared to just the elementary age participants. I'm glad your son is still able to keep in touch with his school friends-- that is not always easy, as kids get on very different schedules, or had less in common. One thing I'd suggest might be taking a pro-active stance when you're at, say, the homeschool gym day. Try to strike up a friendship with another mom with a son around your son's age.... invite them over to your home for lunch or a games or movie night or something you think the boys might enjoy (haha, or maybe a snow shoveling race!!!). Unless parents take on this sort of role of helping set up possible fun social events, where their child can really become friends with another homeschoolers (and most likely *kids* won't think to do this sort of planning or inviting themselves, at this age...), then the gym day becomes just an event where you come together for that hour, and then zip off in your respective directions. I'd also recommend seeing what sorts of small-group classes are available in your area, either with homeschoolers at a co-op weekly class setting (THAT's where all the middle school and older homeschoolers are!), or at local art or fitness or music classes. You mention that your son is not athletic-- but he may indeed really *need* then the support of some sort of organized class to make sure he gets a good overall fitness program. I'd *highly* recommend you look into some form of martial arts for your son-- from what I hear from *many* homeschooling families, most martial arts schools are *exceptionally* good at helping new students feel welcome and at home, supported and encouraged while they are learning to do things that are also clearly manly and interesting and intriguing and confidence-boosting. I can't tell you how many boys I know who were really pretty depressed and lack luster and feeling at 'odds' with themselves and the world (longterm homeschoolers, too...) who just got totally reinvigorated by martial arts lessons. Often the *dads* in the family opt to take part too, which is probably a great help-- boys this age really need their dads, and other male teachers, in their lives. And most kids in martial arts classes do form good working friendships with the other participants in their classes. Another group option might be looking into a local homeschool *volleyball team* -- these are co-ed teams, with varied levels of play, very supportive coaches, and *many* kids who sign up who are NOT 'athletic'. This program meant the world to my three younger kids during their middle school and high school years, and was the REAL place they got to form positive friendships. The weekly practices, the friendly atmosphere, the working for a real goal, the seeing the *same* group so regularly, all made for great friendships. Keep in touch with how your year develops-- it sounds to me like you are doing the right things to help your son keep up friendships, and gradually add new ones.   Thanks for responding here, Susan Richman, Editor Pennsylvania Homeschoolers


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