Socialization is one of the biggest myths we deal with as homeschoolers. We have people who don’t homeschool constantly asking us how we ensure our children socialize, and for those of us who are rather introverted, we often struggle with worry about whether we’re getting the kids out enough to socialize, among other concerns.
The world of homeschooling can be awfully small sometimes, as you might discover. It’s not necessarily any smaller than the world of public school, where you would likely deal with many of the same situations, but it can feel smaller. Let’s talk about just one example.
Children and their crushes and/or dating. Several months ago, there was a girl in our homeschooling group who dated a boy in the same group. They were friends first, and their relationship was good while it lasted, but as they often do at that age, the relationship didn’t last. Once the teenaged couple broke up, the boy and his family drifted away and became part of another group. They never officially left our group, nor were they ever asked to or made to feel as though they had to or should, but it was pretty clear that the break up was the reason they moved on. The friendship between the two families also drifted apart until they’re no longer friends.
You might think that’s the worst that can happen with this, but there’s more to it than that. Let’s talk about when two kids have a crush on each other, but the parents want to create distance. It’s a bit harder to do that when you’re part of the same, rather small, group. In public school, you can’t do much about them being in the same class, but you can at least limit their time together outside of school. But when you homeschool and many, if not all, of your activities are with the same group, it can be hard to create that distance without having to distance yourself from the entire group.
At the same time, you also can’t just put an end to the friendship between the two kids, because again, you’re part of the same group. The kids are all going to be together, and it would be wrong to tell your kid to ignore the other kid. Not to mention, chances are good the other kids will get involved and either ask questions or try to push them together anyway.
So how can you limit the interaction and time together between two kids that you strongly believe need distance without having to find a new homeschooling group or come across as an evil person by making your child ignore the other child? Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
- Set strict time restrictions on phone calls, texting or Facebook messaging. In situations like this, you’ll likely notice that your kid is spending a ton of time communicating with this other child – possibly to the exclusion of communicating with other friends. Setting strict restrictions on when, and for how long, your child can talk to this specific friend, can help. You can either set specific restrictions (15 minutes a day for all communications with child, for example), or have the child earn time to talk to that friend (you have to talk to at least 3 other friends for at least 20 minutes each before you can talk to this friend for 15, for example).
- Limit all interaction to group activities. If time restrictions aren’t cutting it,
then limiting their interactions to only activities with the group might do more to help. It’ll serve a few purposes: it’ll keep them from spending too much time together, they might be too embarrassed or shy to say the same things to each other with the group that they would say in a private conversation, and it’ll (usually) give them something else to focus on besides each other.
- Heavily encourage other relationships. Presumably, within any group you may be a member of, you have certain members that you are closer to than others. You consider some members to be friends, while others are just people who happen to be in the same group so you associate with them. The same holds true for your kids. Whether you choose from the parents that you are friends with, or the kids that your child is friends with, select some other families that you enjoy spending time with and would be happy to encourage the growth of those friendships, and set up activities outside of the homeschooling group setting. Whether it’s park days, lakeside barbecues, or private field trips to the museum or movies, arranging these ‘playdates’ allows you to encourage the growth of other friendships without being too obvious that you are intentionally leaving someone out. It also takes up some of your child’s time, thus leaving less time for communication with the child you’re trying to distance them from.
- Go nuclear. I’m listing this one last because it is, as I called it, a nuclear option, one that will blow up everything. If all else fails and nothing else you’ve done works and you still feel strongly that the relationship needs to be curtailed, then you completely cut it off. You have your child unfriend the other child on Facebook, take phone numbers out of cell phones, and only allow contact at homeschooling group activities, and with the understanding that they must stay with the group at all times. The catch to this option is that it does carry the risk of becoming a dramatic issue within the group. The other parent may get offended and try to involve the other parents, or their child may try to get the other kids in the group to choose sides. If you’re going to go with this option, you should probably be very sure of what you’re doing, and it might also be a good idea to talk to the other child’s parent and explain what you’re doing and why. Make clear that it’s nothing personal against their child, just a decision you’re making in the best interest of your own.
Of course, these aren’t your only options. What have you tried to put the brakes on a friendship that you saw was becoming unhealthy for your child? Or, if you haven’t put the brakes on despite knowing the relationship was unhealthy, why did you make that choice? Do you regret your choice (whether to put the brakes on or not) now, and whether you do or don’t, what (if anything) would you do differently looking back?
These ideas can also work for friendships that you feel need to be slowed for other reasons, as well. Whether the child is a bad influence, too mature or not mature enough, or just seems to somehow create conflict or issues in your family or your child’s life, you can try these ideas and others to resolve those friendships as well.