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By Katie B.
Homeschooling your teen can provide an enriching experience. You get to collaborate with them on developing curricula that meet their specific interests and goals. Not to mention there’s the freedom to offer a more multifaceted education than they might get from a traditional setting.
However, homeschooling does have unique challenges compared to a traditional classroom. The biggest is limited opportunities for socialization. That being said, parents, teens, and homeschooling communities, in general, can circumnavigate this issue so students can grow up to be educated and well-adjusted adults.
Understand the Imperatives and Challenges
It’s worth gaining a solid understanding of why socialization is so important. Simultaneously, you should prepare for any challenges that are inherently associated with a homeschooling environment while you aim to increase your teen’s exposure to peers. Knowing both the imperatives and challenges can motivate you to make arrangements to maximize the positive impact of socialization as well as help you take steps to mitigate potential issues.
Socialization among homeschoolers helps them to build essential skills for navigating the world. Their interactions provide them with vital practice in effective communication and collaboration. With it, they’ll develop their senses of empathy and self-confidence which help to make them more resilient adults.
Teenagers, especially, should take advantage of socialization opportunities to build strong friendships and peer connections. This can be more important for teenagers than younger children, as young adulthood is particularly fraught with challenges that benefit from a solid support network. As a result, socialization activities can be powerful tools for navigating the difficult emotional, psychological, and developmental elements of adolescence.
Despite the importance of socialization, it isn’t always natural to integrate into a homeschooling curriculum. In schools, teenagers are constantly surrounded by their peers as part of the classroom model. They often work on teams for recreational activities, hobbies, and volunteer opportunities. On the other hand, socialization in homeschooling requires a far more intentional application.
Homeschooling doesn’t exactly expose teens to diverse environments, either. Many traditional schools expose teens to the invaluable perspectives of teens from a range of backgrounds. Learning in this environment can help teens build respectful and empathetic traits. It can be a little more difficult to provide this level of diverse contact as part of the homeschool routine. You’ll need to be mindful of widening their social circle to avoid their development occurring in a social, cultural, or political echo chamber.
Take Practical Socialization Steps
Effectively empowering your homeschooled teens to socialize requires careful planning. While most interactions are important, socialization shouldn’t be done in a way that disrupts their learning. Not to mention that you must ensure each activity provides your teen with the most positively impactful interactions. Therefore, it’s important to take practical steps toward enriching social experiences. These may include:
Collaborating with Other Parents
Just as your teen has plenty to learn from others around them, so do you. The best way you promote socialization is by collaborating with other parents. Work with community members and homeschooling programs to organize events and parties that provide opportunities for your homeschoolers to spend time with their peers. Consider interactive activities that can boost their relationships and lean into the shared interests the group of teens may have. Importantly, give them the space to just spend time together independently.
Many communities have programs aimed at helping teens to socialize in safe and supportive environments. This might include local sports teams or outdoor activity groups. In addition, you may even enroll your teen into a coding camp or other training programs if they have science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) interests.
While there are programs specifically aimed toward homeschoolers, they’re advantageous for any young person with shared interests. Socializing with peers with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences tends to be developmentally enriching. Therefore, it’s wise to encourage activities that help them to engage outside of their social comfort zone.
The rise of the digital landscape has provided homeschooling parents and teens with a variety of valuable tools. These aren’t just items that are specifically designed to enhance learning experiences. When used mindfully, technology can also play a role in helping your teen gain social experiences.
Video conferencing technology became a particularly prevalent tool during the distancing necessities of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it’s worth considering how this can help teens socialize with their peers overall as well. These platforms enable students to engage with one another without too much disruption. This may involve shared lessons with other homeschoolers. It could also include virtual gaming sessions or movie screenings.
Social media platforms for anyone with access to an internet connection — not just teenagers. This isn’t entirely a negative thing. They can still gain the benefits of socialization by using these platforms wisely. It can even expose them to a vast array of teenagers from different cultures.
That said, do not overlook the links between social media and negative impacts on youth mental health. Research has shown that body image issues, depression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation can be heightened among young adults from social media use. Cyberbullying can also be prevalent on these channels. This isn’t to say that social media is inherently bad or harmful to teens. As a parent, you must help your child set healthy boundaries on their use and develop open communication about their online behavior.
Socialization plays an important role in teens’ development. Unfortunately, homeschooling isn’t always conducive to contact with a wide range of peers. Therefore, it’s important to take an intentional approach to incorporating socialization into homeschool life. T
Do remember though that teens shouldn’t be forced into forms of socialization they find uncomfortable. Each teen may have different needs and preferences, so don’t be afraid to explore different socialization opportunities to find the right one that suits your teen the best. When in doubt, simply ask them what they’d prefer and work from there.