Much has been written about the “generation gap.” It seems common knowledge that when children become teens, their ability to communicate with their parents becomes distorted. Or is it the parents’ ability to communicate with their teens that becomes distorted? I can never remember which way it is supposed to be. Having had two teens in my house, you might figure I would have had this problem more clearly identified, but the truth is, I’m still waiting for it to appear. In my house, as in many other Christian homeschooling households, the “generation gap” has never seemed to materialize.
I remember when I was 15 or 16. The very idea of going to a restaurant (or almost any other public place) with my parents was downright humiliating. Was I afraid I’d look childish by being out with “Mommy and Daddy”? Maybe I thought their old-fashioned ways would make me appear less cool (although no one thought about being “cool” back then; we all wanted to be “far out.”) But my mom never seemed too old-fashioned, even to me. Maybe what annoyed me was my mom’s insistence that I wear nylons every time I stepped out in a dress. I’m not sure exactly what it was, but I sure didn’t want to spend a Friday evening with my folks.
I tried to explain this to my teenage sons and they always asked, “What? Were you crazy? Turn down a free dinner?” I explain that the meal, itself, had nothing to do with it. That much I do remember. I just didn’t want to go anywhere with my parents. “But they’re so nice!” admonish my sons. “We like to go out with them. And we sure wouldn’t turn them down if they were paying!” Feeling foolish, I usually drop the subject about this time. After all, I was delighted that my children like to spend time with their grandparents, as well as with their dad and me. I just think it’s interesting that this “generation gap” thing isn’t the given that I was told it would be.
How did we avoid “generation gap” problems? We simply never allowed a gap to develop along generational lines. Oh, we had our problems and disagreements. There are different times during the growing up process that are harder to handle than others. Early adolescents can seem at times to be “brain-dead” (as a friend quaintly put it.) But that has nothing to do with a generation gap. They are equally “brain dead” around young or old, friends, or family, at home or in public. That problem, I’m convinced, is simply a hormonal thing that passes when the growth spurt stops, thus allowing blood to flow back through the head. It has nothing to do with a misunderstanding between generations.
In our home, we are grateful for the faithful teaching of modern pioneers in the Christian community who helped us to see that generation gaps don’t have to be the norm. We began early on by keeping our children with us in church, rather than having everyone head off to their age-segregated peer groups. We made a real splash with our circle of friends when we locked the doors to the children’s room during barbeques and other parties. We didn’t want all the children to head immediately for our sons’ room, intoxicated with the experience of emptying drawers of toys. We parents would so easily forget to keep a close watch until someone “stole” someone else’s toy, or worse. Then our guests would go home, and we would have the hours-long task of cleaning the toys. So we began by choosing just a few things we thought the children would enjoy playing with, like our huge collection of Legos or Brio train tracks. We put them in the room where the parents would be chatting, and we locked the children’s bedroom door. We were met with surprise at first, but guess what happened? Pretty soon the parents were helping build the train track, and everyone was having a great time, regardless of age.
Homeschooling does much to protect children from the notion that the best way to learn or play is with a group of people who are all within 12 months of your own age. We were always very selective when it comes to parties, outings, overnights, and the like. We allowed our boys to play sports, and the community teams are divided according to age, but again, we’ve been cautious. Our first T-ball league allowed, even encouraged, dads to be out on the field with the players, so there were almost as many adults as children. Our final year of baseball, on the other hand, was dismal. It was a new league for us, a more “serious” league, where all the coach seemed to do was compare notes with the assistant coach about which eleven-year-old had “major league potential.” The boys in the dugout were not supervised and began behaving badly. The coach cussed out the umpire. We left baseball in disgust, but with sadness, too, because it was a game our boys really enjoyed.
Our whole child-raising experience was kind of like the T-ball and baseball leagues. We had some great times of fellowship, and we had some sad ones when we had to walk away from a group or activity that was not uplifting. We found that in the long run, it is vastly easier to avoid the bad situations than it is to leave them once you’re right in the middle. It was hard for us, as parents, but it was even harder for our children because they were usually more swayed by their emotions. We had to choose between activities that might be “okay” in favor of the ones we believed were “best.”
In all honesty, our family’s decision to avoid generation gaps meant that at times my children were lonely. We were notorious even in the conservative Christian homeschool community for our avoidance of youth groups and dating. But we weren’t perfect, and the path we chose was not without its trials. There have been times when my children pointed out to me that everyone else in the world, it seems, had been allowed to see this or that movie. Everyone else had friends over when there were no parents home. Everyone else went to youth group, to youth camp, or to some other church-sanctioned teen activity.
Is this where you find yourself as the school year moves toward summer? Are your children feeling lonely and left out. Are they pushing at you to allow them to participate in activities you aren’t sure about, or do they want to “go back to school?” Please allow me to encourage you that it does get easier. After a season or two of watching “everyone else” participate in the activity you won’t allow, your children will see the fruit begin to blossom in their own lives. They will see the struggles their old friends in school are having. It won’t likely happen all at once, but little by little your children will thank you for standing firm in your values, and thus, by example, teaching them to stand firm, too.
If you need encouragement, as your children are becoming teens and young adults, and if they are in need of encouragement as well, there are some great resources available. The books, tapes, and seminars I’ve listed below will each demonstrate that though we sometimes feel like Elijah did, as if we’re the only ones standing for the Lord’s way, there are, indeed many others who stand with us.
Critique of Modern Youth Ministry by Christopher Schlect
Bold Christian Youth Seminar Audio Tapes by Jonathan Lindvall
Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot
Thoughts for Young Men by J.C. Ryle
Christian Courtship vs. The Dating Game by Jim West
Of Knights and Fair Maidens: A Radical New Approach to a Very Old Way of Developing Relationships by Jeff and Danielle Myers
His Perfect Faithfulness: The Story of Our Courtship by Eric and Leslie Ludy
Copyright 1997. Used by permission of the author. Originally published in CHEA’s Parent Educators Newsletter.
Mary Schofield and husband Paul began homeschooling in 1986. Their children graduated, married, moved into their own homes, got decent jobs, and are doing fine out in “the real world” despite the fears of homeschool naysayers. Mary wrote The High School Handbook, a guide to home educating junior and senior high school students, based on years of experience, research, and prayer. She speaks at home education conventions throughout the United States, encouraging parents to seek God’s unique plan for their families. Mary serves on CHEA’s Board of Directors. She also found time to go back to school, get a law degree, and become an attorney with her own practice in northern California.
Mary is presenting Preparing for High School at CHEA’s 30th Annual Convention, May 29, 30, and 31, 2014.