by Rebecca Kocsis
It was just an ordinary park day; one of dozens that we had attended since we started homeschooling. The children enjoyed a few hours of unstructured play with the only interruption being for snacks and drinks. We mothers enjoyed the time equally as well, encouraging one another and comparing notes on curriculum and teaching strategies. There was plenty of just plain old visiting, too, as mothers have done for millennia when they get together.
As often happened when our group of families gathered, the kids weren’t ready to say goodbye when park day had ended. It was not uncommon to take a friend home with us, or send one or two of ours off with someone else. This particular day I was sending our older son off with a family with a houseful of boys. If I recall they were digging a “World War I bunker” or something like that in the backyard, which really meant they were digging a giant hole.*
When it was time to leave, dividing up the children to go home or to respective friends’ houses, my son, who was maybe 14 at the time, gave me an unsolicited kiss and hug goodbye. After he had left, a newer homeschool mom asked in amazement, “How did you get him to do that?”
“Kiss you goodbye, right here in front of everyone. My kids would never do that. They would rather die than have their friends see them kiss me goodbye. Sometimes, they would rather not have their friends even see them with family at all!”
I didn’t really have a good answer for her. ”I don’t know,” I shrugged. “We’ve always been ‘huggers and kissers;’ it’s our family way.”
“I want that for my kids!”
In retrospect, I see that freely showing affection without concern for what others were thinking was a byproduct, an unexpected blessing if you will, of homeschooling. Our kids had strong identities in Christ and loved their family. Peer dependence was not an issue.
One of the many reasons we homeschooled was to avoid the “them and us” mentality I had witnessed in teens in our neighborhood. I fully remembered having the same attitude when I was a young teen myself. As an adult, I understood that it sprang from peer dependence and the need to fit in with friends rather than family. Our goal was for our children to find their identity in the Lord first, then the family. And their peers’ opinions should not matter.
So, if your family are “huggers and kissers” like mine, and you want it to stay that way, especially during the teen years, keep your kids at home. If you perceive your child is developing peer dependence, reconsider how many activities outside the home they have. I highly recommend families keep homeschooling their high school aged kids. This is the time many families consider sending their kids to traditional school. That’s counterintuitive if you want youngsters to continue to develop identities independent of their peers. Why encumber them with the burden that comes from peer dependency?
If you are new to homeschooling and your children are already peer dependent, here are two things you can do, though I may be overstating the obvious.
Limit their exposure to peers. When my children would not be kind to one another, I declared the next few days as “friend free” days. If they couldn’t get along with siblings, then they couldn’t play with friends. They were not allowed to mistreat their family members and then act “sweet as pie” with their friends. That was hypocrisy, plain and simple. They had to earn time with friends.
Invest in building relationships with family. Simple things like doing home projects together helped to build relationships. And it doesn’t have to be a home remodel. Teaching how to do laundry, cooking, changing a tire; all of these can be relationship building.
You may see a pattern here; it’s time. Limiting time with peers and increasing time with family. That’s the beauty of homeschooling; you are giving your children the gift of your time. Time spent together builds relationships, which fosters a strong family identity.
I understand that these can be easier said than done. However, being intentional about this will pay off for the rest of your lives. That son of mine who wasn’t ashamed to kiss me goodbye in front of his peers when he was 14, still greets me with a kiss and a hug in his 40s. Better than that, he’s intentional about developing a strong family identity with his own.
*By the way, I highly recommend having teen boys do hard work. You are feeding those youngsters and helping to build those bones and muscles. They need to use them! There’s nothing wrong with digging a hole for the simple enjoyment of digging a hole, as long as you have a place for that. Give them constructive work to do, too. Wear them out. They’ll be much more pleasant to be around as they grow into young men.