socializing homeschoolers - myths and reality

Stop Overemphasizing Socializing Homeschoolers | The Teen Edition

Inside: Tackling the hot topic of socializing homeschoolers, this article navigates the delicate balance between actively seeking social opportunities and honoring the unique individuality of each homeschooled child.

“What about socialization?” This omnipresent, cringey socialization question is often the first one you’ll hear when you start homeschooling. It’s been dubbed the dreaded “s” question among veteran homeschoolers.

And you will often find us, long-term homeschoolers, rolling our eyes at it because it’s deeply rooted in assumptions.

But even we fall prey to the myth of homeschool socialization when our kids hit the teen years. Homeschooling a teenager is difficult enough as it is. That’s when we start fretting over whether they will be fit for college or life beyond homeschooling.

Here’s the deal. We all want our teens to be independent and do well in life beyond the homeschool, but are we maybe exaggerating in our efforts to ‘socialize’ them at times? We love encouraging child-led learning, but we never stop to think about child-led socializing.

The challenge of socializing homeschoolers is multifaceted. However overemphasizing socialization can be counterproductive. From my perspective as a product of public schooling in Europe, where social dynamics are viewed differently than in the States, I see the need for a balanced approach.

And my take on it is clear: let’s dial down the overemphasis on socializing in the traditional sense—meeting with peers at all costs isn’t always necessary, especially if it goes against your teen’s own preferences and comfort.

One quick question before we begin: How many weird, socially awkward people have you met who weren’t homeschooled?

Socializing homeschoolers stop oversocializng your homeschooled teens

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What does ‘socializing’ even mean?

I hate using the word ‘socializing’ because it’s so easy to misinterpret.

Who can tell what a perfect social individual looks like? Are we all perfect models of this? Does traditional school guarantee anything on the social front? What is enough socialization and who decides this?

Socialization is one of the most misused terms in the world of homeschooling. It’s shrouded in confusion because for some it means knowing how to act in the world, while for others it simply means meeting with peers.

Here’s the issue with the second view: we assume kids learn how to act in the world by copying and following the behavior of other kids their age (who are also only learning how to act in the world themselves). See the problem?

Similarly, we assume homeschooled teens are ‘weird’ because they haven’t been ‘socialized’… but let’s be real for a moment. Teenagers. Are. Weird whether they come from public school or homeschool. That’s a normal stage in life.

I even warned Marc of his upcoming years of weirdness and clumsiness. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? It has no connection to being homeschooled or public schooled.

homeschool socializing

It’s time to let go of the weird unsocialized homeschoolers myth. Unsocialized people can come from anywhere

I’ll tell you a story. Bear with me.

I live in Europe in a country where homeschooling is seen as a fancy. We have generations upon generations of traditionally schooled adults and children. Are they all socialized? Isn’t anyone weird?

Yet, we never stop to point our finger at public (or private) schools for producing such socially unfit people, do we? We always look at homeschoolers and wonder if they are ‘socialized’ enough.

A friend of mine told me about her neighbors. So socially awkward they only leave their house at night. They DO NOT meet with people, their house is in complete neglect. In fact, passing by it, you would think their house is uninhabited.

Weird, unsocialized people are everywhere and they can come from anywhere. Do you know any that come from public school?

People wrongly assume that homeschooling high school means not stepping outside the home, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. The lack of socialization everyone fears is wrongly placed on homeschooling and it has nothing to do with the educational system you choose, but everything to do with the environment, whether it’s public school or at home.

Of course, in a homeschool setting the children and adults have to step out for kids to interact with the outside world. Children who attend school are already out of the house. But when it comes to homeschooling, we forget or wrongly assume it all happens ‘at home’.

Let me tell you that homeschooling happens in a variety of social settings, from going to the library or on field trips, being part of a homeschooling community, taking outside classes, co-ops, and more. Most kids also participate in extracurricular activities and have plenty of opportunities to socialize with their peers and stay in touch with friends, especially now, with technology so ever-present.

Are homeschoolers social?

We, as human beings, are social. We learn social behavior at home and out in the world, by observing others. The focus word here is ‘The World’.

Many times we assume that kids learn social skills from being in school. Is school really equating ‘the world’ now?

Since public school is a thing (dating back roughly 200 years ago) we’ve started looking at it as the only place to raise ‘socially adept individuals’ and the only place where we can meet our children’s socialization needs. If this is true, that means all people who lived more than 200 years ago were unsocial.

When in school, kids don’t have the opportunity to interact the same way adults do in real life. We, as adults, have a say in the kinds of people we hang out with, and the kinds of activities we want to be involved in. We have the right to walk away if something doesn’t feel right. Traditionally-schooled children are forced into social situations that they can’t control and I honestly compare them to the forced socialization of inmates. You would become the friend of your cell mate because you’ve been forced to see and interact with them daily.

Have you seen the groups of traditionally schooled children? Did you notice they tend to conglomerate in cliques with peers the same age? In your job, do you only work with people the same age as you?

socializing in homeschool settings

I came across an interesting read (it’s not long):

“7,306 adults who had been homeschooled completed a survey in order to determine their community and civic engagement patterns. The author concluded that students who had been homeschooled for seven or more years (N=5,254) were more likely to have earned college credit, participated in community service, and voted in the past five years when compared to the general population in the United States (Ray 2004).”

Of course, there are exceptions on both sides. There are both unsocialized homeschoolers and unsocialized traditional-schooled people, but as I said, we rarely (if ever) stop to point at the unsocialized public-schooled individuals and blame the school.

Unfortunately, the concerns about homeschooling hindering the socialization opportunities for your child are still prevalent among people who don’t understand how homeschooling works. They fear homeschool kids are kept in a bubble, away from meeting other people. The truth is homeschoolers connect to people across all ages and social backgrounds, much more than their traditional-schooled peers.

Homeschooling and socialization – why homeschooled teens may be better equipped for diverse social situations

If you come to think about it, the findings of the previous study aren’t that surprising. There are multiple ways homeschooled students are exposed to real-life situations, and some of these socialization opportunities simply aren’t present in a traditional school setting.

Many homeschoolers choose real life to offer opportunities for socialization. So let’s see why homeschooled teens might be better equipped for diverse real-life situations:

  • Individualized Learning Environment: Homeschooling often involves personalized education tailored to the child’s strengths, interests, and learning pace. This individualized approach can foster self-confidence and self-awareness, traits that are beneficial in diverse social contexts. Confident individuals are generally more comfortable and adaptable in varied social situations.
  • Exposure to a Variety of Age Groups: Unlike traditional schools where students interact primarily with peers of the same age, homeschooled teens often engage with a broader range of age groups. This exposure can enhance their ability to communicate and empathize with different age groups, making them more adaptable in social environments ranging from interactions with younger children to conversations with adults.
  • Family-Centric Socialization: The close-knit family environment typical in homeschooling can lead to the development of strong interpersonal skills within a family setting. These skills, such as empathy, communication, and conflict resolution, are transferable to broader social situations.
  • Diverse Social Interactions: Homeschooled teens usually participate in various community groups, clubs, sports teams, and volunteer activities. These diverse interactions provide opportunities to develop social skills in different settings, preparing them for a wide range of social environments.
homeschool socializing in a homeschool setting
  • Less Exposure to Peer Pressure: Homeschooled teens may be less influenced by peer pressure and the need to conform to group norms prevalent in traditional school settings. This can lead to the development of a more independent and authentic self, which is a valuable asset in social situations.
  • Developed Conflict Resolution Skills: In homeschooling, there’s often a greater emphasis on direct communication and resolving conflicts within the family. These skills are crucial in managing social interactions and relationships effectively.
  • Cultural and Global Exposure: Many homeschooling families incorporate travel and cultural learning into their curriculum, giving their children broader exposure to different cultures and global perspectives. This exposure can make homeschooled teens more culturally aware and sensitive in diverse social settings.
  • Emphasis on Community Involvement: Homeschooled teens often engage more in community service and local events. This involvement can foster a sense of community and civic responsibility, skills that are valuable in diverse social situations.
  • Time Management and Independence: Homeschooling often requires teens to manage their time and take responsibility for their learning. These skills are crucial in social situations where independence and the ability to navigate different environments are important.
  • Reduced Social Anxiety: Without the social pressures and anxieties common in traditional school environments, homeschooled teens may develop a more relaxed and open approach to social interactions.

Some homeschooled teens complain when they reach college

It’s true that some homeschooled teens feel they haven’t been properly prepared for college life. The truth is, they might have never experienced the other side of the coin.

Are traditionally-schooled individuals taught anything special about college life or real life in school? I must have missed that memo.

I feel that homeschooled individuals are wondering if their peers in school learned anything valuable to help them navigate their college years. I also feel since homeschoolers are so in tune with their authentic selves, they are more likely to speak up and notice things they know (or don’t know) compared to their school peers.

For me, the shock of college was present even though I came from a public school setting. Moving to a new city on my own, and navigating busy schedules with little support and guidance… these were all big things to adjust to. And no, public school didn’t prepare me for it. I had to learn how to schedule and prioritize on my own.

But now I know what to emphasize when homeschooling my rising teen.

homeschool teen museum

Psychological aspects of social development in homeschooled teens – some backed-by-science info

In case you didn’t know them, I thought I’d mention four key theories of social development in teens and what they mean in a homeschool environment.

I might be biased, but there’s strong evidence in favor of creating a nurturing environment for kids to grow in; an environment lacking the pressure, bullying, violence, and cliques that are universally present in all traditional school environments.

According to the Attachment Theory by Bowlby and Ainsworth a strong emotional and physical attachment to at least one primary caregiver is critical for personal development. For homeschooled teens, the intensified family interaction could foster a secure base, promoting self-esteem and social confidence.

You might think this is more important in the early years, but:

“In a nutshell, research shows that attachment security in adolescence exerts precisely the same effect on development as it does in early childhood: a secure base fosters exploration and the development of cognitive, social and emotional competence (51). Studies of nonclinical samples (52,53) show that securely attached adolescents are less likely to engage in excessive drinking, drug use and risky sexual behaviour.”

Moretti MM, Peled M. Adolescent-parent attachment: Bonds that support healthy development. Paediatr Child Health. 2004 Oct;9(8):551-555. doi: 10.1093/pch/9.8.551. PMID: 19680483; PMCID: PMC2724162.

The Social Learning Theory by Bandura posits that children learn social behaviors by observing and imitating others, and through rewards and punishments. In homeschooling, parents and siblings often become primary role models.

Do we really want our high schoolers to learn how to behave from observing their peers?

I know I don’t. There are so many negative behaviors parents of traditional-schooled kids are trying to correct at home. And it’s not easy, considering kids spend most of their days in school.

“Social learning theory proposes that adolescents learn behaviors by experiencing, observing, and interacting with individuals in their environment. Parents, in particular, serve as important socializing agents for adolescents, especially in their role as disciplinarians. Through consistent use of reward and discipline, parents teach adolescents what behaviors are considered acceptable versus unacceptable. Over time, adolescents who experience consistent parental discipline engage in acceptable prosocial behaviors because they develop the ability to foresee future consequences. If discipline is not applied consistently and adolescents perceive that there is a chance that parental punishment can be eluded, they may be more likely to engage in transgressive behaviors (Bandura, 1986Stouthamer-Loeber & Loeber, 1986).”

Halgunseth LC, Perkins DF, Lippold MA, Nix RL. Delinquent-oriented attitudes mediate the relation between parental inconsistent discipline and early adolescent behavior. J Fam Psychol. 2013 Apr;27(2):293-302. doi: 10.1037/a0031962. PMID: 23544924; PMCID: PMC3881539.
homeschools are socialized
Museums are great places to meet new people and discover new hobbies

According to Erikson’s Stages of Psychological Development, there are eight stages through which a healthy developing individual should pass from infancy to late adulthood. Erikson’s stages, particularly the fifth stage – Identity vs. Role Confusion, is a critical phase for teenagers (Erikson, 1968). Homeschooling can offer a less pressured environment for identity exploration.

The truth is that most homeschooled teens know what they want. They know what they know, and what they need to learn, and they have the perfect environment to discover themselves with no pressure and a nurturing environment offered by most homeschool families.

“Erikson stressed the necessity for adolescents to find people and ideas in which to have
faith. Common to humankind and most markedly present during adolescence is the need to feel
special and unique, accompanied by a need to belong (Erikson, 1963). How can one belong if
one is unique? It is that the quest for identity involves finding people, ideas, and ideals with
which one can identify and eventually commit. Successful identity achievement requires
positive parental involvement, meaningful peer interactions, and opportunities for societal
interaction and involvement. Adams, Dyk and Bennion (1990) supported the premise that
nurturing parents promote high quality exploration leading to subsequent commitment of a
personal ideology, a hallmark of identity achievement. Proponents of home education assert the
home to be the most appropriate educational context by providing an environment free of the
distractions caused by what many refer to as social ills prevalent in the public school system
(e.g., bullying, violence, ostracizing by cliques) thus facilitating freedom of expression (Davis,
2005; Gaither, 2008; Gathercole, 2007; Murphy, 2012; Ray, 2009). Additionally, homeschool parents share the belief that the flexibility in scheduling expands the availability of opportunities
for engagement in the larger environment (Gaither, 2008; Murphy, 2012; Ray, 2009). Parental
support for and encouragement of autonomy unquestionably available in the day-to-day
homeschool setting provides a basis for exploration integral to the formation of identity.”

Peggy Joan McQueen, Identity Formation of Adolescents who are Homeschooled: Mothers’ Perceptions, 2019

And finally, Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory emphasizes the fundamental role of social interaction in the development of cognition. In homeschooling, the challenge is to provide diverse social interactions that can stimulate cognitive and social growth. This means creating opportunities for homeschoolers to interact with the world around them. Most families already do that by allowing kids to participate in diverse extracurricular activities, classes, or other opportunities to socialize with other kids.

“One of the most common reasons for homeschooling is the ability to individualize the learning environment and curriculum for each child (Ray, 2016). With this in mind, it is appropriate that Vygotsky’s (1978) sociocultural theory framed this study, since Vygotsky (1978) taught that the environment plays a key role in learning and development. Three important components of the sociocultural theory ofcognitive development that affect home education are the Zone of Proximal Development, the More Knowledgeable Other, and the concept of scaffolding (Vygotsky, 1978).”

socializing in homeschooling settings
Finding out about the world in an aquarium in Bournemouth

Do you need even more proof? Here are more studies on the effects of homeschooling on socialization:

  • Diverse Age Group Exposure: Homeschooled teens frequently interact with a broader age range than their traditionally schooled peers. This exposure can enhance social adaptability and empathy, as it requires them to communicate and empathize with various age groups (Medlin, 2013).
  • Peer Interaction and Development of Social Skills: While homeschooled teens may have fewer daily interactions with peers, the quality of these interactions can be more substantive (Medlin, 2000). Participation in extracurricular activities, community groups, and online forums can provide varied social experiences.
  • Building Resilience and Independence: The homeschooling environment, which often promotes self-directed learning, can also cultivate resilience and independence in social settings. Homeschooled teens may develop unique coping strategies for social challenges, fostering adaptability and problem-solving skills (Romanowski, 2006).

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Respect your homeschooled teen – balanced approach to socializing homeschoolers

I see it all the time. In the rush to ensure all checkboxes are ticked, homeschool parents are frantically searching for more activities to enroll their kids in because they worry about socialization.

While this is all fine if the teens actually ask for these and want to participate, I feel we often miss an important aspect: teens should be allowed to have a say in what they want to participate in or not. Every child is different, so they have different social needs.

Respecting your teen’s individuality, especially when it comes to their social preferences as introverts or extroverts, is crucial in nurturing their overall development. Here are some strategies to consider when thinking about socializing homeschoolers:

Recognize that each teen has unique social needs. Introverts may prefer small, intimate gatherings, while extroverts might thrive in larger, more dynamic groups. There’s nothing wrong with having fewer friends or meeting them less often.

Rather than running to create ‘playdate’ opportunities for your teens with every single homeschool mom you come across (remember those toddler years?), emphasize the importance of meaningful interactions rather than the number of social engagements. Encourage your teen to foster deeper connections with a few friends rather than superficial relationships with many. The goal isn’t to make friends no matter what,

Finally, communication is key! Maintain an open dialogue with your teen about their social preferences. Regularly check in to understand their comfort levels and any changes in their social needs. Homeschooling is all about adapting to the kids’ needs. Why would it be different when socializing is at play?

socializing in homeschool
Marc exploring England when he was 7

Now that you know what social interactions suit your teen and what activities to present them with, start looking for (or even consider creating) these opportunities for them. Some teens will voice their desire to meet more people. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Interest-Based Groups: Encourage involvement in clubs or groups that align with your teen’s interests. This could include art classes, sports teams, science clubs, or book groups, where they can meet like-minded peers. If you can’t find any in your teen’s niche, consider organizing these along with your teen.
  • Community Service and Volunteering: Engaging in community service or volunteering can provide social interaction while also fostering a sense of purpose and contribution.
  • Tutoring Younger Students: A great way to develop responsibility and social skills is by asking your teen to tutor a younger student in the subject that they are best at.
  • Online Communities: For teens who are more introverted or have niche interests, online communities can be a great way to connect with others who share similar passions.
  • Homeschool Group, Co-op, or Network: Joining a homeschool co-op or network can provide a structured environment for social interaction with peers who have similar educational backgrounds.
  • Part-Time Jobs: For older teens, part-time jobs can offer a way to develop social skills in a more adult environment, teaching responsibility and teamwork.
  • Extracurricular Activities and Clubs: Activities outside of the homeschool curriculum, such as music, dance, sports, or robotics clubs, can offer valuable social experiences.
  • Camps and Field Trip Experiences: These are excellent opportunities for homeschoolers to socialize with diverse groups of kids their age. Camps are great ways of fostering independence skills and also exposing them to short bursts of spending longer periods of time with peers. If your teen isn’t keen on the camp experience, a day field trip might be better suited for them.
homeschooling socializing

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Finally, as I always like to say, balance is everything.

Teens are old enough to know how they feel about certain situations. Allow your teen to make their own decisions regarding social activities. This autonomy can boost their confidence and decision-making skills.

At the same time understand and respect your teen’s boundaries. If they feel overwhelmed or uninterested in certain social settings, it’s important to acknowledge and accept their feelings.

For example, I always hated camps. I still do. It’s not something I will willingly subject myself to. I don’t enjoy it. Some teens might feel the same and it has nothing to do with being homeschooled or public schooled.

Some teens might thrive in demanding social situations and love being surrounded by lots of kids their age. Others might prefer keeping their social calendar less crowded. There’s no right or wrong way to do it.

By respecting and supporting your teen’s social preferences, whether they are introverted or extroverted, you can help them develop into well-rounded individuals.

The goal is to provide a balanced approach to socialization that respects their individuality while also offering opportunities to develop essential social skills.

homeschooled kids
Marc exploring the streets of India when he was 5

To wrap it up

My opinion might be unpopular, but it’s something I stand by: there’s no need to worry about socializing your homeschooler. A child’s social skills develop in real-world situations. As long as your teens are exposed to the real world and real life, they will gain the social skills they need.

The real crux of the matter lies in understanding and respecting individuality. Whether a teen is an introvert or an extrovert, the key is not to overemphasize socialization for the sake of ticking societal boxes but to nurture it in a way that aligns with their personal growth and comfort. Homeschooling, in its essence, is not a one-size-fits-all model, and this flexibility is its greatest strength in fostering social competence.

Let’s not get caught up in the age-old trap of thinking that the only way to socialize is by following the traditional schooling playbook. Homeschooling isn’t about sheltering or isolating kids. On the contrary, it’s about giving them the freedom to explore, engage, and interact with the world on their own terms. And guess what? The research backs this up. Those homeschooled kids aren’t just keeping pace with their traditionally schooled peers – they’re often out there leading the pack, armed with empathy, confidence, and a sense of community.

So, as we wrap this up, here’s a shout-out to all the homeschooling families: You’re doing great. Keep focusing on what works for your teen. Whether they’re the life of the party or the quiet thinker, they’re learning, growing, and getting ready to take on the world in their own unique way.

And that is what true education is all about – preparing our young ones not just for a test or a job, but for the grand, messy, wonderful adventure of life itself. Here’s to the road less traveled – it’s turning out to be pretty awesome, after all!

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  1. As a co-op psychology teacher – I love your application to homeschooled high schoolers. I can’t wait to share it with my class, as we’re literally beginning to cover developmental psychology this week!

  2. I apologize I haven’t had time to read the article, but wanted to give my general opinion as a home schooler. Someone pointed that nobody goes around asking adults “Do you have friends? Did you socialize today?” Why do we ask that for kids? it’s normal humanity to just talk to each other. Children are born into families and they have natural interaction with older and younger, which is what they face in real life. In homeschooling, the children are with their parents as they go to the store, the bank, etc. They learn real life interactions. Where was it decided to be normal to take 100 kids from their homes, throw them in a building with little adult supervision and that is good? I’d call that “throwing them to the wolves”. THAT is not normal! And not the kind of socialization I want my kids to have-to learn how to hate, bully, talk about drugs, etc. No thank you! I would love for my kids to meet a few kids at the park and have one good friend, interact with cousins etc. That’s good. If they want friends, they will make friends, young and old wherever we go. If they are introverted etc. and want no friends, then fine! Why are we forcing kids to have tons of “friends” whether they want them or not? That is absurd, but it’s beyond difficult to convince the public schoolers of this.

    1. It’s true. We respect the decisions in choosing friends, and having less people you meet with for grown-ups, but we forget to take kids’ feelings into on the subject into consideration. It became almost like a checklist: “socializing: done!” And it shouldn’t be like that at all. Kids learn from real life. And teens, especially, should have a bigger say in the way they want to interact with others. We should just respect kids’ wishes the same way we encourage child-led learning, we should encourage child-led socializing.

  3. Hi Laura
    I love that you put this out there and I agree so much with you. People have this whole idea of what is “normal” and what socializing should look like for everyone. Public school has only been a thing for such a short period of time when you look at the big picture. My daughter has been homeschooled her whole “school life” ( 5 years ) and she is only of the most social people I know.
    Like always I’m loving the content you’re putting out there 👍🏼. Maybe one day the stigma surrounding homeschoolers will be a thing of the past.

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