by Elizabeth Foss
The end of the school year is a natural time for assessing children’s academic progress. It is also a good time to assess their social development. When we first began home-schooling, the question my husband and I heard most often was, “What about socialization?” The concern was that our children would not be properly socialized without spending the majority of their day in the company of at least twenty-five of their peers. That fear seems to have been put to rest. Our children have friends in the neighborhood, at church, and on athletic teams. They seem to function quite well in the company of other children and they are also able to speak comfortably with adults.
Curiously, the question I have heard most frequently lately has been, “Do you think if I home-schooled my child, his behavior would improve?” This question is asked with a detectable edge of desperation in the voice of the inquiring parent. Increasingly, it is being asked by frightened parents of children in upper elementary grades. It is certainly an interesting spin on the old socialization question.
I hesitate to offer home education as a panacea for poor behavior. Nor do I think that every child in the school system is poorly behaved. However, there are some children who could benefit greatly from being brought home.
What faces the parent who decides to educate at home a child who was previously in the school system is much hard work and more than a little frustration. It is both the removal from the peer-driven environment and the massive infusion of time with a loving parent that will bring about change in behavior and more importantly, in attitude. But not without some pain—for both parent and child. Home education is an enormous undertaking and jumping in in the middle is certainly a challenge. For the parent of an out-of-control or increasingly disobedient child, it is a challenge worth prayerful consideration.
It is tempting, when faced with a difficult child, to push him away. The parent feels as if he or she is both responsible for the poor behavior and powerless over it. This sense of failure causes the parent to turn the child over to the school for “fixing.” The parent hopes, in desperation, that someone “more qualified” can rectify the situation. There is no one more qualified than the parent. It is a qualification bestowed on the parent by the Creator. With abdication of responsibility to the school, the wedge between parent and child grows and the problem escalates. The upper elementary years seem to be the most pivotal ones.
Michael Farris, an attorney who is president of the Home School Legal Defense Association and the father of ten home-schooled children, is uniquely qualified to remark on the topic of behavior and home education. In a recent article in The Washington Times he wrote:
“Home-schooling parents generally find that by the time their children are 10 or 11 years old, episodes of deliberate disobedience are relatively rare. Their children are not perfect, but open defiance and rebellion against parental rules are uncommon among 10- to 13-year-old home-schooled children.
“If your child is in this age group, ask yourself: Is he or she getting better or worse in terms of normal behavior?
“If your child is getting worse, it is fair to assume two things: First, your child probably is falling under the significant influence of peers who are moving collectively into premature and excessive youth rebellion. It’s not just a matter of associating with the wrong children, however. It may be that your child spends too much time with children and not enough time with you.
“A sure sign of submersion in the peer-dependent culture of youth is growing rebellion. Unless you want increasing rebellion for the next few years, you will want to consider a form of education that delivers academic instruction without excessive peer dependency.
“You want children who are becoming smart without becoming smart alecks. Do your checkup and see if you think your child has been well-served by the educational choice you followed this past year. Perhaps home-schooling is an alternative your family may want to consider.”