I just listened to yet another mom describe her “mad teenagers”. This is a problem that seems all-too frequent amongst homeschooling families. And it is not necessary.
A family starts off excitedly homeschooling their little ones, and things go pretty well. Life is fun day-by-day being together. The kids are excited and learning. Mom is delighted with their progress. Read-aloud, field trips, library trips, hands-on science experiments, and more blend together to make a very satisfying lifestyle and educational experience. It seems her children will turn out the best ever! She teaches them about God, about honesty, about manners. They are smarter and more mature and respectful than their peers. Everything is going well.
Fast forward 10 years and it can be quite a different story. Teenagers now, those once-happy-little-ones may be sullen, angry, resistant, unmotivated.
Basically, a young child’s needs are easily met within the family circle. But as that child grows year by year, those needs change. And if Mom the Teacher doesn’t flex and grow to provide for the teen’s needs, frustration and anger can result. This can be especially challenging because mom is probably still having babies, and the little ones are still responding joyfully to her “method”.
For a growing pre-teen, the family circle is becoming a bit cramped. And, because growing-up is new to them, they often can’t really express the growing unrest and resistance they feel. Once you’ve raised a few kids, you come to watch for this malady around 11 years old, give or take. It seems to correspond with self-awareness. Right before you eyes, your child changes from a carefree youth who doesn’t care if his socks match, to a self-conscious adolescent who looks in the mirror too much. If you jump right on it when you see the symptoms, and provide for his needs, life goes on happily. If you continue homeschooling-as-usual, then anger and resistant or sullen behavior can surface, a symptom of those unmet needs.
So what is the cure? Open the circle. Help your teens by striving to provide:
*Association with members of the opposite sex
*Venturing out in the world beyond home
*Relating to adults (outside family relations)
*More challenging schoolwork
*More responsibility in areas that truly contribute (being treated like an adult)
So, how does one put that prescription into practice? Well, a good homeschooling support group can meet lots of those needs all in one swoop. Getting together with other homeschool families that have teens, and rotating the moms as teachers is one of the best ways to give your teens the friends they crave and truly need, as well as other adults to learn from and relate to. It also gives them time out of the family circle, more challenging schoolwork, someone besides Mom to be accountable to, and something to look forward to (and dress for!) When you put your efforts toward building such a group, you will find that your children have opportunity to make friends with those who share your values.
Whenever I hear about homeschooling families that have decided that taking online courses or distance learning would be good for their teens, I shudder. Isolation is the worst prescription for a teen, and that’s what more time on the computer or studying alone brings. It is exactly what will make things worse!
I spend a lot of my time trying to provide the social environment to meet my kids needs. We put on an Annual Homeschool Prom . Within my support group, we have a weekly teen activity, plus our Friday Fun Classes (rotating mom teachers). We have an annual camp-out. Having good like-minded friends and a satisfying social life is important indeed.
In the absence of a good teen group, taking a few classes at a private, charter or public school can fill that need. One drawback is that kids that have been socially deprived may be over-eager and fall in with bad friends, as they are the easiest to win acceptance from. It is worth the effort to seek out a school setting that has the best kids for your teen to go to classes with. Another drawback is that you have mentored your child to this point with solid values which generally include loving to learn, valuing intelligence, not wasting time, not cheating, not focusing on artificial measures of worth (grades, clothes, beauty, brawn) and more. These values will be challenged in a school environment. But going to school part-time is definitely a way to banish restlessness and discontent.
Belonging to a team (whether a ball team, a scouting troop, a dance company, a choir or an orchestra) is a growing experience for teens. They have to be dependable to their peers, and that is the stuff that helps fulfill and define a teen’s sense of “who am I?” Having a job is another way to be part of a team, plus you get paid!
Treating these growing-into-adults kids like adults is excellent therapy. Put them in charge of dinner one night per week, or in charge of grocery shopping or baking the family’s bread, or keeping track of the library books so they don’t get overdue fines, balancing the family checkbook and paying bills, fixing the computer, or any other responsibility that truly contributes in an adult-like way. Give them the job and don’t bail them out on it. Your teen will learn, you will be off-loaded, plus you’ll come to rely on their contribution to the family, and they will feel indispensable in a healthy way.
When we think of homeschooling, we may think “academic”, but raising a whole person requires focusing on their changing needs. Give teens what they need and they will be happy (well, as happy as possible while going through puberty!)
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