“What about socialization?”

Homeschoolers have been fielding this question for two generations now. The responses range from positive reassurance (“Our kids are involved in church/sports/clubs/volunteer work”) to defensive (“Mainstream ‘socialization’ has a lot of negatives that we want to avoid”).

The good news for today’s homeschooling parents is that the answer is a lot easier than it used to be. All you have to say is, “Internet.”

Let me explain.

Online culture can go beyond any physical circle of socialization. Kids no longer have to be in the same place, under the same system, to share the same culture. And yes, I do consider this a good development.

It’s not that “fitting in” is a major priority to me. I never fit in very well—not in my public school circle, where I read too much and had chronic bad hair; nor later in my ultra-conservative homeschooling circle, where I was too sarcastic and only grudgingly wore dresses. As an adult, I realized that nonconformity is a good thing when the majority opinion is veering into bad practices and dangerous ideals. So why am I advocating the benefits of sharing the same culture with those around us, especially via internet with all its risks and dangers?

I’ll pause here and give a little of my backstory. While homeschooling itself was a very good educational experience for me, I can’t say the same for the subculture I was in. This culture pressured me heavily to withdraw from “the world” and my “peers.” They rightly identified risks in mainstream culture, but their solution wasn’t to learn balance, practice safety, and how to handle challenges. It was to eschew all mainstream music, shows, movies, books, games—anything that was “worldly” and therefore dangerous. Then I grew up, got married, and had to start all over with new friends in a new town. My cultural knowledge for an entire decade was a blank. The other women connected over shared interests and experiences, while I scrambled to keep up. It wasn’t that I wished I’d spent my teenage years getting drunk or watching trashy movies. I just wanted to know what they were talking about. I relied heavily on that wonderful new invention, Google, to fill in the huge gaps in my knowledge.

Meanwhile, I was raising my own kids. I saw early on that they registered pretty far over on the “quirky” scale and would struggle to fit into any kind of system. Homeschooling has given all of us room to explore our interests and personalities without condemnation for not conforming. At the same time, Darren and I have made a strong effort to involve the kids in outside activities so they have touchstones in common with their generation.

Then along came the internet, with social media, chats, groups, fandoms, and forums—and our job became exponentially easier.

We approach the internet with the same idea as IRL (in real life) culture. Among the mostly benign people, videos, and posts, there are some villainous ones. We teach our children from a young age that you can’t automatically trust anything you read or see on the internet. I’ll quiz them occasionally: “What’s the first thing you think when you read something on the internet? ‘This probably isn’t true.’ And then check it.” They know to never give out personal information, not even their first names. For other internet safety ideas, check out Amy’s post and HSLDA’s interview with Leah Nieman. We allow our children to interact online but we’re careful about how they do it.

And we’ve found that it’s worth engaging with the culture. This summer, my girls went to camp with 4-H kids from two counties. It’s unlikely that they were the only homeschoolers there, but the question never came up. The culture among the campers was very much internet-inspired. They all quoted the same memes, rattled off the same catchphrases, and referred to the same social media sites. Bookgirl and Sparkler were perfectly at home. It made the whole camping experience much more enjoyable. I wished I’d had such a seamless transition myself.

Obviously you set your own standards for your own family; but I think it’s good for homeschooling parents to let their kids “hang out” online. Let them read what others post, watch what others talk about, and contribute their own ideas.

So yes, we homeschoolers read good books, get together with friends, explore interests, and get to be as quirky as God made us. At the same time, I’d encourage you to be open to the internet culture of silly memes, videos, photos, gaming, fandoms, and chats—while also working with your children to understand the dangers and cultivate safe practices.

So, what about socialization? Well, in this new generation, welcome to the internet.


Photo Credit: iStock