Recently my daughter attended a party that could have come right off the set of one of those "Just Say No" public service campaigns. A group of girls were pressuring her into doing something she didn't want to do. The activity wasn't grossly immoral, but it was contrary to her faith, and contrary to her dignity as a young woman. Her friends at the party thought she was just being shy, or prudish — you know, "that homeschooler." They kept trying to persuade her to join in. She politely declined and found something else to do.
She told me about the incident afterwards. It was one the best things a mom could hope to hear. At an age when other kids are desperate to fit in with the crowd, my daughter had a clearly defined sense of who she was and how she wanted to be treated, and she wasn't going to compromise herself for the sake of being popular. She also told me, "Other than that, it was a really fun party. I wish they'd host one every month."
And if they did? I'd probably let her go.
I know the moms who were hosting this party, and they had worked hard to put together an event that was both fun and well-chaperoned, with a pile of activities centering on sports, games, and crafts. I also knew in advance that these moms didn't share our perspective on certain questions of the faith. Given that my daughter is well-catechized and knows to look elsewhere for advice on faith and morals, we agreed this event was fine. Not a problem, despite the little incidents that might crop up.
Social life is like this. There are no perfect friends.
An essential social skill is discernment. Given that all of my friends are going to fall short of the glory of God, does this particular friendship help me live more the way God wants me to? Am I relating to people in a way that meets my need for connectedness without compromising my need for holiness? And what is my role in this friendship? Even among children, there is a time and place for being the moral leader within our imperfect communities.
There is also a time and a place for withdrawing -- for avoiding bad company and its pernicious influence on us.
Does School Socialize Me?
I recently overhead a mom fretting about the decision to homeschool. She wasn't happy with the influences at her local school, but worried, "I think they need to be socialized." By socialized, she didn't mean, "It's important to me that my children learn the values of our wider culture, and the best way to do that is to spend hours every day with people who reject the Christian faith, promote immorality, and mock anyone who doesn't toe the line." I don't know any parents who are looking for that.
What she meant was, "I want my kids to be able to make friends and get along with people. I want them to have relationships that answer their need for human connectedness — their genuine spiritual and biological need to live in community."
I'm with her 100%, and I think most parents share that goal.
Where does school fit in with that? Well, there are people at school. Lots of them. It's a place you can make friends. That's a good thing. But let me be blunt: If you are dependent on your school (or your workplace) for providing you with friends, you do not have mature social skills.
How Are Your Social Skills, Mom?
Why is my daughter so resistant to peer pressure? Because she knows how to make friends. She knows how to introduce herself to new people, strike up a conversation, and find something pleasant to do together. She also knows how to stay in touch with a friend she might not see but a few times a year.
Part of this is raw talent, but a lot of it is skill. She is used to trying new things and meeting new people. She is accustomed to meeting a wide variety of people, of all ages and backgrounds. She often finds herself in situations where she simply has to get along with the one or two people in front of her, no matter how weird or different they might be. And she knows that usually she'll find a friendly person, if she makes the effort.
The payoffs are huge. When someone tries to manipulate her into going along with the crowd? She has every confidence that there's a different, better crowd somewhere else. And because she has so many different types of friends from so many different places, she can distinguish between these folks over here who know everything about violin, and those over there who are a better authority on what the Bible says.
When I hear a parent or teacher worrying about socialization, that's a red flag for me: I suspect these adults really just don't know how to make friends.
Community Means Living Together
Is your local school a community? You bet it is. And given that there are so many people thrust together in one place, if your child attends school but can't seem to make friends there, that's a cause for concern. While it could be the child who needs some mentoring and practice with social skills, as my daughter can attest, it could be that the community is toxic. We should be able to find friends wherever we go, sure. That's a mark of good social skills. But we live in a fallen world, and bad communities — big and small — do crop up from time to time.
How do homeschoolers, hermits, and other under-institutionalized-types find friends? By living with other people. We find other people at home, and we find them out in the wider world. We do things with those people. We spend time with those people. We invite them to share parts of their lives with us. That's socialization.
Have you ever had to overcome loneliness? Work on your social skills? Make friends in difficult places? Let's talk about it.
Copyright Jennifer Fitz 2014
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