We Americans seem to have a real fear of raising kids who are “anti-social”. Ask any home educator the most common questions they get regarding homeschooling/unschooling and they will probably answer: “But what about Math?” followed closely by “What about socialization?”
When we speak of socialization, what do we mean, really? I’ve given this quite a bit of thought over the years as a result of being asked about it so often.
As I see it, socialization means knowing how to handle yourself around other people; in the subway, in a library, in a grocery store or at a social gathering of some sort, whether office party or funeral. It means being able to speak to strangers, to express yourself in a clear manner and to be pleasant and polite to people you really don’t know very well, or at all.
And perhaps when someone asks me about socialization, they have those things in mind, but I believe what they really mean to say is “What about friends?” As in, “Will your kids have any?”
Herein lies the problem. You see, being socialized is not the same as having friends.
Here is the dictionary definition of socialize:
1. To place under government or group ownership or control. [Ooh, I could write an entire post revolving around definition #1 as it relates to schooling.]
2. To make fit for companionship with others; make sociable.
3. To convert or adapt to the needs of society.
Many people believe that if you are super social you’ll have a lot of friends (as though friends are something you collect and then put on display).
You do not become friends with someone just by sharing the same space, whether that space is a classroom in a school or in any class, no matter what the setting. Space-sharers might become friendly acquaintances who invite each other to parties, but friends? That takes a deeper level of connection.
It seems that as a society, we push our kids to be socially rich, but by doing this we risk making them true-friend poor. In fact, true friends are people with whom you don’t have to be “social”. They fall into another category entirely.
In the increasingly over-scheduled world of today, how often do kids have Tom Sawyer moments where they can just hang out for hours at each others houses, yards, street, or park with no pre-planned schedule or activities? For many of us who grew up in previous generations, this is where true friendships were discovered, then nurtured, and then given the opportunity to take root and grow.
The reality is that true friends are hard to find. Sure, putting your kids among other potential friends is important to a degree, but it is up to them to discover & determine who their close friends might be. Then, however, they must have the time and freedom to nurture and develop their true friends. There may only be one or two but you know who they are. The friends with whom they can spend hours in a room playing games, inventing, creating, and sharing thoughts, stories, and ideas. These are the friends who grow older with you so that you never have to start a story from the beginning. The ones who will get in a car or on a plane to reach you across the state, continent, or ocean to lend support without you ever having to ask them to.
Here’s the thing.
Socializing is an important skill, for sure, but for most it comes at least somewhat naturally and can be developed without too much effort. It doesn’t hurt that we have ample opportunity to practice every day. Being a true friend, on the other hand, takes more work. It is not something that can be learned or practiced in managed settings like classrooms, groups, parks, or playgrounds. Sure, those are great places to make initial contact, but simply seeing another person in a common space does not make them a true friend.
So the next time someone asks you how your unschooled children will ever learn to socialize, you can tell them all about living in the world and the classes the kids take and all the gatherings they attend, which will probably satisfy the questioner.
What about those close, true friends? How can we help our children develop lasting friendships with people who will be there for them when they need someone who is not us?