Monday, October 27, 2014

The homeschooled child and social opportunities in the digital age

Kids these days: their eyes always look downwards at their phones; their words, flowing mostly through their thumbs, reserved for people who aren't there. To parents, this often seems socially sinister. But for us parents of unsocial left-brainers, there's potentially a silver lining. Might reduced practice with real-life social interaction among typical kids level the social playing field a bit? Now it's no longer just our kids: no one's kid is comfortable making eye contact or engaging in spontaneous conversations face-to-face with new people.

On the other hand, for home schooled children like my daughter, things may, in some ways, be more socially challenging than ever.

What's really at issue here, after all, isn't that kids have actually forgotten how to make eye contact and socialize. Rather, it's that they are increasingly selective about who they interact with, both in person and at a distance.

As far as in-person interactions go, kids are increasingly sticking with familiar, routine situations: environments where they encounter the same people over and over again; environments in which social engagement pays off long term because here are peers you'll be dealing with day after day for years. The quintessential example of this, of course, is school, with its daily opportunities--the yard, the cafeteria, the clubs--for extended social interaction. Plus, school is one of the few environments where cell phones often aren't allowed--giving would-be socializers no choice but to socialize with those who are physically present.

Outside of school, incentives and opportunities shift drastically. And presented with a choice between interacting at a distance with a familiar friend, and engaging spontaneously with a new person, kids (or so I've seen) generally choose the latter--especially when any flesh-and-blood peer they might potentially engage with is probably looking down at their own phone.

So here's the problem for unsocial, homeschooled kids. No matter how many extracurricular, group-based activities we set them up with--art classes, musical ensembles, theater class--if they aren't already familiar to their surrounding peers, neither they, nor their peers, are likely to engage much in the dreaded spontaneous, face-to-face, eye-contact linked interactions that are the first steps in making new friends.


Auntie Ann said...

But, the benefit of homeschooling, especially in the upper grades, is that kids are out in the world more and aren't tied to their school and age-based peer group. Kids can get daytime jobs, go to college classes, do volunteer work, etc., that lets them interact with people of all ages. That broader experience with people who aren't navel-gazing teens is one of the great pros of homeschooling.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

My son did theater from ages 5 to 18, and plans to continue doing it in college. The students in the theater classes he was in did socialize with each other. Although there were core kids who took many classes, there were also new kids in almost every class—and they were welcomed into the social network. So it has not been our experience that home-schooled kids are ostracized. (Disclaimer: many of the kids in the theater classes were home schooled.)

When I was mentor for a high-school robotics team, none of the members had cell phones—nor did they see much point to getting them. (My son only got a cell phone when he needed it to be a "prefect" for a field trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and he still uses it less than once a week—his $2/day plan does not use up the $100 before a year is up.)