Now that you’ve read about the importance of mentors, peers, and socialization for your homeschooled child, you may have a question that is shared by many parents: how can I keep my child safe? You may have other questions as well, such as: are there any pitfalls I should watch for?
On this page, we will look at four things:
CRHE is founded and run by individuals who experienced homeschooling as children. We also maintain a large alumni network, and have had heard stories from hundreds of additional homeschool graduates. We know firsthand that homeschooled children, as other children, can experience harm like bullying or sexual abuse. We also know something else: that parents can sometimes unintentionally isolate their children or otherwise harm them in the name of keeping them safe. And finally, we have seen things our parents have missed: the danger of inculcating a sense of superiority in children, or of assuming that being able to communicate with adults is a sign of social maturity in a child.
Some parents begin homeschooling because their child was bullied by other children in school, and may assume that homeschooling their child will take care of the problem. However, while homeschooling can offer some children a respite from social persecution and an opportunity to build their confidence, children who are homeschooled can also experience bullying. You should ensure that your child receives instruction in bullying prevention (you might start by looking into the programs mentioned here). Your child needs to know that it is not okay for other children to treat them badly, and that they can stand up for themselves or draw boundaries.
Bullying can happen in homeschool groups and co-ops, as well as in other classes and extracurriculars your child participates in. Bullying can also happen within friend groups, or within groups you think are friends. Remember, homeschooled children are sometimes expected to befriend children they have the nearest proximity to, such as the children of their parents’ close friends; in some cases you may have one perception of these relationships, while your child has another. Home educators sometimes miss signs of bullying because they assume that their children will get along, or that homeschooling is a bullying-free zone.
In some cases, children may bully their siblings. While disagreements between siblings are expected and normal, this should not be their dominant interaction. Homeschooling can lead to the creation of strong, long-lasting sibling relationships, but this does not happen automatically. In some cases homeschooling can actually put stress on sibling bonds. Children who attend school have their own separate social spheres and time away from each other; this is often not the case for children who are homeschooled. If your children’s interaction with each other becomes primarily negative, they may need more time away from each other, or more of their own, separate pursuits. Teach your children to respect their siblings’ boundaries.
You will need to learn to distinguish between bullying and ordinary childhood squabbles. Bullying prevention programs such as those linked above may give you tools for doing this. Remember, it is not possible to protect your child from all harm—nor is it necessarily desirable! Children are still learning how to navigate social situations and friendships, and that they will sometimes make mistakes. You cannot prevent your child from ever having a falling out with a friend—and you should not try. Your child needs to feel safe, but they also need the space to fall down and then pick themselves up again.
Public schools cover sexual abuse prevention in their social and emotional learning programs, and require teachers and other staff to have background checks. Schools, teachers and other staff can also serve as a protective factor for children who experience harm outside of school. While these safeguards are not foolproof, children who are homeschooled frequently lack access to these basic standards.
In order to provide your child with at least the same level of safety they would experience in a school, you should use resources like the Kidpower Book for Caring Adults to educate yourself about potential hazards, warning signs, and risk factors. You should also ensure that your child receives instruction in abuse prevention. While the content varies by age, this typically starts by helping a child learn to recognize inappropriate touching. Your child needs to know that their body belongs to them, that they can say “no” to contact that makes them uncomfortable, and that the adults (and children) around them should respect that.
We as a society frequently focus so heavily on protecting the child that we forget about the need to empower the child. Your child will be safer if you give them tools to protect themselves and assert their own boundaries than they would be if you simply tried to shield them from harm. Remember: your child will grow up, and you will not always be there to protect them. By equipping your child to recognize inappropriate behavior in adults — and ensuring that they know how to get help if they need it — you will be helping prepare them to advocate for themselves not only now, but also in the future.
To learn more, see How to Become an Advocate for Child Safety, which covers what you can do to educate yourself on “childism” and threats to children, and How to Make Your Homeschool Community Safe, which includes information on what homeschool groups and co-ops can do to create child safety plans protect children.
Homeschool graduates whose childhood socialization was limited to other homeschooled children frequently report having a difficult time fitting in with non-homeschooled peers in college or in the workplace. They report experiencing social anxiety, feeling culturally out of place, and being unable to relate to their public or private schooled peers. In order to avoid this problem, you should make sure that your child has interaction with children who attend public or private schools, and makes friends among these children.
Fostering interaction with peers who attend public or private school does not have to be complicated. Your child may befriend children in your neighborhood who attend public or private school, or children they meet through a community athletics program or other extracurricular. If your child attended school before being homeschooled, they will likely keep many of the friends they made there. Clubs at your local library or after-school STEM programs held at local community centers are other avenues for bringing your child into contact with children who attend school.
If your child states that they do not understand children who attend public school, or makes disparaging remarks about these children, you should take concerted steps to ensure that they are able to forge friendships and understand peers across educational options. Make sure that you never communicate to your child that being homeschooled makes them better than other children, as this could create a sense of otherness or an adversarial mentality. Home educators may unintentionally encourage their children to look down on children who attend school by making disparaging remarks about public schools or about the behavior of public school children they encounter on field trips or in other contexts. Try to avoid making such comments in your child’s hearing, as this may negatively affect their ability to build connections with peers or to attend school in the future.
Some parents homeschool because they believe children who attend school become too peer-dependent, or because they feel public schools are characterized by a culture of status seeking or bullying that is harmful to children. While these home educators may choose to model or encourage different social patterns in their children from what they experienced at school, all parents who homeschool should remember that the vast majority of individuals their child will interact with in college, in the workplace, and in their communities as adults will be graduates of public schools. Your child needs to be able to communicate with and build relationships with individuals different from themselves, including peers who receive other forms of schooling. This is part of building social fluency.
In some cases, home educators may believe a child is well socialized based on the child’s ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with adults. However, a child’s ability to interact with authority figures says little about their ability to interact with peers. Homeschool graduates who report being praised by authority figures as especially “mature” frequently also report being unable to relate to their peers, or experiencing devastating social anxiety. In fact, in some cases children who are uncomfortable interacting with peers may gravitate toward adults, creating the impression that they are mature when they are actually socially underdeveloped.
Some homeschool advocates claim that it is more important for children to learn to interact with adults than with other children, because when they are adults, they will be interacting with adults, and not children. This claim is not only wrong but also profoundly harmful. There is a fundamental difference between an individual’s relationship with an authority figure, and an individual’s relationship with a peer. A child’s ability to interact with an adult, as a child, communicates little about their future ability to interact with an adult, as adult equals.
Interaction with adults is important: it will help prepare children to relate to professors, employers, and other authority figures when they are grown. However, interaction with adults will not prepare children to relate to other adults as peers when they are grown. The adults your child will need to interact with most frequently as an adult will be their peers. Interaction with adults cannot and should not replace your child’s need for interaction with peers — i.e. children in their age cohort. If your child gravitates toward interaction with adults and away from interaction with peers, this may actually be a sign of a problem.
Don’t forget to read the other articles in this series!
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