Friday, April 1, 2011

Are Homeschoolers Safe from Bullies?

Bullying has been a problem throughout millennia. Seen in nonhuman primates, bullying seems to be part of our evolutionary make-up. But what was once viewed as “harmless” or “part of growing up,” is now deemed illegal. Having taken a dramatic turn toward unmitigated violence, bullying is being outlawed.

Is homeschooling the answer to this problem? By pulling our children out of the unnatural environment that is traditional school, are we now free from worries about bullying?

The answer, unfortunately, is no.

Bullying still occurs, even in homeschool circles. Children who are different are picked on. Children who stand out or stand up are singled-out. Perhaps this will bring comfort to folks concerned with homeschoolers’ “socialization”—now they know that homeschooled children have the potential for emotional scars, just as their traditionally schooled children do. Lucky them.

What needs to be understood, however, is the way bullying can be and is dealt with by homeschoolers. The difference between how homeschoolers and traditional-schoolers proceed is vast. This is not because any one group of parents loves or cares more about their children. It is completely due to access.

Homeschool parents are there. Homeschool parents are forced by their choice to homeschool to be present for their children. Children aren’t away from the family six hours or more, five days a week. Their friends aren’t strangers to the family. Parents and children participate in activities together, nearly all the time, not just on weekends or evenings. Parents and children learn how to communicate, how to feel safe together, how to read each other. These are necessary skills when spending so much time together.

If problems crop up at a park day, for example, the child being bullied has a parent there, as does the child doing the bullying. Problems are dealt with immediately. For older children who aren’t watched as hawkishly, they have built a trusting connection with their parents and are more likely to bring up such issues quickly.

One huge advantage to homeschooling is children aren’t taught to be ageist. They don’t think that younger children have less value or should be shunned just because of age. Homeschooled children often play and work in groups that span many ages. Younger children are included in play. Older children are taught to watch out for others. A real sense of responsibility toward the group is infused in the children, because it is the only way the group can survive.

That is not to say that problems don’t occur. But imagine the difference in what is learned between children sent to the principal’s office for punishment and children spoken to immediately by parents. One can only lead to retaliation due to embarrassment and humiliation. The other offers a loving way to learn right from wrong.

And what does the child being picked on learn? One must “tattle” in order to be rescued, which leads to further ostracizing. The other either has a parent step in before matters get out of hand or knows that parental support is not far away. Ultimately, families have the ability to leave situations that are unhealthy or dangerous. What option does a child in a traditional school have? Unless the family can afford to move to a new school, the child is stuck.

Perhaps conflict and bullying are a natural part of humanity. What matters is that we give our children the tools to be strong enough to change the pattern, the courage to stand up for each other, and the understanding that all have value. Homeschooling gives families the wonderful opportunity to reinforce those ideals.

Article by Sarah J. Wilson

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