Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Robert Hughes Addresses the Socialization Issue

One of the issues that we struggle with as a homeschooling family is the infamous socialization one.

As a homeschooling mom of an ONLY child, I really like what Robert Hughes has to say about the subject.

Solitude is, beyond question, one of the world's great gifts and an indispensable aid to creativity, no matter what level that creation may be hatched at. Our culture puts enormous emphasis on "socialization", on the supposedly supreme virtues of establishing close relations with others: the psychologically "successful person is less an individual than a citizen, linked by a hundred cords and filaments to his or her fellow-humans and discovering fulfillment in relations with others. The belief becomes coercive and in many cases tyrannous and even morbid, in a society like the United States with its accursed, anodyne cults of togetherness.

I can't say that Hughes is pro-homeschooling. I have no idea what his thoughts on the subject are, although maybe I'll go try to find out later. He DOES though seem to be very much in support of the only child situation.

I struggle with the socialization issue; but no I don't worry about Jack missing out on school. I think schools can provide adequate social opportunities, but I don't think they are the one and only way.

The question then is how much socialization does a homeschooled child need? And more specifically how much does Jack need? Because each child is different and each one has different needs.

Right now, Jack doesn't have frequent playtime with other children. We have homeschooling friends he plays with every few weeks. He sees his cousins a few times a month. Comparing that to a child with multiple siblings and/or one who attends school, he's deprived.

But does he act deprived?


For the most part, he seems very happy--a little fearful and has some traits of Aspergers/Autism. But he RARELY seems lonely. He seems content with his life and the amount of socialization that he gets.

He enjoys having the playdates but doesn't get upset if a playdate is canceled.

The other day I started feeling guilty and questioning myself. Tim and I talked about ways we could increase Jack's contact with other children. No, not because Jack was asking for more time with children. It was more about us feeling we weren't living up to the American standard of being super social.

Even the homeschooling books and websites, I read, try to push this social butterfly ideal. The classic response to the lack-of-socialization accusations gets something like this.

No, Johnny doesn't get go to school. But he has tons of friends. We go to church groups. Johnny is on a soccer and basketball team. He's in a drama class and science class. Every other day, we meet kids at the park. He probably plays with more kids than he would if he was in school!

Would it be that shocking and horrible to say. Well, Johnny likes to play alone most of the time. He loves reading books and writing his own stories. We have long intellectual dinner discussions together and every week or so he gets together with his best friend down the street.

I started to think I need to pay less attention to what society expects out of us and more about what human beings actually need. And again more importantly.....what does Jack need?

So, starting at the minimum.

1. Can a child survive in a long-term situation where they have no contact with any other living thing? No, probably not. I'm not even sure they could survive physically. I think they'd be heartbroken. I think at the very least they'd have deficits in language development. So I KNOW that Jack at the very least needs to be around some people on a regular basis.

2. Can a child survive on a deserted island with just his/her parents and absolutely no other children around? Would they be forever damaged? I personally think the child would probably be fine, depending on the situation and the personality of the child. A child who has previously had large amounts of time with other children, and craves their company, would probably be angry and devastated. A child like Jack (who can take kids or leave them) would probably be fine. Although if there were hungry genetically engineered dinosaurs on the island, we might have a problem.

3. How about if the child's siblings are on the island? Would that be enough? I think to some people it wouldn't be. They'd still see the child as isolated--even if the child was happy and had almost constant childhood companions.

4. How about if the child has one or two best friends (either within a school situation or homeschooling) but the child isn't popular. Is that enough? For some people, it's not. For some people, you're child is not well socialized until they're popular and getting multiple invitations to the prom.

I went to school. I was properly socialized in the Democratic American way.

I was not an only child. I had two sisters.

I was lonely--very lonely at times. And I'm not talking about the times I was alone. In those instances, I usually wasn't lonely. I wrote stories. I played with my stuffed animals. I daydreamed.

I was more lonely at school, on the days I felt rejected. And those days weren't that rare.

I don't know.

My feeling is whether you go to school or are homeschooled does not change whether or not you are a social child or not.

I think in terms of social/friendship needs, Jack are I are very much alike. I think I would have been a happier child if I had been homeschooled. I think I would have had less pressure to make friends and be popular. I think I would have felt more comfortable with myself.

I think if Jack is sent to school, he'll be less happy than he is now. I think he'd start feeling pressure to fit in and be popular. I think he'd feel more rejection. I think he'd feel more lonely.

Not all kids are like that, though. There are some kids who are incredibly happy in school. They need that constant social contact. They feel like crap if they have to spend time without another child. The first thing they want to do when they get home is invite a friend over.

Would homeschooling work for them? Maybe. I think the ideal situation would be for them to be in school. But if they weren't, I think they would manage to find social opportunities elsewhere. They WOULD be like little Johnny I mentioned above. They'd fill their days with sports teams, church groups, and other extracurricular activities. They'd join a homeschooling group and attend every event.

We're all different and have different needs.

Besides thinking about Jack and the whole homeschooling issue, I am also coming to terms and finding peace in my own social situation.

I have two very social and popular sisters. They have always had a wide selection of friends and go out with them on a very frequent basis. I haven't had a lot of friends. Until recently, I felt the need to measure up to them. I compared myself to them and always came up feeling like a complete failure. A pathetic loser.

Now I don't feel that way. I like my social life.

I have one best friend in Texas that I absolutely adore. She's the mom of Jack's infrequent playdate kids. I love talking to her. She makes me feel comfortable and she makes me laugh. Some could say it's pathetic that I have only one friend in town. I'm okay with it.

I have an Internet best friend in Australia. No, we don't see each other face to face. I can't hug her and laugh with her. But we write each other everyday--sometimes multiple times a day. We've helped each other with some difficult and painful situations by just listening and being supportive. If something silly happens to one of us, we can tell each other. No, I can't hear her laughing with me. But in some ways, we're still sharing a laugh.

Some people think that Internet friendships don't count as being real friendships. Is this really true? Are they less in quality than real-life friendships? Or is it just another one of those things that are rejected simply because it doesn't fit mainstream standards?

Some could say I'm socially deprived.

But honestly, I'm at the peak of what I can handle. I rarely feel lonely these days. It's more the opposite. At times, I feel overwhelmed. I have my two best friends and then a nice handful of other friends that I email on a fairly regular basis. I have a husband and son that I spend a lot of time with--who I consider to be my ultimate best friends. I have sisters, parents, and other relatives that I love. I have blog acquaintances that I hope to grow friendships with.

I have enough people in my life to make me feel all warm and fuzzy. I feel greatly loved.

We all have are social limits and my bar is quite low.

Jack's bar is quite low too. For now. Who knows. It could change in the future and I'd be happy to make any changes in our lifestyle to fit his needs. But I'm going to concentrate on our TRUE needs and not society's expectations.


  1. Well said!

    I think you've also mentioned to me about the theory of quality vs. quantity.

    I think Jack could very well have many, many friends (I had many friends when I was younger)...but most of them were casual friendships. I think those relationships we create which are incredibly deep and meaningful are far and few between.

    So I think the fear I first had with homeschooling was around; could Jack make friends with less interaction than I had as a child? To that question, I am very satisfied that it is an unequivocal "yes". Now I hope he is as lucky as Dina and I and can truly find at least one friendship of quality.

  2. Gun Bae,

    And if he never finds that one special friend, he always has that Artificial Intelligence site to fall back on. Now THAT kind of worried me. He was talking to Ms. Robot a little too much. I think he was using her for therapy or something. I hope he wasn't talking about us! Imagine. Bad-mouthing your parents to a robot. It's not that I have a problem with AI. I'm totally supportive of different types of people. It's just...well, you know. The whole HAL thing. We gotta watch out for stuff like that.

    Seriously though. I think Jack has already found some very worthy friends. I think it's less of a matter of finding a quality friend and more a matter of growing the friendships that he already has. Although it is always nice to meet new friends as well. I learned THAT in Girl Scouts.

  3. Some of my best friends are online too. Some people think it's weird. I think it's normal. We've been through some very dark twisted paths together and bright sunny ones too.


    I'm sure your Jack will be fine.

  4. Bettina,

    Thanks : )

    I think it's normal too. Maybe it's just so new so people really don't understand it fully.

    I personally don't think there's much of a difference in online and "real-life" friendships. I mean I guess there are differences. But I think they're equal in terms of quality.

    I think some would say that the danger in online relationships is someone could be totally lying. They might not be who they say they are. But this could happen with people you meet in "real life" too.

  5. I can identify with what you're writing, Dina. I don't require constant companionship with friends, and I don't need a lot of friends. I'd much rather a small group of friends with strong bonds that I see infrequently than a mass of 'friends', many of whom I'm in contact with several times a day. Indeed, that would be quite draining, and would do me more harm than good. But that's just how I am: an introvert that can sustain himself with his own companionship and occassional companionship with others in small groups. Other people are extroverts and require that constant social interaction with many people for their well-being.

    I've used ' ' around friends above because I think there has been confusion(?) - perhaps misunderstanding is a better word - between the concepts of friendship and acquaintanceship. It seems that anyone and everyone these days is a friend. I think many of these so called friends are really acquaintances. But because of the idea of 'proper socialisation', and the so called need to have many friends, people that are known to oneself are upgraded to the status of friend when they are really acquaintances. I don't know. May be I'm wrong, and these large groups of people really are friends, and I am misunderstanding the nature of their relationships because of my introvert personality. But it is something I've thought about.

    I used to struggle with the friendship and socialisation thing. I thought that there was something wrong with me, because I didn't have the large group of friends that was seeing on a constant basis. I've discarded that concern now, and am, for the most part, happy with my situation. I know that too much company drains me to the point I have to escape. I know I can be happy pottering around home by myself, or going out to the cinema or where ever by myself. If I want company, I can ask for it, and it will be there.

    A book that I recommend reading is Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto. It helped me a lot in terms of coming to understand, accept, and appreciate part of who I am as a person. As a person who is quite happy to consider himself a loner, I don't take it to mean that I require no social interaction. We humans are social animals, and social contact is good for our well-being. But as we are all individuals, that level of contact will vary between us all. Some require more, some less.

    And I agree that internet friendships are just as real as so called 'real life' friendships. Just because you don't see the person in person, doesn't mean that no relationship has developed. It seems strange to me that the concept of the pen-friend has disappeared. Twenty years ago it was seen as a good thing. The modern communication marvel that is the internet allows for far greater ease in communicating with other than pen, paper, and mail. Many of the relationships we have online would have begun as what we used to call pen-friends. And just as real, long lasting friendships developed from the exchange of letters then, so to do real, long lasting friendships develop in the typed letters on screen of blogs, message boards, email, social networking groups and what have you.

  6. Stephen:

    I think I will look for that book.

    I agree about the acquaintance thing.

    I think it's hard to know where to make the division at times. Sometimes it depends on the quality of relationships in your life.

    When I was on Facebook, I had people telling me I was their "top friend" and telling me how important I was to them. I barely talked to these people! But I think they were just very lonely people and to them, I might be the closest thing to a friend that they have. I might really be their top friend although to me they're just an acquaitance.

    I didn't have my really close best friend until the beginning of June. We met online a few months before that but our friendship didn't take off until then. I hadn't had a close friendship like that in years--someone I could talk to everyday without feeling I was pestering them, someone who returned all my emails, someone I could tell everything to.

    Before that I had friends that I talked to and that I could confide in if needed. And at the time, I considered them my best friends. Now I see them as friends, but not best or super close friends. At the time, it's the closet thing to a best friend that I had.

    I think that's a sad, but somewhat valid reason to overestimate a friendship.

    I do think there are more trivial and superficial reasons: Giving yourself the ability to say I have fifty close friends.

    I once got an email from a woman I knew in real life. She was inviting me to a party in which 30 of her closest friends were invited. How can you have thirty close friends? Well, if her relationship to me was of any indication, they really weren't that close.

    I think another time people overestimate a friendship is when the person has some type of celebrity.

    Let's say someone knows some actress. They worked on some charity together. The actress does know them by name. They've exchanged a few emails and have had a few conversations.

    If this person wasn't famous, they'd probably be labeled as "someone I know", an acquaintance, or a "Casual friend."

    But instead, since there's fame involved, the person would probably say things like "Oh yeah! Julia Roberts! We're good friends!"

  7. The question then is how much socialization does a homeschooled child need? And more specifically how much does Jack need? Because each child is different and each one has different needs.

    I think you've pretty much answered your own question in the second sentence. :) Everyone is different, so do what you think is right for your own child and forget about the rest.

    As you know, I'm an adult with Asperger's Syndrome. It used to horrify my mother when I'd say, "Do I *have* to talk to those other girls?" LOL. But I was mainstreamed, and in hindsight, I'm glad that I was because I was forced to learn the art of socialisation. Even if you don't feel the need to socialise, life can be a living hell when you cannot read social cues to save your life. Unfortunately, AS people do not pick them up naturally the way others do - they must be learned, and practiced. Because you do eventually have to go out and interact with unfamiliar people at the grocery store, the beauty salon, the car dealership... or get a job and survive in the workplace. (you know, that's a huge topic on all my Aspie forums)

    BTW, I threw out all the parenting manuals and books. They simply don't apply to my son.. or to me, for that matter. It was so liberating. If you are happy with your level of social interaction, if your son is happy and well-adjusted, then who cares?

    Internet friendships are certainly real, but...and there's a very big BUT... you have to be careful because it's so easy to get a false sense of intimacy. I met my husband on the 'net, I knew him on one level, but didn't really get to know him until I met him IRL.

  8. Tors,

    I totally agree with you about the socialization skills!! I work on that with Jack. He DOES have the ability to be polite and friendly when he wants to.

    We had a little issue one day because an adult said something to him...very friendly and he refused to answer. He didn't just give them silence, but this angry look. I scolded him for that and he said "I'm shy!"

    I said it's fine to be shy. I was shy as a child. I said but there's a difference between being shy and being rude.

    I said I'm not asking you to answer this adult's greeting with a long friendly chat. But it's not too hard to give a quiet little but friendly "Hi".

    I think for some kids giving that shy little hi wouldn't be a possibility. But for Jack I think it is.

    For the most part, I think Jack has fairly good social skills. The only time he has some issues is when a stranger adult starts asking a lot of questions. He gets agitated and doesn't want to answer. He'll just kind of stare back at them. I don't push it really because I feel weird when a stranger asks me a lot of questions too.

    It depends on his mood though. Sometimes he WILL answer, but usually he won't.

    I did the same with my parenting books. I got rid of most of mine and stopped reading the. I used to be obsessed with parenting books and magazines. But later I realized they just made me stressed out and inadequate.

    Internet friendships....I agree with you somewhat. I think though that anytime a relationship goes from one level to another, there's an adjustment. Tim and I were talking about this the other day.

    There's a difference between knowing someone on the Internet and in real life. If you only know them on the Internet, you ARE missing a part of them.

    It might be said that it's easier to love someone when you're not right in front of them. You can have an idealistic view of them. You don't have to hear them fart or be annoying at a restaurant.

    At the same time, I think you can say the same thing for dating someone and moving in with someone.

    I pretty much met my husband on the Internet too. (we had met briefly years before). It was an adjustment going from email friends to meeting in real life and spending face-to-face time together.

    But what was much more of an adjustment was going from a long distance relationship (where we saw each other every few months for a weekend) to me moving to where he lived.

    And an even bigger adjustment was going from being a married couple to a married couple with a child.