Thursday, November 9, 2006

Peer Pressure

This evening, my mom and I were on a panel, along with a few other women, answering questions asked by some of the local homeschool moms. Everyone else on the panel had graduated at least one child from high school ... except me, of course. I have, however, been homeschooling for longer than any of the moms. I've been homeschooling all of my life, whereas they had only been homeschooling for at most 17 years. : )

The reason I was on the panel was that I have a different perspective than all of the mothers; I'm at the other end of the spectrum. While there may be no reason for any of those moms to ask me questions regarding most areas of homeschooling, I am the one being homeschooled, and can therefore provide a little bit of insight on how the intricate minds of homeschooled children work.

In a way, some of the things expressed by the inquiring mothers was discouraging, and in a way some of it was very encouraging. It was somewhat discouraging to see that many of the battles being fought by homeschoolers are brought on by the church and homeschooling groups. On the other hand, though, it was encouraging to see that these parents are recognizing these problems and are doing something about them.

When asked about what I thought about how to build character in children (although I don't claim to have "arrived" in the area of character by any means) - i.e. what worked in my family, what my parents did that had an especially big impact on us kids, etc. - I said, in part, that the parents can do everything "right" at home: have family Bible time, memorize Scripture, etc. But if they are not carefully guarding the outside influences on their children, all of this may well be severely undermined.

I knew that I was treading on slightly delicate ground when I mentioned that for this reason, my parents made the decision not to get us involved in a youth group. People tend to think that because it is a church program, it must be good. The peer pressure is so strong even there, though! Members of youth groups seem to generally descend to the "lowest common denominator." (Excuse the mathematical term.) Instead of the more spiritually mature teens having a positive impact on the less mature teens, so often the more mature teens end up getting pulled down by their less mature counterparts.
Instead of seeing the youth group edifying and building up the teens, so often the opposite effect is observed. Many teens, understandably because of their age, just aren't prepared to withstand the heavy pressure to conform. The peer pressure in many youth groups is so strong to wear certain clothes, to act a certain way, to date.

After the session was over, several mothers came up to Mom and me and voiced some concerns that they had about the peer pressure on their children from the local church. One lady's family visited one of the local mega-churches and decided against attending there when they walked into a room filled with various video gaming equipment, and when the music during the service was so loud and unmusical that the words could not even be understood clearly. Another mother doesn't allow her children to attend Sunday school, and has withdrawn her children from the youth group because of the negative, undermining influences. Yet another mother voiced that the pressure on her daughter within the youth group and homeschooling group to date were immense, and were sometimes difficult to withstand.
Another mother said that hers is the only homeschooling family in their church, and that the church does nothing to encourage their family in this. Rather, it ends up discouraging her family and undermining the principles and values being taught at home. One mother asked my mom, "Am I just being an island to myself when I keep my children out of youth group? I know that the other parents think that I believe I'm better than they are and that I'm too good for them." My mom responded, "Well, you are being an island to yourself, but that's not always bad. It's our responsibility to protect our children from that kind of negative peer pressure."

It was encouraging to see that these parents are recognizing the problems and are striving to keep their children from being influenced in the wrong ways. In some cases, these parents are involved actively in their church to remedy some of these problems, by bringing the parents and their children closer together, instead of tearing them apart by myriads of age-segregated classes. However, it was heartbreaking to hear of some of the battles that are forced on these homeschooling families by their own churches! Surely the church should do everything in its power to encourage these families in their worthy endeavors, and to support the parents in their task of faithfully raising up the next generation!

One of the things that I have appreciated about my parents over the years is that, whenever we were looking for a church, the potential impact on us kids was a high priority. Mom and Dad always wanted to make sure that what was being taught or emphasized through the church was not going to undermine the principles that we were being taught at home. They wanted to avoid putting us in positions that required the spiritual maturity and fortitude of those far beyond our years.

Being on the panel tonight was a wonderful learning experience, and provided valuable insight into the everyday lives of homeschool moms. Speaking with the mothers afterward gave opportunities to share what the Lord has shown us - mainly through Vision Forum - over the past several years, and to learn from their insights. It also gave Mom a way to share with other mothers the vast amount of knowledge she has accumulated from thousands upon thousands of pages of reading material, from many hours of research, and from years of homeschooling four children.

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