Friends and Freedom: What Teenagers Want

The room was full of laughter, chatter, ideas, and energy—it was full of teenagers.  In the middle of the excitement Josh paused to ask me if it was hard to teach this class.  He wondered if he and his classmates annoyed me from week to week.  I told him, happily and in all honesty, that I enjoyed it.  Sure, it was sometimes tough to cover all the material through the giddy euphoria that is teen socialization, but I found the potential, growth, thinking, and enthusiasm of these kids engaging and—refreshing.

Having a 12- and a 14-year-old at home who needed to get something more out of Language Arts, I knew I could either make the experience a solitary environment of drudgery, or I could create an anticipated atmosphere of fun and freethinking.  I knew what I wanted in terms of critical thinking and expression; I knew what I wanted to draw from my boys.  But I also knew that hearty discussion and an exchange of ideas would be more forthcoming with more participants.  And the lure of getting together with friends would make the time a joy rather than a pain.  Thus began a writing class for homeschooled teens at my house.

One of the things I’ve loved about our class discussions is the imaginative and candid way the kids share their thoughts.  So during a class where the topic was interrogative reporting, I took the opportunity to interview the kids regarding their feelings toward homeschooling, so I could do a little interrogative reporting of my own.

Unanimously, this group of teens wholeheartedly declared to like homeschooling.  Why?  Well, Ptolian, my single-minded son, said it keeps him close to food all day.  Not what I was looking for, but it’s a priority to a growing boy.  Megan said that she liked homeschooling because it gives her “more say” in her life.  Madison inserted, “You get to learn what you want to learn.” The others concurred, mentioning other liberties homeschool afforded them.  Freedom—that’s what a teenager wants.
With all that enthusiasm towards homeschooling, I wondered if they felt they were missing out on anything.  Yes, they did.  They lamented the reduced social experience as compared to their public-schooled peers.  Josh talked about being out of the loop when kids at church discussed the public school experience (e.g. quality of specific teachers).  Jacob mentioned things like school dances.  Overall, I sensed from them a general longing to just spend more time with their peers on a daily basis.  Interestingly, after all the raving about homeschooling, when I asked if the social tradeoff was worth it, they couldn’t decide.  Friends—that’s what a teenager wants.

I then asked what the perfect day would be.  What did they think the solution was?  Megan and Madison were both quick to suggest a part time compromise—some homeschool and some public school .  This appealed to everyone in our discussion.  No one wanted to give up homeschooling entirely, yet they all wanted a small piece of the public school pie.  Josh said, “I think there are certain classes that are good to take and others that aren’t.”  He then mentioned some science and history topics that he’d prefer to study at home in order to learn the truth about them.  Heather has already taken some classes at the high school:  Chinese, Social Dance, and Driver’s Education.  She pointed out that some things, like dance, require a group to learn.  Other classes require a specialist teacher and resources, like Chinese.  She could do math and other things like that at home, and does so happily, but these other classes were opportunities that couldn’t be provided to her any other way.

The discussion then turned to our writing class and others like it in our area that have provided simultaneous social and educational experiences to homeschooled youth, which they enjoy.  We have a great local group that’s pretty organized and provides a variety of classes and activities.  Heather was quick to mention how much better she likes it “here” versus other places she’s lived where either there were too few homeschoolers, or nothing was really organized for them as a group.   Josh said he likes being able to tell homeschool naysayers that socialization is alive and well for him because he gathers with friends at least three times a week for things like our writing class.

For 14 years I’ve been dodging the question, “What will you do about high school?” Chances are that many of you are trying to answer that for yourselves as well.  I can’t tell you what to do, but I hope that hearing the real thoughts of real kids will make a difference.  Their needs are valid:  freedom and friends.  Our children are born and we provide healthy meals, safe play, phonics, math, and gospel instruction.  Just as important, we must find a way to fulfill the growing independent and social needs of our teenagers, wherever we are and whatever our circumstances.  It may take you stepping up and making things happen that aren’t in your comfort zone.  It may mean hosting a gaggle of giggling teens in your preferred serene surroundings.  The thing is, though they might not realize it, teenagers are after what really matters:  love and agency, which are God’s gifts to us all.