The question of socialization has many sides. We want to protect our children, so we carefully select social influences that will shape and nurture them positively. But, what happens when they move outside that protection and walk into a world of not-so-positive influences?
Almost every parent has concerns about how negative influences will impact their children. But think of it this way: your children will have to interact with negative influences in order to be functional adults. Now, while you are still an active part of their lives, is the time to let them encounter some things with you right there to explain the context and give a biblical thought or two. You can talk to your children and try to prepare them for how the world works by explaining that some people act the way they do because they do not love Jesus, and we should not be shocked or look down our noses at them. But, like with many things, kids won’t really learn until they experience some of these interactions first-hand.
As you work to expand your children’s social interactions, lay down ground rules by telling them they may hear others say and do many things, but some of those things should not be repeated in word or action. Then, intentionally talk through those experiences with your children.
Here are practical ways for your family to engage the community in a positive way.
- Go to a class at your local library. These are almost always free and include all interests and ages.
- Join a secular sports team. This is a case-by-case basis. Some coaches and players are great while others can be very toxic. But some homeschool groups are toxic, too. Just stay involved so you can monitor the situation.
- Check a local college or university for community classes or services, especially as your student begins the high school journey. What better way to find a good fit for college?
- Invite unsaved people over. Whether you are involved in some kind of discipleship ministry or have unreached neighbors, invite them over. Of course, make sure your guests are safe in general; then prepare your children by sharing a little bit about their spiritual needs.
- See if your grocery store offers cooking classes. Sounds like a weird place for a class, but you never know!
- Talk to the people around you. Ask how the cashier is and actually listen. Comment on the waitress’s cute earrings. Tell the person in line at the checkout counter how much you would like to try that red cabbage sauerkraut. Your children will pick up on these interactive habits.
- Go to a senior center. Young children will always be well-received. Make an effort to commit to regular visits so your family can build lasting relationships.
- Volunteer through a secular organization. People of all faith backgrounds share certain common interests. What better way to get to know others than work on a common humanitarian project?
- Get to know your extended family. They have all kinds of different interests and beliefs, but the family ties will bring you together.
- Look into classes at your local junior or senior high school. This will depend on your district’s policies regarding homeschoolers, so talk to those who have gone before you or arrange for a tour.
- Encourage your teen to get a job that forces him or her to work with the public, even if it’s just a short-term job. Working in the family business may be appealing, but this limits the type of co-workers and customers your student will meet.
- Encourage your children to invite unsaved friends over. Listen to the people your child talks about and suggest a movie or video game night so you can meet them.
- Allow a social media account for your teen. Monitor it if you must, but try to include more than just family and church members in connections.
- Join a book club as a family, or encourage your middle schooler or teen to join (just make sure to have regular discussion time after each meeting!). Hearing someone else’s thoughts in print and in discussion will really broaden horizons.
- Host a block party. If no one can help you, just have a few families over for a hot dog roast.
- Host a foreign exchange student or invite foreign students over for a holiday dinner. It will enrich your family and them.
It is incredibly important for us to have fellowship with people who help us and our children strengthen our faith and offer encouragement in the homeschool journey. But, it’s also important to stop and ask ourselves if we really need to have a “Christian” or “homeschool” version of everything. We definitely want to teach our children to avoid immoral engagement. But, when our interests are compatible with a secular approach, why not get out there and interact with the “world,” showing them how we as Christians walk through daily life?