The kids performed their Lego robotics research project presentation and gave a table demonstration of their robot yesterday at a local high school. I, and the other parents, were sitting in the audience waiting for the kids to come out when another adult suggested that we all sit together, "because, well, otherwise the teenagers won't sit near you and they'll all be on the edges where they can't see." So we cootie-covered adults all herded together so that the teens could safely move closer.
Interestingly, I had just come from doing a couple of hours of volunteer time at our homeschooling co-op. There are tons of teenagers there, and outwardly you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between them and the regular high-school teens. Pimples, iPods, baggy pants and awkward haircuts abound. But with one signifigant difference: adults also swirled around and through them: parents, volunteers, teachers. I helped out in a science class, a Destination Imagination class, and in the general area. All of the classes have parents as helpers, the parents come and go from the classes as they are in progress. Kids check in with moms in the hallways or at cars in the parking lot, grab lunches together with their family or with their friends.
Adults are part of these kids' world. They don't seem to have any trouble socializing with each other, but their acceptable companionship boundary doesn't stop at age 18 either. I have to ask myself if a person is truly socialized if they fear contact with people of a certain age.
I first noticed this phenomenon long before having kids. My husband and I were leaders of the Middle School youth group for our church. It was our first contact with homeschooled kids, and the difference was striking. The school kids treated as at first like The Enemy. We were to be avoided, and if possible they should obviously never tell us anything important about themselves that we might somehow use against them. The homeschooled kids talked to us like normal people. I was reminded of that yesterday in the company of two very different groups of teenagers.
I know that some people in our society have come to view teenage fear, distrust, rebellion against, and even loathing of adults as somehow a normal rite of passage. I know that these same people think it would be strange, odd, or even somehow an indication of trouble if a teenager actually didn't mind hanging out with their parents or the parents of friends. Personally, I see it differently. I like my kids. They like me. They're interesting people that I feel lucky to spend time with. Ditto with their friends, the teens and pre-teens as well as the younger ones. I'm glad to see indications that this won't change as they head into teenagerhood, that what our society considers "normal" socialization is probably some kind of adaptation made in self-preservation.
In short, give me homeschooled "socialization" any day.