Is peer contact important for children, and particularly teens? How is peer contact different from peer pressure? Those who advocate ‘socialisation’ as a reason for going to school assume that mixing with peers is essential. Indeed, for many students the social side of school is important and enjoyable. Those who tend towards being extraverts may need to be around people each day. They may find the classroom environment stimulating and beneficial to their learning.
But not everyone is an extravert, and not everyone finds school a happy place. Obviously serious bullying should be dealt with from all angles, not merely by withdrawing the victim from school. Nevertheless serious bullying can so damage self-esteem that a bullied child may need several months learning at home before (perhaps) returning to the school environment, even if the bullying problem is resolved.
Dealing with bullies
There are those who claim that children need to go to school in order to learn to deal with bullies. Frankly, this makes no sense at all. Children who are bullied tend to withdraw, or become depressed, or remain as passive victims. It generally takes adult intervention to deal with the problem. It is not something that children learn by themselves.
Besides, even for those who do turn around and fight, this doesn’t teach appropriate and useful ways of relating to others. As adults we’re unlikely to have our books scribbled on, or our hair pulled by bullies. Nor can we turn around and punch people who offend us! It’s much more useful to meet a true mixture of people in real life, as happens in a home educating environment. As we do so, we learn that we don’t get along with everyone. However, there are usually amicable ways of sorting out differences.
Negative peer pressure
Negative peer pressure is a well-known problem of the pre-teen and teenage years. It is most prevalent with children who go through periods of insecurity, or want to be part of the ‘in-crowd’. Some of them often adopt dangerous habits in order to prove that they are ‘cool’, or that they are not pandering to their parents. This is why so many teenagers turn to drugs, alcohol, smoking or sex. In general this is not for any true satisfaction, but for the sake of being popular.
However, it doesn’t work. It’s observable that those who stand apart from peer pressure are more likely to be respected on a deep level. But too many teens fall into these traps, so that peer socialisation at school can become an extremely negative influence.
If your child is displaying negative peer-pressure related traits, you might want to read the book ‘How to really love your teenager’ by Ross Campbell. This book helps parents to know how to express their unconditional love to teens, and to deal with some of the problems which sometimes occur during the teenage years. At this stage, if at no other, it is well worthwhile considering home education.
It’s very rare for a long-term home educated child to experiment seriously with dangerous behaviour, or to worry about whether or not he can be accepted by his peers. This is because home educated children make friends of all ages, and know that they do not need to compete, or to pretend to be someone different, in order to be accepted for who they are.
Subtle peer pressure to ‘fit in’
What of more subtle peer pressure? There are in schools those who never quite ‘fit in’ with the most popular in the class. Perhaps they’re not bullied, or teased, or pressurised to be fashionable – but sometimes a child who is simply different from the rest can feel left out, or disliked. A quiet, academic child, for instance, can get the deep-rooted impression that people with up-to-date clothes, heavy make-up and an enthusiasm for modern music are always unfriendly. It can take years of adult life to overcome such a feeling.
Whether children are bullied or not, they absorb a huge amount of artificial information about their peers in school, which may actually cause more harm than good in adult life. With home education, free from the artificial environment of spending several hours per day with the same people (of the same age) children learn rapidly to treat everyone else as an individual, irrelevant of looks.