A big issue on my mind of late is the slacker mentality of my older son (who is now 12.5 years old and going through puberty).
I have been asking around when I see homeschool moms in person, as well as discussing this with the parents of Boy Scouts, some of whom have older children in college now or recently graduated from college. I have been asking my friends questions on the phone. I have been asking questions at homeschool support group meetings.
I have been getting some blog comments about other homeschool mothers who are worried about the slacker mentality. I have my eyes and ears open and see this topic being discussed on homeschool discussion boards around the Internet.
The first thing I feel the need to share is that this slacker mentality is universal. Yes, it is happening with the kids who go to school. So there is the first thing that homeschooling parents need to know. These parents who I know are doing battle with their schooled kids. The parents want them to do well in school and the major focus is trying to make sure they get their homework done on time, follow the directions, and study for tests. This is happening to kids in public school, different academic-focus private schools and parochial schools.
They battle with their kids who are very focused on their social lives. At first this is directed toward friends, then later it is also about crushes and dating. The kids are constantly using their cell phones; it seems more to send text messages than to make phone calls. They also are on Facebook nearly every time they say they are using the computer to do their homework. The big joke is who is on Facebook when their parents think they are doing homework.
This slacker mentality seems to begin at different points in time. My Boy Scout parent friends whose middle schools begin with grade six say the shift to the middle school model is cause for problems, so slacking starts in grade six as a kind of rebellion against the new school routine and increased academic workload. There is more homework and more reading and studying. The slacker mentality can start in grade six they tell me, and it is in full swing in grade seven and eight.
Before I go further the question may really be if puberty and the hormone surges are to be held responsible for the slacker mentality. I don't know. I'm new at parenting a kid in puberty. And I've not taken the time to research the subject (sorry I'm too busy researching other topics while being busy teaching my kids).
The theory is that puberty is causing hormone surges and brain development is happening that hinders the child's ability to learn and focus. If they used to do something (like brush their teeth after they wake up) they suddenly forget this habit and have to be nagged to do it. They seem groggier and seem to not hear things. They want (or need) more sleep which is not always in alignment with the schedules that the adults in their lives have imposed on them (i.e. the school bus is picking them up at 6:30 in the morning). Oddly while they seem to want to sleep late they easily stay up late and swear they are not tired.
Kids who formerly loved to learn and found joy in learning at least some of the subjects may start to think of learning as boring or hard or not worthwhile. This applies to schooled kids and homeschooled kids alike.
This brings me to the main point that yes, the slacker mentality can and does happen to homeschooled kids.
If your homeschooled teen is not a slacker perhaps they are one of the few that is super-internally driven (a type A personality) who happens to apply that to their academics. Or perhaps they are academically gifted and learning school-y subjects is their passion? Other kids who are smart and good at school may direct their passion to other endeavors.
The timeframe for the start of this slacker mentality and when it ends varies. Some parents report their child came out of the fog in their sophomore year of high school. This means for some kids the slacker mindset is in place for two or three or four years, but some seem to only be 'seriously slacking' for about two years, with some ramping up time before that and some 'tapering down' time at the end. (The idea of four years of this is starting to overwhelm me, but if this is true, then we're about a year into it at this point.) Perhaps what is at play is different kids hit puberty at different times, or some have a longer phase than others. Perhaps some have shorter but more intense puberty-induced behaviors including the slacker period?
A couple of homeschooling parents say this didn't really start until grade nine, which correlated with when the parents increased the teen's academic work load and dramatically shifted their academic routine. This could also be tied to children who started puberty a bit later. These are just ideas I'm tossing around.
When the slacker mentality combines with the mood swings and anger surges of puberty this can be a recipe for disaster. It might seem like a chicken and egg analogy, which came first? I don't know.
I will add to the mix that I think nutrition plays a role here. Kids who are not eating an ideal diet or those who have food sensitivities can have more problems. The sweet tooth who binges on sugar and has sugar-induced mood swings, or the white-bread-aholic with insulin spikes and dips can add to the behavior challenges of a person, combine that with puberty and I think a disaster is inevitable.
The Danger of Myths
There is a myth that if you have fostered a close relationship with your child that the teen years will not be as challenging. This is said in relation to using certain parenting styles. The kicker is each parenting style advocate or expert thinks their way is the one right way that will prevent slacking or teen angst or rebellion. The attachment parenting camp, the spanking camp, the anti-spanking camp, the religious “child has learned to follow my authority” camp, they all think their way is the answer if only the parent has used the parenting system in the right way, by following all the advice and never straying.
There is a myth that if you have done a good job teaching your child your religious beliefs then they will not rebel or slack or have challenges in the teen years.
There is a myth that if you customize your homeschool and use good teaching methods well suited to the child that they will always find learning joyful and easy and will cooperate. Even the most pleasant young child may wind up being a moody, sulky, noncompliant, slacker teen. Don't say I didn't warn you.
I'm looking for support and information to get through this phase with the least amount of damage to the parent/child relationship and to have a kid who gets a decent education in the mean time, whether that is with a home education or at a school.
I think I'm starting to understand now why some parents suddenly send their sixth, seventh or eighth grader to school. Some claim the child no longer listens, is uncooperative, and seems not happy. They say they decided to put the relationship with their child first and foremost so they send them to school in order to lessen tensions between them. I can understand this. I don't judge these parents. But what I think is the real issue is the child has entered the slacker phase. I worry that these parents have blamed themselves for causing what is actually an internal issue tied to a child's normal developmental stage.
Who I'm feeling judgmental about at this moment are the parents who keep secrets and don't share their true stories. I am angry with the homeschooling parents who portray a false face to other homeschoolers. Wanting to appear that they are good mothers, either by their silence or by outright lies they give the appearance that their homeschool is always joyful, carefree and wonderful.
By silence I am talking about mothers who tell me things privately and some who swear me to secrecy yet when they are asked the question in front of others they stay silent or lie. I wish they would realize that by trying to portray that their family life and their homeschool is thriving and all happy and good they are making the other parents think that the normal parenting challenges that go along with puberty, or the typical challenges when a parent is dealing with a slacker is a defect only in their home. Thus, the struggling parents of a slacker teen is left to wallow in negativity, blaming themselves or blaming their children. They not only beat themselves up and feel they are doing something wrong, but some quit homeschooling. And so the ones who put on the false face who feel badly to hear that the family gave up on homeschooling, who lament that another child was "lost to school" actually contributed to the family's choice.
Please, homeschooling parents, be honest about your experiences. Don't just share the best, happiest moments, share some of the nitty gritty less than perfect sounding stories. Share with us how you got through the developmental stage of puberty with an intact parent-child relationship. Inspire us with stories of how you tried to motivate your child and how you found the strength to persevere (other than general recommendations to pray about it). Tell us what you tried, what worked and what didn't seem to work. Let us know you came out on the other end alright.
Sadly, my biggest source of support at the moment for puberty and helping kids with their education is coming from multiple parents of SCHOOLED children. They are being more honest and real about real life parenting teenagers than the homeschooling parents I know are. At least I have one homeschool mom friend who is being very honest about this. Please consider joining our ranks--the faction of homeschooling parents who are not ashamed to tell the truth. By sharing our true stories we can help each other on the path.
If you're a phony homeschool mom please consider shedding the mask. You're not really helping anyone by playing at that game!