Building Friendships in High School
- Wednesday, December 26, 2012
“Will I have any friends if I’m homeschooled during high school?”
Some teens may ask this question to open up a conversation and discuss possible options. Or the question may be one that’s packed with desperation and an emphasis on the word “any”!
Regardless of where your homeschooled teens land on the spectrum of how they view friendships during the high school years, it’s an area you’ll want to think through and chat about with them.
The Importance of Friends
God designed all of us to be relational even as He is. John Donne was right when he reminded us that no man is an island. We need each other. A friend can be a source of encouragement, a provider of practical help, a wellspring of laughter, a companion who gently corrects, or someone who chases away loneliness. Your homeschooled teens will benefit from friendships—but where will they find them, how should they choose them, and why will they need your assistance?
Looking for Friends in All the Right Places
Help your teens enlarge their scope of where friends can be found. Teens may think that a school classroom is their main friendship pool. However, spending the entire day in a classroom of peers may actually limit possible friends. One of the benefits of homeschooling we experienced was that our children developed a cross-generational view of friendships regardless of age differences and without the stigma often associated with being friends to those younger or older.
As a homeschooler, your teen has the time and flexibility to develop friendships with a wide variety of people. At church, in your neighborhood, or while volunteering or job shadowing, teens can meet and learn from people of all ages, backgrounds, and skills. Is there an elderly neighbor who would enjoy a teen’s company and, in turn, relate important life lessons? Your teen may receive what this person has to say more easily than when it comes from you. Is there a professional in a career who could come alongside your teen and help to prepare him for the next step after high school graduation? Mentoring is a precious gift (and you may be able to offer it to someone else’s teen as well). Is there a godly single woman who would love to mentor your teen daughter and add her voice to the guidance you are hoping to instill? Is there a ministry team at church that could be a place for your teen to widen the friendship net and be encouraged to serve others? All of these examples are opportunities to establish relationships with those in different seasons of life.
These friendships don’t need to end after graduation from high school. They may also benefit your teens in the future by supplying a reference for a job or being prayer partners as they step into a new season of life. These people may be available to give a bit of advice to a young adult who needs help sorting out life’s difficult decisions.
Choosing Friends Using Wisdom
While purposefully broadening sources for friends for your teens, don’t completely ignore the importance of cultivating some peer relationships. Homeschooled teens can usually connect with other students through homeschool co-ops, church, outside classes, sports teams, music groups, or clubs. Remind them of the good qualities to look for in a friend when making their choices. The Bible has much to say about friends, especially the book of Proverbs. You may enjoy joining your teen in a word study to discover the guidelines to be used for choosing friends. Then look for opportunities for your teens and their friends to spur each other on in godly wisdom.
What about current or potential friends who may need work in some areas? Our initial instinct is often to advise our teens to avoid such persons—and that direction is certainly warranted in some cases. But don’t make perfection the standard. Yes, we need to have standards, and your teens need to exercise discernment on their own (or risk parents exercising it for them!). But take a moment to give a fair evaluation. And fair means fair—not too perfectionistic, but also not too lax.
Some relationships that you were initially dubious about might prove fine on closer inspection. However, there may be times when your teen’s weaknesses make it unwise for him to spend time with another teen who struggles in similar areas. For example, a teen with a propensity toward anger or rebellion will only be fueled by spending time with like-minded people. It’s not that you want to ostracize the other person, but you need to look out for your teen first. Depending on circumstances, perhaps you could allow careful interaction in a whole-family context where negative propensities are less likely to be given vent.
While still on this point, we need to realize something else that’s very important to remember. Most often, we choose friends based on who we enjoy being around. In other words, our friendships are a window into our hearts—a reflection of our own character and maturity. If your teen desires to hang out with other teens who have problems with rebellion—or other serious character issues—it would be a good time to seriously evaluate why your teen wants to spend time around them. A likely answer is that you’re seeing a reflection of your own teen’s heart in his choice of friends. That would be the time to put tight parameters on the friendship or put a stop to it altogether.
So is there ever a time when your teen should be friends with someone who has notable shortcomings or character flaws? Perhaps, but it should be a different type of relationship than the typical “I enjoy being with this person, so I want them to be my friend” style of friendship. Think more along the lines of a mentoring relationship. In this case, your teens aren’t choosing the relationship based on their desire to have fun or because they find their relational needs met by being with the other person. Instead, it’s because they desire to have a positive impact. The two keys, however, are 1) your teen is truly strong enough to avoid being pulled down by the relationship (and this is something to evaluate objectively, putting aside parental bias), and 2) your teen is motivated by a genuine desire to serve and help, not a desire to spend time with the other person because they’ve found a kindred spirit.
Because cliques can form as easily in homeschool circles as they do in other settings, encourage your teen to keep an eye out for others in need of a friend, especially newcomers. Those who are gregarious and the life of the party can be reminded to include teens who may be shy or in need of an invitation to join in group activities.
It is wise that the friends closest to your child be known by you and welcomed into your home. Interacting with these friends will open doors for conversation resulting in the joy (and responsibility) of being an integral part of your teen’s social life. (Remember Mrs. Cleaver? She knew Beaver’s friends, and interacted with them while keeping on top of their shenanigans!) Practice in developing friendships will give your teens a skill that they will use throughout their lives.
“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” is not only the title of a hymn—it’s a truism that your teen should never forget! A life-changing relationship with the Lord Jesus is of utmost importance so that when friends come and go, your teens will have the constancy of the One who loves them most. The Lord models kindness, compassion, gentleness, self-control, faithfulness, and more to your teens—all attributes to exhibit and nurture with their friends.
Hitting a Friend Famine
Ultimately, it’s the Lord who knits hearts together and forms positive friendships. If your teen is experiencing a dearth of friends and you’ve run out of alternatives, please don’t despair. Pray and ask the Lord to send someone special—He delights in doing what we cannot. Encourage your teen to be patient and to trust the Lord, and then watch expectantly to see what the Lord will do. During the waiting period, assist your teen to develop godly character that will attract and maintain the right kind of friends.
Establishing Friendship Goals With Your Teens
Homeschool parents spend many hours with their teens. While we hope that the majority of that time is enjoyable, we know from personal experience that the close quarters of homeschooling can at times be a cauldron of emotions, tension, and stress. Not necessarily a fertile ground for friendships between teens and parents to grow! While the main role you have as parents is to nurture, raise, and disciple your teens in godliness, make it a goal to transition into becoming friends with your teens as they mature into young adults. We don’t want to downplay your God-given role as the authority in your teens’ lives, but rather encourage you to assess your relationship with your teen. Consider whether these elements of friendship are present (taken from the Encarta Dictionary):
- Someone who trusts and is fond of another
- Someone who thinks well of and is on good terms with another
- Someone who is an ally
- Someone who is a defender or supporter
A parent who is also a friend has greater influence and impact. If you feel that your present relationship with your teen needs some refreshment, Age of Opportunity and War of Words by Paul David Tripp will give you helpful suggestions.
We all learn by what is modeled to us. Is your teen seeing you fostering healthy friendships? Even though you are in a busy season of life, you will benefit from the joy of friendships. As with your teens, the number of your friendships is not as important as the quality of the friendship. Allow your teens to see that friendships take time, compromise (the right kind), selflessness, and care.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 provides a wonderful and concise summary of friendship: “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.” These are the years to remind your teens that high school at home gives them unique opportunities to foster many kinds of friendships—some of which may be lifelong—that are built on healthy foundations.
This article was originally published in the Jul/Aug 2012 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Learn more at www.HomeSchoolEnrichment.com
Becky Cooke and Diane Kummer serve as high school consultants for the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) Homeschooling Thru High School program. They are nationally acclaimed speakers and authors on high school topics. As former homeschool moms whose adult children have graduated from college, Becky and Diane can relate to your homeschool joys and challenges. Their desire is to help you homeschool high school with excellence. Most of all, they pray that your homeschooling years are full of delight knowing that your investment in your teens is seen and rewarded by the Lord. Benefit monthly from their expertise by signing up to receive their free monthly e-mail newsletters, on topics of interest to those teaching high school at home. If you are interested in having them speak to your group, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: December 26, 2012
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