Seasons of Change: The Heart of High School Student
- Thursday, December 11, 2008
As a new homeschool mom, Seasons of a Mother’s Heart was one of the first books I read. Sally Clarkson’s gentle encouragement to enjoy each moment with your children was a great inspiration to me. When I heard her speak years later, her words of wisdom again inspired me to continue building relationships with my children, realizing the far-reaching effects we as mothers have on their lives. I am excited to talk with her now, focusing on how we can disciple our high school students as they prepare to enter a new phase of life.
TOS: Many parents dread homeschooling through the teen years, feeling like the academics will be too hard for them. How did you handle getting your children through the last four years of school?
Sally: The reason that so many parents dread the high school years is that they think they are supposed to teach or instruct their children in areas where they are not confident. Another pressure is that parents with students around that age seem to become extremely anxious about transcripts and SAT tests and getting everything in that their child needs. The peer pressure of what others are doing with their children can be threatening.
All colleges need your money, so getting into college is not difficult. I do not have a single friend whose child has not gotten into college who wanted to go there. My children have applied to, and been accepted by, so many different colleges: local, private, Christian, international. Our transcripts have never been questioned. For giving scholarships, colleges are most interested in SAT scores and extracurricular activities. I see many moms trying to be sure their children get every course listed on college applications and putting such pressure on their children. I personally think this is not necessary.
Whatever has taken place before a child is around 14 years old has provided a foundation for his education—and no amount of stressing or stuffing is going to change the academic future of a child. By this time, his academic appetites have been set. If he shows a propensity to being academic, then he will continue to be. If he is a non-academic type, putting the child into another school is not going to make him academic.
Clay and I decided that if it was God’s will for our family to travel and speak and minister to people that it also was God’s will for our children to do that. It meant we could not cover every course required on a college application. But since we had entered the homeschool journey by faith, we decided to continue our high school years by faith—believing that God would provide for them. I was pretty loose with our high school years and let the kids do a lot of self-study, read a lot of books, do some (just a little bit) of math. We gave our kids the computer program to prepare them for SAT and ACT tests. Then, a few days before they took their SAT tests, we hired a math tutor to coach them. They both scored well above the 90th percentile overall and were offered scholarships from numerous places.
All children are different. I don’t offer our story as a standard but as an encouragement. One great Christian college offered our son Joel a scholarship even before he applied. He had attended an open house weekend sponsored by the college and had “happened” to sit next to the registrar. The man took a liking to Joel. Our son soon received a letter in the mail offering him a presidential scholarship—before he had even finished the application! So, the bottom line is, don’t let fear prevent you from keeping your children at home during the high school years. God will be faithful. Depend on Him!
I do think, however, it is in the high school years that a mom becomes weary and thinks that someone else can do a better job. We have known a lot of kids who went to high school, both pubic and private, and left their morals and spiritual training behind. At this season of life, kids want to be loved and accepted by their peers. Homeschooling kids going into high school can find an uphill road to walk. The image of homeschoolers is often so extreme, and a child has to bend over backwards to prove he or she doesn’t fit the mold of a person’s image of a typical homeschooler. This creates much undue peer pressure for our homeschooled children. I don’t think most parents have any clue how immoral, corrupt, and tempting the environment is in most public schools. The pressure to conform is very strong.
God tells us not to cause our children to stumble, yet I think many a child has stumbled when he or she was put back into public school. Each family must seek God and base any decision they make for their children on wisdom, counsel, and Biblical input. God can work through many different situations, but we must not make these decisions without understanding that decisions come with consequences.
There are many other options for high school that can take pressure off the mom. Online courses offer every kind of science, math, and other upper-grade courses. Many junior colleges accept students who are 15 years old. The same high school math and science courses can be taken at a local junior college, and the student can earn credit for further college.
TOS: That information is revolutionizing for me as I work to equip my own daughter for life after high school. One of the blessings I have found from homeschooling is the friendship that develops as our children grow. How can we as parents continue to guide our emerging adults and also enjoy the fellowship that comes as they grow to adulthood?
Sally: During the high school years, I had a growing feeling that my children did not want to be “mommied” any more. They responded to me when I treated them as emerging adults. It doesn’t mean they always acted like adults, but Clay and I sought to treat them as such. I began to systematically spend alone time with each of my older children. Making time for them by having them in for a cup of coffee, hot chocolate, or tea in my bedroom just to talk or taking them out for breakfast or coffee became a habit that I still keep today. It gives us time to develop a relationship, and it gives me bridges into their hearts. Parents of high school and college kids must stay engaged and be aware of what is going on in their children’s lives; that has been some of the most wonderful friendship and discipleship time I have had.
TOS: That is such good advice, especially for some of us with large families. However, I have seen many families start to lose their teenagers to worldliness, I think often because the teens don’t feel a part of something bigger than themselves. How can we keep teens’ hearts and yet allow them some opportunities to develop their own vision for the future?
Sally: I so agree with you. Since teens are moving toward adulthood, they need a bigger arena—jobs, responsibilities, and apprenticeships. Some of the activities of our kids’ high school years, which helped us to keep them away from worldliness, were what I call “positive peer pressure groups.” They were involved in a once-a-week dinner and discussion using a worldview course. Great fellowship and fun was shared during these times. A friend and I took our children on three different 5,000-mile trips with her children and mine all piled into one car. We listened to books on tape, trudged battlefields, went to historic sites, hiked, stayed with families, and had rousing adventures as we explored many educational sites.
Clay and I determined that as each child turned 15, we would take him or her on a trip to the European places where he and I had ministered. We had to work way ahead of time to get our other children settled with friends and relatives so that they would be well taken care of at home, but the time invested in all of their lives has been wonderful.
Clay took the boys every Tuesday night for a boys’ night out—dinner and time together, often at Barnes and Noble discussing the great issues of life over coffee. He also took them to summer projects of their interest. I took Sarah with me when I was asked to speak in Congress. Our children also worked at all of our conferences, ran some of them by themselves, worked in office jobs, and developed their skills working with people. Teens need to have activities and jobs and people in their lives. Working and making their own money has given them ownership of their lives.
TOS: In our ministry in Mexico, because of the language barrier, my teenage daughter’s social interactions are limited. How much of a social life do teenagers need?
Sally: In our home, each child was different, but I think that all teens need other people. If it is our goal to send our children back into the world as lights when they become adults, then we need to be gently broadening their horizons while we are by their sides, so that we can help them find their way. I think it is important for parents to understand that in this culture at this time, being a young adult who was homeschooled can be very lonely. The morals and spiritual values of our culture have robbed the hearts of many teens and left them with many scars. Social needs can be met through many different venues. Sarah, our oldest daughter, has found great fulfillment by becoming a leader in our local church, where she mentors teens through a Bible study. Though her background is very different than those of the young girls she works with, she loves giving them the light of the Lord, personal attention, and hope. As long as our teens have people who enjoy them and can spend time with them, they don’t have to be part of a group.
During the teen years, I had a mother-daughter dinner group and Bible study for Sarah twice a month at our house. For a couple of years our boys had a couple of families of boys they were close to, so we would have movie nights with pizza and sleepovers. The kids would have rousing games of Capture the Flag on the mountain, make movies, and have stimulating discussions. Making the time and place for it was important. It is very important for moms and dads to understand that kids are not being rebellious because they want other friends. Praying for creative solutions is worth the effort if it helps a child know the love of God and His care through the love and support of a parent who understands a child’s growing emotional needs.
TOS: What did you and Clay feel was one of the more important things you did to help your teens become adults?
Sally: We trusted them. We loved and stayed close to them by seeking to make our home the most fun and supportive place where they could be. Loving, supportive relationships are always the most effective way to influence anyone. Seeking to understand the heart of our teens through prayers and pondering helped us be more patient with their hormonal outbursts and to understand the limitations of this season of life! As they were older, Clay stayed up each night until they came in, just to have closure to their nights. I don’t want to insinuate that our children were perfect or had it all figured out—but we stayed close to them each step of the way. We tried to avoid parenting by guilt, but we upheld our essential standards (morality, loving the Lord, respecting us, monitoring their activities). We had ups and downs during these years, but keeping the relationships close and cherished was essential.
TOS: In retrospect, what activities do you feel were not that helpful?
Sally: Anything that separated a teen from the family emotionally, spiritually, or in morals or values. If a class, youth group, or sports activity placed a teen in a situation where he or she found he or she was unique and didn't have a companion who shared his or her ideals, this was always a bad place to be. When a teen or even an adult is put into peer situations where there is no support or validation, the temptation to compromise his or her values becomes stronger. Ecclesiastes tells us that two are better than one, and woe to the one who has no one to lift him up; so it goes with teens—they need a support companion or friend who can validate them instead of separating them from the crowd.
TOS: It seems difficult sometimes to meet educational needs and spend enough time teaching them God’s Word and how to apply it to life. How can we find a balance between preparing our children to be God-honoring people and getting them well educated?
Sally: I do think it is so important to remember that in the high school years, education is only a small part of what will make up the whole life of our child. What he or she needs most during these years are our fellowship, encouragement, life-giving words, and unconditional love. Our children also need to see us live a life of love, worship, and integrity before the Lord. The educational ideals that we held high for our children were primarily taught during their earlier years. High school is not just about academics—it is about discipleship and helping our children to own their convictions and to love God.
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