Social life. Social skills. Social anxiety. Social media. Social Security. She’s so social!
When we think of the “social development” of children, what are we talking about and what is the goal? It is a confusing issue for many. For example, as an educator, I have heard a lot of people talk about how home school children need to go to school at some point for socialization. Conversely, I have heard a home school parent say, “Have you seen those kids? I don’t want my children socialized by kids who are rude, lazy, out of control, and self-centered.”
What is socialization? For some parents, it means that children need to belong to a diverse group of peers for the sake of learning how to deal with a wide variety of people in a wide variety of situations. For others, it means that children need to be a part of a homogenous group where a certain worldview and certain social norms will be taught to and required of the child. Those are two different views of socialization, and those two types of schools will look and feel quite different. One has the goal of conformity and discipline of behavior and thought (think military boarding school), while the other has the goal of independence and creativity in behavior and thought (think large urban public school). Those are two very different forms of socialization.
Parents must make the choice about what is best for each child at each stage of development. Some kids really need a highly-structured, strict environment that attempts to mold the child into a more disciplined, productive young person. I have a friend who went to military school for two years, and it helped him get his life on track. That same school would have been terrible for me. One school does not fit all. In our family, my sisters and I went to very different high schools: one public, one private religious, and one private secular. Each child was very different, and as it turned out, the schools we attended fit our unique needs pretty well. Among my own children, one goes to public and one goes to the private Christian school where I teach. We love each school and have strong reasons for our children attending different school. One size does not fit all.
As adults, we move through social circles in our neighborhood, at work, at church, at school, and in our different groups of friends and acquaintances. So, we should be preparing our kids for that social flexibility, and the best way to do it is to get them involved in different types of situations. Even if the plan is for them to stay in the same school throughout all their years, it is wise to consider where else they can interact with different types of people. What are activities which will involve them with new and different kids?
Our son has been on several different sports teams, and in each case, he had to learn to make new friends. In one case, we were traveling out of our part of town to join a great little soccer club, but he knew not a soul on the team. I had to coach him about how to integrate himself into the fabric of the team, and it was a great learning experience. After the practices and games, I asked him the names of the players and what he learned about the coaches and parents. In addition, his coaches were great about teaching and modeling positive social skills. In a few months, he had learned how to make friends and how to deal with difficult kids. Experience is the best teacher. Most importantly, he gained confidence that he could do it again in the next social situation. Since then, we have placed him in the band at school, in order to get him to mingle with the more artistic and less athletic kids. He needs to appreciate them, and they need to help him grow in new ways.
There are many benefits to putting kids in new and different social situations. It is important to reconsider the schools, teams, and other groups that the kids are involved in. It may be time to switch to a new youth group or try a new activity. Maybe not, but sometimes those moves can be far more valuable than you think, if there are good reasons to move on. Try a new summer camp. Try a new sports team. Invite the neighbors over to play a game. Don’t be afraid to try something new in order to interact with different people with your kids.