Is there bullying in homeschooling?

I read an interesting article last night called An Unschooled View on Bullying by writer Kate Fridkis. I almost didn’t read it because of the word “unschooled” in the title since I wouldn’t consider us unschoolers, but I was intrigued by the topic of bullying since it’s been on my mind lately.

Is there bullying in homeschooling? And I’m not talking about teasing, which the author readily admits she did. But, as she states, “We were far from perfect. But we were far from cruel. The very overweight girl wasn’t teased for her size. What kind of person would do that?” 

In the six years we’ve been homeschooling, we’ve made a wide range of friends and acquaintances. Sometimes, my kids love the kids they meet, sometimes they would rather not see them again. When we meet a child whose behavior bothers them, we talk about it. This isn’t to say that feelings don’t get hurt: Oh, yes they do. Friendships end and people feel left out of groups—but I wouldn’t call any of this behavior  “cruel” and I certainly wouldn’t call it bullying.

In our large coop, sometimes the girls form loose little groups that hang around together at lunchtime. I remember my oldest telling me that she prefers to play with the group of 10-12 year olds that likes to run around and play, but there is another group of girls that likes to sit and talk about clothes. That made me laugh since I know she is right on the cusp of moving from one group to the next.

Oh, and there is no question she’ll be able to move from one group to the next when she’s ready. These are not “cliques” as I remember them with their “you can’t sit here/play with us/talk to us” rules.

In the six years we’ve been homeschooling, I’ve never seen bullying in any of our circles.

My oldest daughter begins sixth grade in September—middle school. While talking to a good friend who happens to have a daughter the same age as mine, he said, “Be glad she isn’t going to middle school. If you can keep her out of any grades, keep her out of the middle school.” I know all too well what he means. Middle school, though I was never outright “bullied”, was not a good place for me. It was a much worse place for many others who were teased, picked on, and shunned.

But why don’t homeschooled kids bully? Or do they?

Contrary to what many news articles will try to make you believe, these are all normal kids. They love electronics, they play sports or dance or do gymnastics, they hate to clean their room. Most of them give us a hard time over doing schoolwork. They have friends who go to school and friends who don’t. They attend sleepovers, go to summer camp, get asked to parties, and ask for an iPod Touch (already? sigh).

They are not always under the watchful eye of their parents. Yes, most homeschoolers let their kids out of their sight. And many of these kids have access to email and can chat with each other out of earshot of any grownup.

What makes it different? And what lessons can parents of kids in school learn from this?

I’m not suggesting that everyone quit school and homeschool. It’s definitely not the lifestyle for everyone, nor is it even feasible for most families. And I’m certainly not suggesting that my fellow homeschooling parents have some advanced parenting skills or that we are somehow “doing it better”. Believe me, we don’t know what we’re doing either.

But what is it that makes a confident and well-liked 11 year old say “SURE!” without hesitation or irony to a sweet 9 year old’s request for a sleepover, and not roll her eyes and wonder why this little person thinks it’s okay to talk to an older kid? What is it that makes the kids of the devout Christian homeschooling family AND the radical unschooling family get along without incident in our coop? What is it that makes it unthinkable that any kids in our coop would tease the little boy with Down Syndrome, or  laughingly mimic the child whose speech is often impossible to understand (who happens to be my own son)?

There is nothing “better” about homeschooled kids. They are regular kids with regular fears, problems, insecurities, and preferences. And yet, bullying is just not an issue. Why?

 

Comments

  1. Wow what great thoughts. While I’m not a homeschooler, something tells me that parents who homeschool are involved as a rule, and so they also take the time to talk to kids about behavior and kindness. And is it fair to say you see more of your kids’ behavior so you can nip any problems in the bud?

    When I think about the kids in our school who are bullies as early as 4 or 5, I find their parents are generally inattentive. It’s not a judgment per se, but some parents are just less aware of their kids than others.
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    • Christina says:

      Yes, Liz, I do think the parental involvement is huge. That whole “it takes a village” thing is very common in our circles. No one is afraid to tell another parent’s child to “knock it off” if they start to get out of hand. And if we see unkind behavior, we address it right then and there.

      I’m sure some would say we are “helicopter parenting” our kids and not letting them work things out on their own. To that, I’d say that we DO let our kids work things out, but when there is a need for an adult to step in, there is. Too often, parents turn a blind eye to their kids’ behavior, and I think that this is when you see bullying get out of hand.

      Plus, I think most homeschoolers feel a little bit like an underdog in society, so we just love the underdogs in our own groups!

  2. Elizabeth says:

    As always Christina you write/report beautifully. I put my comment on you FB page. I’m looking forward to reading all of the comments you get. As for your friend who spoke of any grade to miss being middle school – I totally agree! At that age from what I have heard and seen these tweens become like chimps, lions and all those other “pack” animals. Hopefully my subtle questions for my middle-school daughter to be will keep me in touch with what is going on and keep her out of the “pack.” Kudos!

  3. The only bullying that goes on w/ my homeschool kids comes from me. Hey — how else am I suppose to get these kids to settle down and do their math lessons?

    Last month our “school” organized an end of the year retreat for the homeschooling families. There were 2 kids who looked out of place. They were wearing skinny jeans, shirts branded with logos I’ve seen on the Jersey Shore cast, and big brimmed ball caps perched on their heads. They rolled their eyes at anything they didn’t think was cool, tried to exclude younger children from games, sulked when activities were “lame,” and were rude to adults. They were miserable assholes. Turned out they were the children of one of the school’s administrators. They go to public school. Of course.

    That’s not to say that ALL the homeschool kids got on ALL the time, but the dynamic and interactions were fundamentally different. On Friday we went to the park and my 10 yo son happily played w/ a 4 yo girl. She was THRILLED. And he didn’t see any problem — this doesn’t happen with his school-attending peers. I think homeschooled kids are removed from the hierarchy of a classroom. They do not need to constantly worry about the pecking order and they don’t spend the bulk of their day in a place where they must always guard against appearing ‘uncool.’

    I agree about the perils of middle school. I get asked about homeschooling by the parents of elementary age boys and middle school aged girls. It’s very telling.
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  4. Oh man, there are a myriad factors I imagine, and I could throw out a bunch of guesses, like more parental involvement, less time left alone as a group, more multi-age learning opportunities, less obvious competition. The list goes on and on.

    I was homeschooled because I was bullied. And most of that happened in the halls, in the bathroom, out on the playground, all experiences that a lot of homeschoolers don’t often have.

    Whatever the answer is, I think it’s a fascinating topic. Thanks for discussing this, Christina.
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  5. This is a very interesting question. My gut instinct says homeschoolers don’t bully because they’re not overly-socialized with large groups of children. I went to public school and I firmly believe there are great things about public school. But down at its core, there is a very “Lord of the Flies” mentality there. So many students+few adults+long hours=opportunities for bullying.
    Just my two cents.
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  6. I have been debating replying to this because it is still a sore subject for me. But here it goes.

    It can happen with homeschoolers – we have been on the receiving end. I actually think that we encountered alot of resistance in addressing because everyone fell back on this argument – “it doesn’t happen with homeschoolers – these kids can work it out”. They couldn’t and the parents wouldn’t address it – placed all blame solely on my kid who was younger than the other kids by 3 – 6 years. So I think the biggest factor may be that most homeschooling parents are more in tune with guiding their kids and have the opportunity to do so than teachers supervising so many kids. I am not in the camp that because they homeschool, are exposed to a variety of kids, etc that they don’t think to do it. I think it comes down to the adults in their lives – there are schools and communities where bullying is not an issue and that comes down to the adults in those children’s lives as well. Just a raw subject for me I guess.

  7. Great article. Yes it does happen to homeschoolers (a few instances come to mind over the years). The difference is parental involvement and limiting contact. In a school, that just doesn’t happen, so it has the opportunity to grow and fester and get out of control. Also, you are way more invested in your children’s well-being than any teacher ever could be. The recipe for an incident to turn into full-fledged repeated bullying is repeat contact and no intervention. All things homeschool does better, IMHO.

  8. It CAN happen, but it’s less frequent and WAY less overwhelming before it gets handled. There are still cliques for the kids in our group, but they aren’t as exclusive as they would be at school. Usually it’s the boys and the girls or the oldest and the youngest. But my kids have friends that are several years older and several years younger…
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  9. I think the single biggest reason there is less bullying among homeschooled is parent involvement. In public middle schools, a lot of parents step back from overseeing their kids and being aware of what their kids are doing — sometimes step back way too much. And the schools don’t provide much supervision. Our neighbors’ kids, all in the local public school, film themselves givng the finger to less popular kids, told one boy “Your mom is a b—-,” kicked one less popular kid to the ground and kept on kicking him, and I guarantee you the parents don’t even know about it. Neither do the school authorities. I’ve worked at a charter school which has much more parent involvement. The difference in behavior is huge. And it’s not b/c the parents spend a lot of time lecturing the kids or being helicopter parents — but just the fact of high parent involvment and awareness sends the message that parents care how the kids act.

  10. I stumbled across this because we do homeschool and we have for several years. I do agree bullying is no where near an issue like it is in the school setting. However, it does happen. We recently had a 12 year old boy literally punch my 7 year old daughter in the face, leaving a bruise on her cheek. I find that kids who endured a lot of bullying themselves at school, then get pulled out from school to homeschool, turn the tables..it is almost as if they were bullied and so sick of it, that when they find themselves surrounded with considerate kids who care, the victim becomes the aggressor….they become bullies (not all cases of course, but this has happened in two occasions with our homeschool group..small case study I know) however, as a homeschool mama who has had both of her kids bullied in the homeschool setting, I find myself in a tough place. I want my children to still be considerate and kind towards others, but in no way do I want them to think it is OK or mama approved that they put up with bullies! Bully should not be tolerated! They need support to stand up for themselves. Sadly finding a NO BULLY curriculum for the homeschool setting is next to impossible. :-/

    • I define bullying as an ongoing series of aggressive behaviors, like hitting repeatedly, verbal abuse, emotional trauma, non-stop attacks in person and virtually. While what happened to your daughter is TERRIBLE and there is no excuse, I think the presence of a parent in so many cases, keeps those attacks to a one-time thing. My son was taunted by a boy over a couple of weeks and then hit once. I guess you could say he was “bullied”, but he only saw the kid once a week for about an hour. And once I found out what was going on, I went straight to the boy’s mother to come up with a plan which worked. If necessary, I would’ve removed him from the group or the other boy would have been asked to leave. I agree that some homeschooling kids can be Bullies (as in, they repeatedly do this to other kids), though I find that their behavior is more random b/c they don’t tend to see the same kids day in and day out.
      Hope that makes sense and that your daughter is doing okay now.
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  11. I really want to get homeschooled because I get bullied

    • Homeschooled as a child and now homeschooling my own says:

      Have you asked your parents? I’m sure they would want to know. It’s a perfectly good reason to homeschool. Depending on how old you are, there are lots of ways you can homeschool yourself if your parents are worried about changes to their schedule. Good luck! I’m rooting for you.

    • Homeschooling won’t necessarily save you unfortunately. You’ve got to know how to make friends that will back you up if someone tries to mess with you.

  12. I’ve seen a few comments from homeschooling parents talking about how their kids were bullied in homeschool groups and I wanted to add my experiences:

    I was homeschooled K-12, and even I’ve got to admit that bullying DOES happen in homeschooling circles. Nothing particularly bad happened to me, but I saw other kids get bullied a good handful of times. Most of the bullying was verbal, and it was made up of kids talking trash about other kids…One example is a group of buys teasing a younger boy for having long hair, and they cornered him and asked him if he was a girl or not. Then there was sexual teasing; an older boy spread a rumor about an 8-9 year old girl about how she had kissed another boy and basically said she was a whore, and the rest of the boys were talking about her.

    Also, exclusion happens in homeschool groups too. I actually agree with the author; these are normal kids and so they have their own clichés…Any kids that were shy were basically excluded…I did try to talk to them sometimes, but they were so used to being out of the group they wanted to stay alone anyway.

    Lastly, I think it needs to be said that many of the parents can be bullies too. My own mom let me do my own thing, but I’d see kids frustrated to the point of crying because every interaction they had with another kid had to be watched over by mommy and they HATED it.

  13. Brunhilda says:

    As a homeschooled kid, you are wrong.
    I experienced bullying from multiple fronts as a homeschooled kid, as did several of my friends:

    a) I was physically abused (knocked unconscious, bloody nail marks on my arms, head, and neck, tooth knocked out), by both of my elder siblings. This was partly influenced by the fact that because we were in homeschooling we never had a chance to get away from each other.

    b) I was bullied by the religious Christian groups for being a ‘tomboy’ meaning that as a little girl I played with toy cars instead of dolls, and did not have long hair. I was frequently called names and excluded from either playing with them, or from the social/schooling activities of ‘Friday school’ (a part of our homeschooling whereby all the homeschoolers got together). They also bullied anyone who was a non-Christian (as a family of 16; 2 parents, 14 kids, they had a small army), and were not kind to the Down’s Syndrome child.

    c) My friend, who was severelly dyslexic was bullied by both her mother and her sister for being dyslexic, as well as by the coordinator for Friday school, and of course the children who were not dyslexic.

    d) The boys of the Christian group physically assaulted all of us girls if we stepped out of line (aka, went to play on the grassy lawn, where everyone was allowed to play technically), including throwing rocks and mud at us.

    This merely highlights the worst of the incidents, but I can guarrantee you that the homeschooled children are bullied as much (if not more) than those that are in normal schools.

    • Brunhilda, I think that what you describe goes FAR beyond anything I’ve ever seen or was thinking about when I first wrote this pott—first of all, what happened in your house sounds more like abuse (knocked unconscious by siblings?? I’m so sorry to read this!); same as what happened to your friend who is dyslexic—that is verbal abuse from her family. Terrible.

      And, it’s so sad that no adults in your “Christian” groups (which don’t sound very “Christian” to me) didn’t step in to help. I know that in our coop we try to keep an eye on this stuff and step in when we can. There are some kids that get out of hand, for sure, but I went bananas when my son was hit by one once. And that put an end to it.

      I hope your life is much more peaceful and happy now.
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  14. I have seen bullying in homeschool groups but it is a lot of the time hushed up or you can’t call it bullying which I think is wrong.
    We have been on the end of it a few years ago and we were made to look the baddie and that it is my girls fault. I think that the perpetrator makes sure that they are not caught out and if they are they lie.

  15. Melissa says:

    Yes, bullying certainly exists in homeschooling co-ops. I wish I had never gotten involved with a co-op. I am so upset about what happened to my son (age 11) today that I cannot sleep. Thankfully, it was merely verbal abuse and not physical…though verbal is almost harder to deal with (proving to the other parents). The main bully suggested they (3 boys) kill my son. I knew that things were a bit awkward but, had just chalked it up to middle school moodiness. What tortures me the most is knowing that I put my son in harm’s way. We are going back to regular school. I am finding the homeschool boys around here to be too aggressive and odd…at least schools have protocols for dealing with bullies. I think homeschooling can be amazing…we have done some cools things and I feel that me kids have really advanced academically but, I do think there can be some weirdness in the social arena.

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  1. […] as children. However, all of what I found about bullying as it relates to homeschoolers is that it doesn’t happen in the world of […]

  2. […] Is there bullying in homeschooling? There is nothing “better” about homeschooled kids. They are regular kids with regular fears, problems, insecurities, and preferences. And yet, bullying is just not an issue. Why? […]

  3. […] This is one thing Christina talked about in her article “Is there bullying in homeschool?” http://www.thefairlyoddmother.com/2012/07/is-there-bullying-in-homeschooling.html […]

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