If a parent is concerned about separation from the world, does it necessarily follow that their children will for all of their childhood appear as nerds to the world and even other Christians? From my friends who are socially adept, the answer is often a swift, “Absolutely not. We must teach our children to engage the culture, interact with unbelievers, and so on.” This is the crux of the most common argument for sending Christian children to public school, but even when parents choose a different approach to schooling, they are still concerned about their children and how they relate socially to others. Parents who choose to homeschool often point out the social advantages of homeschooling in response to concerns about social development. By allowing the child to socialize with more than his own peer group, the argument goes, a child is actually better socialized than his traditional school counterpart. What this argument doesn’t acknowledge is that although the homeschooling child may be quite comfortable interacting with an adult or a younger child, he may have much more difficulty interacting with his peers.
Parents (and other interested parties) often take steps to help children develop appropriate social skills. Books have been written to help develop social skills in children with disabilities, a group where social skills do not always come easily. Some of the biggest reasons parents give for sending their children to preschool and Taekwando are the desired social benefits. What may be significant is that parents who make these choices for the purpose of preventing a Christian nerd may not have identified what exactly they desire to prevent, other than a vivid memory of some person with funny clothes and funnier mannerisms.
At one level there are basic skills to be learned: carrying on a conversation without bragging, saying please and thank you, avoiding scratching in awkward places, and so on. There’s little controversy here. Sometimes though, what needs to be taught is more than simply teaching a child not to pick his nose in public A child without a television might grow up completely unaware of any television shows or movies that even his Christian peers watch. This naivete might be desirable to some parents, but when accompanied by a smug attitude, it could be unbearable. Is it the isolation that is the problem, the arrogance, or both? Sometimes the trouble is a little more subtle. A child who uses correct grammar, plays the violin, enjoys reading, and has no interest in Hannah Montana might without even trying, be strange to the average child in a non-university town. The difficulty doesn’t disappear totally in adulthood. How deep do we really want to study Shakespeare and Ovid? Nudity in art? Is simply being a part of the Great Conversation reason to read and view some of the more problematic elements of our historic past?
The reason there is any angst at all is that much of what forms the culture of today’s children might not be compatible with committed Christianity. As Christians, we are commanded not to love the world; thus, parents find a certain tension to help their children be in the world and not of it. Do I let my little girl wear a bikini to the community pool, or does she wear something that might look a bit odd to other children and parents? Is it important for my son to be familiar with all of the super heroes? Does not having a TV mean that whenever my children are around one they sit for hours watching it? Do I let my son tickle girls? Should I make a distinction of what I do when the habits and tastes of my children are developing, and when they have arrived at their own opinions? Is there an age where I should start worrying about how they interact with others?
Tomorrow we will consider when it is appropriate to take steps to prevent social awkwardness, and then on Friday or Monday we will explain why what many people consider social awkwardness is probably a good thing! See you then!