Welcome to the month-long series “Homeschool HIGH SCHOOL Made Easy,” a follow-up to the popular “Homeschool Made Easy” series (now published on kindle). I’m sharing tips from my experience as a homeschool graduate and homeschool mother, showing YOU how easy and enjoyable these high school years can be for you and your teen. Be sure to sign up for the entire series so you don’t miss a thing!
For this week, we’re going to take a step back from the academics of homeschooling the high school years. As important as those classes are, as stressful as planning the courses may be, and as hard as we are working to make it all easy on the family, there’s still something much more critical to keep in mind: this teen is quickly turning into an adult.
And no matter what our homeschool why may be, that primary purpose has something to do with that end result. We aren’t homeschooling to keep them little (don’t we wish!). We aren’t homeschooling because preteens smell like roses (obviously!). We aren’t homeschooling because every mother wishes she were joined at the hip to her teen son (*big sigh*). No, we are homeschooling because of the adults we pray our students will become.
So when we get to the high school years, we arrive at a life stage that suddenly does beg the socialization question. Adulthood, by and large, occurs outside the home, in the big, scary world beyond our front yard, among crowds of strangers of various backgrounds, beliefs, and demographics. So while, during elementary, we may have taken time to shelter somewhat, and during the middle school years we may have begun training how to handle new situations, during high school life skills takes on a new purpose. Kids, it’s time to start adulting.
We can — and should — take this preparation seriously. We have four years to build responsibility, work ethic, discernment, wisdom, and social skills into our young people. Whether they go to college or straight to career, whether they stay home or move across the country, whether they work a secular job or serve in full-time ministry, our young people must be prepared to take personal responsibility for their lives.
It’s completely unfair and unrealistic to treat our teens as children for their entire adolescence and then suddenly at age eighteen expect mature behavior, choices, and responsibility. By the same token, it is unhealthy and unloving for homeschool parents to stand in the way of our young adults stepping forth into the irresistible future God created them to realize. Our task as homeschool parents of teens is to smooth that transition for our young people as much as possible, to offer them training and practice so they can gradually begin managing their own choices, responsibilities, and outcomes.
That’s a little heavy, isn’t it? Doesn’t the thought of your thirteen or fifteen-year-old student living away from home and paying bills and making life choices make you feel ill? For crying out loud, thinking about my eighteen-year-old on his own and in charge of his decisions renders me lightheaded at times. I’ve been hitting the essential oils pretty hard.
But I’m going to tell you the truth: it’s not utterly terrifying. Whenever my husband and I begin to fret (because parenting teens and young adults gives you plenty of opportunities to fret!), we remind ourselves of these two principles:
- We did give him ample opportunity to begin practicing these adult responsibilities during high school.
- We did learn a lot from our own mistakes in our twenties.
The older our children become, the less control we parents exert. When they were babies, we could literally schedule their entire days . When they were toddlers, we could even schedule their bathroom habits. As they grew into elementary, we chose their friends, their outfits, their entertainment. But as they grew through puberty and into the teen years, our young people began asserting their own personality, preferences, and even choices.
So in the high school years, this natural feeling of autonomy continues to grow. They begin trying (trying!) to think for themselves, act on their own behalf, make choices and changes in their lives. This is the time to take advantage of this natural urge toward independence and let them start taking responsibility.
So for the next several days, we’re going to take a look at ways to help our teens grow up. We will organize these by relationships: what personal relationships are changing, and what new relationships will the student be building: family relationships, friends, dating, work, and ministry. Finally, the homeschool high school student can start working on some serious, hard-core socialization.
Family Changes for the Homeschool High School Student
As the homeschooled high school student grows through the late teen years, family dynamics change rapidly. The habits of emotions and communication styles between parent and child seem to change overnight. Seem to change, because actually these behaviors have been gradually shifting since puberty. We simply don’t relate to each other the same way anymore. When we recognize these natural shifts in the parent/teen relationship, we can avoid conflict and continue to build strong relationships through this process.
The most important principle to keep reminding ourselves, homeschool moms, is that this separation process is healthy and natural. It’s like giving birth all over again, only the labor pains last for years, and instead of a cute little infant we are rewarded with loneliness and an empty bedroom. Well, that and the satisfaction of a job well done. Hey, we should have known this was what we were in for when we started two decades ago, right?
So how does this separation process impact the parent/teen relationship? What are some changing dynamics we can anticipate? How do we help our teens go through this change from child to adult? I’m not claiming to have all the answers (my teens would tell you that!), but I can share some guidelines that greatly ease our transitions with our own teens.
Teens may change favorite parents.
Now, we parents don’t have favorites, of course (*cough, cough*). But during the growing up years, children tend to gravitate toward one parent or the other. This may be influenced by birth order, personality, common interests, or life experiences. But for each of your children, you know which parent your child is most likely to confide in, confess to, and accept instruction from. And honestly, if you’ve been homeschooling a really long time, you, mom, may have become the “first choice parent” for most of your children.
However, during the teen years, this could shift, particularly for boys. In our case, my oldest son and I were quite close during his growing up years because of our shared experiences (I had him very young, so I felt like we grew up together in many ways!) and similar interests (we both like long arguments about abstract ideas). But starting in puberty, he began naturally pulling away, until by late teens he would prefer to discuss heavy matters with his father first. I knew in my head this was right and good: there was no one better in this world to teach my son how to man-up than his father. But it did, at times, feel like a loss. I had really treasured our talks, our confidences, our private jokes.
How to help: While I was feeling somewhat rejected, however, my husband was feeling more significance and satisfaction in his deepening relationship with our oldest as his role model and advisor. Seeing Dad take an active role helped me relax into the changes. I tried to take a step back, offering to help or listen but not pushing myself on my son. And when disagreements between my son and I arose (as they are wont to do when a hormonal mom and immature teen live together 24-7), I could gently encourage him to seek his dad’s opinion. Sometimes the same truth packaged in a more masculine answer made the lesson easier for him to appreciate.
On the other hand, my teen daughter is craving more mom time than ever. So I’m careful to keep more margin in my day for the extra talking she needs, the spur-of-the-moment outings she proposes, and the teen girl dramas she needs to vent about. I’m also on the lookout for new ways for us to spend time together doing our favorite girly things: attending concerts, serving in ministry together, doing housework, running errands. And of course, shopping! Many world problems are solved between clothing racks of the department store.
We may not realize how our personal relationships and communication patterns will change as teens grow. By recognizing this is a healthy, natural part of growing and not taking it personally, we can help our young people move into their new positions as adults in the family.
Teens communicate less.
This was another big adjustment for me. We are a very communicative family — it’s the one character trait we all share. When we’re excited, we’re loud. When we’re frustrated, we’re loud. When we’re learning, we’re loud. When we’re sad, we’re loud. You can guess what happens when we’re sick, upset, disagreeable, or angry (hint: the opposite of quiet).
But as my teens get older and start thinking more independently, they get quieter. Well, not when they’re angry. But in general, they keep their own counsel more often. I hear less about what they are thinking, what they are feeling, what is happening with their friends, what they are dreaming about for the future. They start keeping their own counsel.
That can be good and can be bad. We worry about the bad part — being sullen, secretive, rebellious, or deceitful. What do we not know? That’s terrifying. We can’t control what we don’t know, and they know it, and the cycle continues . . .
But guess what? We can’t control them, anyway. They are growing up. And we can set house rules and homeschool deadlines, behavior expectations and late-night curfews, but the end result is still future independence. Our teens know instinctively that it really, truly is their life; they are preparing to live it without us. And that starts with making up their mind. Or trying to, anyway.
The more we push, the more we insist, the more we pry, the worse things get. Teens don’t need judgment or nagging or criticism. They need wise advice, a patient ear (when they are ready), and a safe place to practice adulting.
How to help: Mom, we need to stay available. Schedule less, be around more. Ask general, non-threatening questions and give them a chance to answer if they are ready. Ask if they want advice or a listening ear. Find out what makes them ready to talk and create that environment regularly: a breakfast date, running errands, shopping trip, a quiet evening alone at home. Most of all, communicate way more love and support than judgment and criticism. Make sure they know you are there to help not dole out discipline.
Teens are more emotional and argumentative.
Well, there’s the whole hormone thing that has been wreaking havoc with your teen since puberty. It just doesn’t seem to let up, especially for boys. It’s not your imagination: it’s worse for boys, bless them.
Complicating the volatile emotions is this newfound mental independence, so now they have to openly question (mock, ridicule, disdain, debate) every other statement made in the house, no matter how trivial. And if you, personally, are having a bad day and feel like you are at the end of your rope, your teen will find a particularly stupid and inconsequential molehill on which to stage his battle.
It is very, very hard not to take the bait and engage in a war of words. Because we know (oh, how we know!) that they are so wrong! And as the parent, we should immediately set them right! It’s our job! But that doesn’t accomplish anything more than making everyone mad and ruining family dinner. (not that I would know)
How to help: Don’t engage. Try, as much as lieth in you, to live peaceably with all teens. Ask if they are looking for answers or just voicing an opinion. Offer to help them find the answer. Even ask if they would like to research opposing viewpoints on that subject. Most of all, keep your cool. Home should be where teens can be wrong and still loved. Loved ones let you voice stupid errors and still respect you. None of us were half as brilliant when we were teens as we thought. As my father once wryly remarked when I was that age, “When I was seventeen, my father didn’t know anything, either.”
Teens need less punishment.
Got your attention with that statement, didn’t I? But it’s true. When our children are young, we spent a lot of time disciplining. And a lot of that discipline was punishment. “If you don’t eat your vegetables, you have to eat them for breakfast.” “If you don’t go to bed the first time you’re told, no bedtime story.” “If you fight with your brother, you have to do his chores.” We’re giving time outs, we’re taking away video games, we’re making them scrub the walls. It’s how we teach them right from wrong.
As teens grow, however, they need less punitive punishment and more consequences. It’s time to start learning how the adult world works. When we don’t shop up to work on time, we don’t lose our bedtime story — we risk losing our job. When we don’t pay our bills, we don’t get a slap on the hand — we lose our car, or house, or phone. Teens yearn for more freedom, so we must start by letting them take the responsibilities — and the consequences.
They have to finish their homework, or they’ll get bad grades and forfeit scholarship money, money they will have to work harder to earn.
They have to drive carefully because they pay for their own car and insurance, and after the first accident or ticket, rates rise drastically.
They have to be home for curfew because they will lose the house and car keys otherwise.
They have to pay their phone bill on time or their parents will repossess their phone.
The older our children grow, the less we have to be the bad guy. They have other authorities — the college financial office, the boss at work, the police, the ministry leader. Instead of coming down on them, we can remind them, encourage them to keep up with their responsibilities. But we shouldn’t need to stand over our teens with a whip and a stool to keep them in line.
Our role as parents rapidly changes during these high school years. We go from micro-managing, sometimes-nagging mom to encourager, counselor, friend, and first-responder. Yes, they are going to get in trouble. Yes, they will make mistakes. Yes, they will sometimes scare us. But these years are their last chance to practice adulting while at home, to try out responsibility and work ethic and building a reputation while they still have both parents right there at their side, so to speak. Our challenge is to maturely transition our relationship with our teens to a healthy one, respecting and recognizing their need to become adults.
Because truly, it is much harder for them than it is for us!
How is your teen’s relationship with you changing?
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