Socialization as a Religious Phenomenon

Posted on May 5, 2015 by Dr. Gary L. Welton


Every home schooling parent has been asked the S-Question: “What about socialization?” The implications (real or imagined) of the question are less than flattering:

  • Students who attend schools outside the home are socialized better because they spend so much time with their immature peers, whereas students who attend school within the home are poorly socialized because they spend so much time with their mature parents.
  • Home school families do not interact with one another.
  • Socialization that occurs on the soccer field, during debate rounds, and in church doesn’t count (or is somehow inferior).
  • Students who attend school outside the home are always well socialized.
  • Your kids are so weird.

I would like to put the S-Question to rest by summarizing research I conducted along with my colleagues. We surveyed 223 families (asking questions of one teen and one parent), 95 of whom were schooling at home. The results point to three important observations: home schooling teens socialize more than other teens, they socialize differently than other teens, but both of these observations miss the point. Socialization is not a home schooling issue; it is a religious phenomenon.

First, home schooling teens socialize more than other teens. Using a standard measurement scale of 21 questions, we measured the extent to which the teens spend time interacting with their family, their friends, and other significant adults. Home school teens indicated significantly more social interaction than other teens. The S-Question assumes that home schooling teens are not engaged in social interaction. This is contrary to what is actually occurring.

It is true, however, that the home schooling teens are not in every category engaged in more social interaction. There is a difference in the target of the interactions. When asked about interaction with their families, home school youth indicated significantly more interaction in comparison to other youth. They indicated significantly more interaction with other significant adults. However, they indicated significantly less interaction with their friends. Home school youth interact more with family and adults, less with friends. The social interaction of home schooling teens is different from that of others.

The teens tell us that home schoolers have more social interaction overall, but less with their peers. We are confident that this reflects genuine differences because we saw the same differences when we asked their parents.

However, all of these observations miss the point. I would argue, in the end, that the goal is not socialization, per se. The larger view would suggest that socialization is one important aspect of our teens’ lives, as they develop character, or positive youth development. For example, socialization in an unhealthy subculture that fosters criminal behavior is not healthy socialization. In order to assess positive youth development, we measured five traits which, as a whole, suggest that a teen is developing character. The five aspects that we measured are contentment, selflessness, forgiveness, resilience, and gratitude. Combined, these provide a reliable measure of positive youth development.

One of the important predictors of positive youth development is religious faith. When we use religiosity, social interaction, and home schooling to predict positive youth development, the home schooling variable drops out of the model. Home schooling youth are high in character development, higher than others. They are high in religiosity, higher than others. Likewise, they are higher in social interaction. Nevertheless, as a predictor of positive youth development, school choice drops out of the model, being overwhelmed by the religiosity variable.

Religious practice creates a community that encourages social interaction and fosters positive youth development, so much so that it overwhelms differences in schooling choice. There is no evidence that home schooling youth are poorly socialized. However, there is evidence that we are asking and addressing the wrong question. Instead, the data suggest that children and teens in our churches and other religious institutions are engaged in more social interaction and are being better socialized.

Jodi Picoult makes a valid observation in her recent novel, “Change of Heart,” when she says, “What religion did for me went beyond belief—it made me part of a community.”

It is time to quit asking home school parents the S-Question. If you must ask the S-Question, ask it of the families who are not engaged in religious activities. Our research demonstrates that those are the children we should be concerned about.

Dr. Gary L. Welton

Dr. Gary L. Welton is assistant dean for institutional assessment, professor of psychology at Grove City College, and a contributor to The Center for Vision & Values. He is a recipient of a major research grant from the Templeton Foundation to investigate positive youth development.

13 responses to “Socialization as a Religious Phenomenon”

  1. Kinda supports what I see at church… the young people in our congregation are VERY good to have around and a great reflection on their parents. We need these kids!

    • Ferd says:

      I went to church every Sunday and was a horrible child. A product of parents that did not care and a church full of rituals. Campus Cruscade for Christ got me right

  2. I was home schooled from the third through the tenth grade. I can say that this is true if the children are really going to church. There are plenty of home-schooling parents who are not religious or who are even hyper-religious. The children of these parents may yet get the same amount or more social interaction than their publicly educated peers, but they tend to be socially awkward around other children in their age range. I think this is because there can be cultural gaps in how kids of similar age relate to each other–whether good or bad. Also, children who are isolated in this way (no church or limited extra curricular activities) are never exposed to people their own age who challenge their core beliefs which they get from their parents. When other kids make fun of the home-schooled kid's goofy or unusual beliefs (and this has always been how kids are and how they will always be), the home-schoolers tend not to know how to deal with it. Then they react in a defensive modality, thus alienating them further from their similar aged peers. Relating to adults is much easier because the average adult won't try to be offensive. This is something I have observed in my own upbringing in the 80's and 90's, as well as watching others who have been or are homeschooled now.

  3. Liz says:

    My observation has been that home schooled teens seem more confident and have better manners, on top of seeming better educated than the public school teens I know. I was church schooled until I was a sophomore and I know I got a better education than my public school peers and didn't have any problems socializing when I transferred to public school. There were plenty of goofy misfits there, too, so I don't think home schooling, per se, causes that — teenagers are just very likely to be wonky no matter what!

  4. patg2 says:

    Thank you for writing this. I pretty much agree with all your conclusions. I especially agree that socializing with teens who are involved in destructive activity is bad for anyone. We homeschooled, and our children associated with people of all ages. Those who were outgoing are still outgoing, and get along very well. Those who were more introverted have, like most introverted people, learned to adapt to social situations. Being kept away from destructive relationships, where they were treated cruelly by their peers for being more committed to real values, was not a bad thing for anyone. I only regret that they were unable to resist some of the peer pressure once they did get out on their own, but overall, they have made far fewer destructive major decisions than most young people. They also suffer fewer consequences as a result.

  5. Richard Lee Van says:

    This is a very good and important discussion of all-around education, not only "book learning". When I was growing up, long ago, I was in the public school and when certain of my friends were put in "Parocial School", they did better. Perhaps, maybe, superior students do better in public school than those who are less capable Maybe. And the converse. I did notice that my friends who were taken out of the public school were NOT dumb after all. Apparenlly they needed more attention. I'm speaking of a "country school" situation long ago, back in the 40s and 50s, NOT a Blackboard Jungle situation that happened later, and in urban environments. During grade school, I experienced both very devoted and capable teachers, and a scattering of duds. The good ones gave me the Basics that enabled my success in college. And, helped develop the better attitudes toward learning. And values in general. Because of the Duds and the Devoted, I have many stories that show how formal education can work both for and against a student's development. Regarding socialization, my teachers back then seemed have little idea what we kids were really up to and into when out on "recess" and "noon hour".
    And best they didn't know!

  6. george says:

    Most of the Best ideas and views on life, I got as a child were from adults that I socialized with.

  7. Jim Hallett says:

    Excellently-written article with all of the pertinent facts and observations. The State-run forced schooling establishment is adamant about discrediting homeschooling/non-schooling, as it interferes with their destructive and failed monopoly. Real education does NOT come from the State – and never will! Without good solid core values (and you surely will not learn those at any public school!!), a person's life will not turn out well. The real problem (for those in the mega-state collectivist crowd) is that home-schooled people are able to think for themselves, and thus not subject to the propaganda brainwashing of the State. Any investigation of the facts will show that Americans did better in ALL the basics BEFORE the govt. got involved with schooling (I refuse to call it education, because it is just forced indoctrination). Getting govt. out of the whole business is the ANSWER.

    • patg2 says:

      It will take much time and effort to shut down the public school system. It needs to happen. It is irreparably broken and has been for decades. It was never needed in the first place. It was never a good idea. I wish we could shut down the schools yesterday. This is one form of welfare even conservatives accept. They have us all hooked on the Nanny State.

      • Jim Hallett says:

        You are so right, patg2. I assume you are familiar with John Taylor Gatto and his efforts to get education reformed. As a former teacher (one who received awards as well), he has great credibility, but it is indeed a very long process, since so many are uninformed, and continue to be brainwashed by the establishment. It spills over into so many areas. When I had a real estate investing business, people would often comment about this area or that area having "good schools", and of course, I would usually just remain silent, since my motive was to sell a property. What I wanted to say is that ALL areas have BAD schools, just in varying degrees of futility. I was a good student (had an excellent memory and that serves one well in the "parrot process" of schooling), but never learned much worthwhile until I pursued things with vigor on my own, and from the sources I CHOSE. I continue to speak my peace, but I am not sure that much headway is occurring. The great failures of the system are the real "blessing in disguise", as many are waking up to the fact that something is wrong.

        • patg2 says:

          I am quite familiar with John Taylor Gatto. You might also know about Samuel Blumenfeld, who wrote compellingly about some of these issues, in great factual detail, decades ago. Blumenfeld's best books appear to be out of print, but I suspect there are used copies floating around.

          I started to doubt the schools when I was in high school, and a close friend opined that she was not happy with the quality of education she was receiving. We were both taking honors classes, so that caught me up short. And at the time, the schools were being beefed up because of Sputnik, but ever since then, it has been downhill. Sometime later, when I had children, I watched as parents tried to intervene to get some of the brainwashing out of the schools, and they were systematically ignored. At that point, I knew it was hopeless. This was decades ago as well. I am hoping that our children get it, and find alternatives for our grandchildren. Two already have. One is looking at a private school that teaches the Trivium, and another is homeschooling.

          Like you, I think there are NO good schools anywhere.

          And it is a fact that ALL of us that have any education are SELF-educated. Even if we got courses in school, we didn't learn unless we made the effort. You can lead a horse to water… With our children, I stressed that the responsibility for getting an education was theirs alone, and that when they wanted an education, they would get one. They all did, though some resented I didn't force them to study when they weren't interested.

          The more egregious the policies of the schools, the more people will pull their children out. Eventually, the system will collapse. I don't know how long it will take. Here, we have a good scholarship program that anyone can apply for. People get a 100% tax credit for every dollar donated to the scholarship fund, up to a maximum of over $1000 a year. It is saving the government money, because public schools cost more.

  8. Jean says:

    The retort to those who disparage home schooling as somehow not allowing for socialization should be, "Well, exactly with whom – or what – do students at government schools socialize?" The parent(s) will be slack-jawed; it never occurs to these people that there are fairly well defined cliques that form in government schools, and that their kid may be in the one labelled "nerd," "geek," "loser," "dumb jock," "delinquent" – not just by the students, but the teachers as well. And ask any kid who was thus labelled how long it took him / her to outgrow the belief that the label fit! Socialization is fine, as long as the interactions are done within a civilized group. Government education too often resembles the environment established in Lord of the Flies.

  9. Cal says:

    Socialization is truly important but it should be done in an environment that is comfortable for your kid. I've been doing a research with and I'm convinced that you have to find an individual approach to each child.