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Jonathan's Answers to Tough Questions

QUESTION:

I was wondering if you had some insight on homeschoolers? Not just that they are dorks, but how do you deal with them?

I'm a fairly new youth pastor, and our youth group is approx. 70% home school and then a mix of public and private Christian school.

I'm finding out normal school kids aren't very interesdted in what's going on because they can hardly handle the homeschool kids. Their only social outlet is church and any church function, it's really quite strange to me...

So anyway, any thoughts would be greatly appreciated?!
Ken

ANSWER:

Dear Ken,

Thank you for contacting The Source about how to deal with home schoolers in your ministry. Since home schooling has "come of age," as "dorky" as some of the students can be, the home school movement as a whole, and home educated students overall, are not the oddball, isolated phemon they were in the 70s.

There are some unfortunates and fortunates to having home schoolers in your life. Let's start with the "unfortunates" for the youth leader: it's not knowing how to "deal with them" as you say. So, Ken, my best advice is: don't. Don't "deal" with them. Interact with them. Minister to them as you would any other kid - thank God their parents trust you enough to let you invest in their children's' lives...that they're not "isolationists" to that extent.

Include home schoolers, even though they aren't in the public school, where most youth leaders "target" with teenagers when making the case for outreach, inviting others, etc.

The "unfortunate" for the home school students is that if a leader (or any church member) doesn't think they're "normal," or that their parents are putting them at an academic or social disadvantage by home educating them, they may automatically have a condescending prejudice against those students and mentally label them "dorks". Granted, some home schooled kids do act like dorks! They aren't all as savvy as their public educated peers, though I don't always like that my public schooled students are so "savvy" - ahem. My point is, "socialization" isn't about peer-to-peer contact as much as it's how parents train them to socialize. No matter what setting - public school, nursing home, or grocery store, kids (no matter how they've been educated) will practice the socialization they've been taught. I once read a great statement: Home schooling is about shaping, not sheltering. (Related article, The Dreaded S Word, Click Here)

It's funny, in the city from which my husband and I moved a couple of years ago, one student I invested in was home schooled....a partying, running away, hard-headed, had to go to the police station for her more than once home schooled student! Not the poster child for the stereotype of home schooled kids staying home, memorizing all the vice president's wives names.

Then, there was the public educated girl who just graduated this year out of my current youth ministry - sweet, faithful to youth group, loved to be part of things....and took dorkdom to a whole new level, complete with bad odor, salivating speech, and poor communication skills! We all loved her. But I took her aside now and then and encouraged her in the Lord as well as in life skills. Because with all that wonderful public education, if she didn't sharpen up, she'd go out in the world and get eaten alive.

Maybe that's what you and your volunteers need to do with some of your students who are socially deficient. Pull them aside and mentor them. Better yet, teach godly social skills to all your students and give them opportunities to role-play. For example I taught one youth meeting on "Becoming a Visitor-Friendly Youth Ministry" and used an idea from the 05-06 Group Magazine Live! workshop Click Here. This particular exercise was to help kids in friend-building, using the acronym SALT:

S School "Where do you go?"

A Activities "Are you involved in sports/clubs?"

L Leisure "What do you like to do?"

T Take "Come and sit with me." Or, "Let me take you to meet some of my friends."


I broke kids up into 3-4's and had them take turns being the one to "reach out," then being the visitor. It can work for basic friend-building and interacting. That's just one idea. Do stuff like that to help foster proper communication between peers.

The number one key to how the other students "handle them," as you put it, is how the youth leaders interact with them. We have several home school students in our group, Ken. Our youth leaders connect with the home schooled kids just like anyone else - joking, challenging, laughing, praying with, mentoring, and including in events as well as giving opportunities to serve. And how the youth leaders treat them has influenced how students treat them. I don't have to tell you that that's just life - how you treat the punker, the skater, the gang-banger, the reputed school slut, the whatever, is going to directly influence how your other students respond to that teenager. We either believe that Jesus has called all students to Himself and that they all have a purpose and gifts, or we don't.

Even more significant, our youth leaders treat the home schooling parents with the same respect, love, and appreciation as we do our other parents. That's my other obvious advice: partner with the home schooling parents! As youth pastors, we need to do that with all parents anyway, for long-term ministry credibility and God's blessings (we reap what we sow). With the home schooling parents, don't be either intimidated or turned off by them. In fact, impress them by having done a little web research on http://hslda.org/. They'll be your greatest advocates, supporters, and prayer warriors! (You might even get regular batches of some homemade wheat-oat-barley foods - nummers!) If they happen to be Black, there's even a National Black Home Educators Resource Association, www.nbhera.org.

Finally, one of the "fortunates" for the youth leader (from my experience at least) is that home educated kids are usually more consistent than not. They're usually more available than public educated kids who are so busy with extra curricular activities. It's not that home schoolers don't do extra curricular stuff, but they often do those activities during the day, aren't as involved in sports (though these days, home schoolers can do band, sports, drama, just about anything), and youth ministry is more of a priority for many of them. So, capitalize on that by drawing their gifts and talents out of them, earning the right to speak into their lives on some of the more delicate topics. Some of them will grow into your best servants, worshippers, greeters, media techs, instrumentalists, and drama kids. And, of course, that makes it a "fortunate" for any kid - home schooled or not.

Ken, I hope these thoughts have helped. I've only given you a few actual practicals. But from my interaction with other youth leaders, it really does boil down to the intangibles of attitudes from parents, students, and youth leaders combined. We mean it when we say that we'd love to hear back from you as things progress in your ministry. Please email us back and let know how it's going with you and your students. We're cheering you on from The Source!

Same team,

Danette Matty, Resource Development
The Source For Youth Ministry, www.thesource4ym.com













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