Today’s post is really only half a post – the other half can be found over at Travel Deep and Wide. Stacey-Jean Inion, the awesome mama of many who has been traveling for eight years with her tribe of nine children, has additional thoughts about the socialization issue. In short, I feel it’s something parents need to think about and consider; she feels it’s a non-issue that doesn’t even warrant a thought. Please read and comment here, then over to her post and read her thoughts. Our goal here is to start a dialogue – to get traveling parents to consider all aspects of their kids’ development and come to their own conclusion.
Any and every homeschooling parent has, at some point, heard the “socialization question.”
- How do you socialize your children if they are home all day?
- Your kids will grow up to be freaks who don’t know how to get along with others.
In fact, this question in all its various forms is probably the number one question homeschooling parents deal with. And truthfully – for ‘normal’ homeschooling parents, I say it’s a complete non-issue. Unless you are locking your children up at home and not allowing them to see other kids at all – ever – it’s a non-issue. Your kids take gymnastics lessons? That’s socialization. On the swim team? Socialization. Plays at the playground? Goes to library events? Every homeschooling parent I know gets their kids out and about a lot. A lot. Socialization is not even something to consider.
But when you add travel into the mix, there is an added dimension that needs to be considered. I call it the PROCESS OF FRIENDSHIP.
Before we talk about travel, let’s talk about the normal process of friendship. You meet someone and it clicks. You go through a honeymoon phase, where you play together daily and have a blast. As time marches on, maybe you discover that your interests are different and you drift apart. Or maybe you have a big fight and never speak again. Or you have a big fight, but figure out how to reconcile your differences. All those events are normal.
When I was in Grade 8, my very best friend in the world was Tina. Tina and I were inseparable. We hung out every day before classes started. We touched base during the five minutes we had between classes. We ate lunch together, and after school nearly always found us both at either her house or mine. Talk about besties? Yeah – that was Tina and me.
In Grade 9, we continued in the same vein. If you found Tina, you found me. We were together – always.
Grade 10 was the same. We had been best friends for three years, and couldn’t even imagine that someday we would drift apart. That thought was inconceivable.
But it started in Grade 11. Tina and I were still friends, but other friends started working their way into our small circle. We had some mutual friends, but I had some friends and she had others.
By the time we were seniors, we were going our separate ways. I saw Tina in the hallways, and I said, “Hello,” but that was about it. There was no big falling out – we just drifted apart.
I suspect we all have stories like mine. We have friends in certain phases of our lives, then we move on and establish new friendships. There is nothing wrong with that and, I would argue, there is a lot of good in that. It’s a natural process, and we learn about ourselves and others through it.
And that process is exactly what traveling kids miss.
If you had asked me about this issue 7 years ago, I would have said it’s nothing to worry about it. Not a big deal. Kids are adaptable. Kids are social creatures. Kids reach out to local kids and play no matter where they are. And that’s totally true!
When we cycled through Alaska and Canada, our boys played with other kids in campgrounds – it took about… oh, let’s just say about 30 seconds for them to find other kids. It’s like they were bloodhounds that just gravitated toward them. They played with kids of all ages, and it didn’t seem to matter if the other kids spoke English or not. Kids were kids, and they played.
We cycled through the USA once most kids had gone back to school, so the play opportunities were more limited, but still – not an issue. When there were kids, our sons played with them. And they talked with people of all ages and carried on intelligent conversations on a wide array of topics. Socialization issues? Who are you kidding?
Mexico and Central America were no problems – there were always plenty of kids playing soccer, and our sons jumped right in there.
We noticed it starting in Colombia. By that point, we had been on the road for 18 months on our PanAm journey, plus a year when the boys were in Grade 3. For some reason, Davy and Daryl were hesitant to go find local kids. If they could find a video game shop, they would go, but otherwise they stayed in our hotel. We urged them to go play soccer. “They’re too good,” came the response. “We can’t compete.” We encouraged our boys to do other things with local kids, but they always seemed to find an excuse.
It became very apparent in Ecuador, right around their 12th birthday. Something was going on, and we didn’t know what to do about it. Davy and Daryl, who had always been very social creatures, no longer sought out playmates at all. They happily went to internet cafes to play games – but they played with each other rather than other kids. They weren’t miserable by any stretch of the imagination – they were actually quite comfortable with the arrangement, but John and I were concerned. What about that whole socialization issue?
Was it the age? Was there something about being 12 that caused our sons to withdraw? Or was it the area? Were the kids in Ecuador different? Harder to get to know? Were they more resistant to foreigners hanging out with them?
Or was it burnout from the many years of travel? Had our sons reached a point where they were simply tired of putting energy into establishing friendships, knowing they would pack up and leave in a short while? Had the lack of that process of friendship negatively affected them?
Sadly, there is no way to know. I’ve talked with my sons, and they don’t know. Whatever happened, it certainly wasn’t a conscious decision on their part.
John and I were baffled – and concerned. What should we do? Should we call off our journey? Would our sons’ needs be better served back home? Had they learned what they needed to learn from the travel, and now it was time to change gears?
In the end, we made the decision that continuing on would be the best option. To take the dream away at that point would be cruel, and would hurt way more than it would help. In short, we acknowledged that the lack of social interaction with other kids was an issue, but it was a price we were willing to pay. The benefits of continuing on – of achieving the goal – were higher than the disadvantages.
My point is this: if you are considering long-term travel with your kids, know that this socialization thing could be an issue. All kids are different, and there is no way for me to predict how your kids will react – I can only tell you how mine did. It’s something to think about. Know that it could be a non-issue, a small issue, or a big issue. Maybe it’s an acceptable price to pay; maybe it’s not.
Every time we make a decision TO DO something, we make a parallel decision NOT TO DO something else. When we choose to go traveling, we forego soccer and swim teams, Boy Scouts and robotics clubs. We gain other things – we gain climbing on Mayan ruins and diving with turtles. Dancing in Carnival parades, and joining holy pilgrimages into the mountains. Climbing on glaciers and chasing llamas. Those things are all great, but so are the more “typical” experiences at home.
Is one better than the other? No. Not better or worse – only different. We have different seasons in life, and the hard part is knowing when it’s time to change gears.
By all means – go traveling. I would NEVER suggest that a family not travel out of fear of the “socialization issue.” Never, ever. But go with an exit plan. Know that if things aren’t going as planned and it doesn’t look like your children are handling it well, be willing to change gears. Maybe that means going back home; maybe it means slowing down and diving deep into one culture. But we willing to go there if that’s what your children need.
Travel is awesome. It’s exciting and wonderful and stimulating and challenging. But it comes at a price. Know what price you’re paying.
Now, head over to Socialization: Debunking the myth to read her thoughts on the issue. Do kids need to attend school with their age peers to be “socialized?”