Saturday, 4 January 2014

Two Messages that Children Internalize that Contribute to Bullying in Patriarchal Church and Homeschool Groups

Homeschooled children sometimes experience bullying from peers. Part of this stems from the messages that children absorb about themselves.

1. Children respond to the tiered authority by owning the message that they are the not as good as other people and exist to serve people who appear to be more powerful than they are;

2. Children respond to the opposite message that they are the best and brightest and most privileged and enact that power on others. 

I have mentioned the issue of bullying in homeschool groups in passing in a previous post, but bullying in homeschooling families and homeschool groups is a serious issue. In a well-meaning homeschooling family from a conservative background, there are several patterns, such as adherence to patriarchal family systems and the sense of responsibility held by the parents to teach their children to succeed in life and grow up to be adults with the same mindset and goals as the parents. There is also often a commitment to having a large family. This creates
unique family power dynamics. Depending on how the family works, they will send a message to their children that corresponds with one of the point above: that the child is valued and special, or that the child is part of a plan that has nothing to do with the child.

Socialization has become almost a joke to both sides of the homeschooling debate, but the reality is that children who are homeschooled spend less time with other non-siblings, and sometimes this is even the goal of homeschooling. In patriarchal families, children are often authority-tiered in birth order, although preference in the ranking is sometimes given to boys. Sometimes this happens in large families due to the difficulty in parenting large numbers of children, and mothers bring in older daughters to take on various aspects of homemaking and parenting.

There is a large amount of anecodotal evidence that speaks to how damaging sibling parenting can be. There is a series posted by Heather Doney that tells the stories of sister-moms. Many of the personal stories shared on both No Longer Quivering and Homeschoolers Anonymous also outline the difficulties of being an adult who helped raise their own siblings. Children who are part of this tiered authority find themselves always as part of a ranked system, which is different from the experience of children who attend school, who are grouped with peers in spite of status struggles.

Homeschool groups and church "families" are touted as a significant source of socialization opportunities for homeschooled children. However, this means that children who spend most of their time in a tiered family structure are then tossed together as an artificial peer group and left to find their own status among themselves, which is one of the things that some homeschooling parents say they are attempting to avoid. The source for the information in this post is lived experience.

Children in homeschooling groups and church groups vie for status at the expense of each other, just as children do in public and private schools. They put each other down, and use similar ways of determining popularity as public schooled children do, including appearance, status of parents, ownership of desired items, and overall apparent confidence levels. They sometimes use physical strength to exert control as well. Parents do not always see the bullying but it does take place.

However, homeschooled children in these families are also subject to real responsibility/authority status and a tight social circle that is includes all available peers.

Girls sometimes compete to exhibit which is the more capable parent, and it is not uncommon to see these children carrying other children around, usually their own siblings or the young children of family friends. Because it is valued for girls to learn to perform homemaking tasks, girls are put on display to demonstrate proficiency in cooking and parenting, which creates resentment between peers. Financial struggles are a common problem among families with a stay-at-home mother and many children, so girls find themselves ranked in their peer groups according to whose parents have time to contribute to social activities and by common status symbols such as clothing. These families also share clothing, so children with a lower financial status have to wear the cast-off clothing of the more affluent families.

Very young boys in patriarchal families do not always realize that they are being groomed to take part in a power structure, but they do attempt to exert power over each other as much as public schooled boys do. The big difference here between public schooled children and homeschooled children is that since children tend to be part of a self-regulating system (and the parents are busy) there is not as much supervision and few complaints. As stated above, children either internalize that they exist to serve or exist to control. This results in children who are taught to stick to their ranking and do not usually object to unfairness.

Mental health problems are often not identified and treated in children in these circles, and some of the aspects of patriachal homeschooling life may contribute to the development of mental health disorders. This leaves suffering children even more vulnerable to bullying since children suffering from depression and similar struggles may only appear to be quiet and awkward, whereas in a public school they may have been identified as needing a teacher-mentor or recommended to see a mental health professional. An additional problem unique to church and homeschool groups that prevents children from being protected from bullying is that there is no central figure that children can turn to if their life isn't working like a teacher or principal. Each parent usually has faith in their own children, and all parents in the church group or homeschool group has faith in their system, and it threatens their choices if the system doesn't work, so there is simply no room for a bullied child to seek help.

Please share your input regarding the differences between bullying in public schools and patriarchal church and homeschool groups!


  1. I've never been to public school, so I don't know. But I can testify for what you are saying about homeschooling. I don't come from a large family, so circumstances were different in a way. But we still had 100s of chores, were forced to conform, and I never felt included or good enough, even in homeschool circles.

    1. Thank you for your comment Lana. Lots of people come from slightly different circumstances in terms of how many years of public school or homeschooling, and different individual circumstances such as family size, but it is becoming clear that homeschooling does not equal utopia.

  2. Oh boy, I identify so hard with every word of this. The thing that still hurts is when I look back at all that wasted time spend blaming myself for not being godly enough to fit in, when really I just was on the bottom of the pecking order due to circumstances out of my control.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I spent at least five years within the fundementalist group (depends on how you count) trying to fit in, and then another couple years struggling with the aftermath. I am trying to view that time as the trial that taught me what was wrong with the whole system (and that the problem was not you or I).

  3. I was not homeschooled and still didn't feel that I did things good enough. When I grew up, these things were not talked about. I don't believe the homeschooling has anything to do with that.

    1. Homeschooling does not cause it. However it occurs in homeschooling, not just in public schools.