Homeschooling teens: The hardest part of Kris’s homeschool year

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Written by Kris Bales of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers

A year ago, I became the mom to a houseful of teens. My baby turned 13 and my oldest was 19 with a 15 year old sandwiched in the middle. Y’all, I thought parenting babies and toddlers was hard, but teens? They present a whole new reason for sleepless nights. And don’t even get me started on their meltdowns and temper tantrums.

Don’t misunderstand. Teens are really awesome people. Society and the media have given them a bad rap. The majority of the teens I know are thoughtful, respectful, amazing individuals who have some incredible insight to offer if you’ll take the time to listen to them.

That doesn’t mean that homeschooling – or parenting – them is a breeze, though.

The hardest part of my homeschool year

Last year I had a very rude awakening. I discovered that homeschooling is not a panacea for all things teen. Homeschooling doesn’t guarantee teens who don’t talk back, make poor choices, push boundaries, or rebel.

Note: Grammar Nazis be warned, I will be using the pronoun “they” to refer to a single person. This is designed to protect my teens’ identity and privacy, not drive you insane.

One evening last year, I walked in on one teen Skyping a complete stranger of the opposite gender. It appeared to be an innocent conversation – other than the fact that it completely broke a few of our rules for Skyping.

A discussion ensued and all seemed well. Until it happened again. And, we discovered that the two were texting as well.

This resulted in loss of privileges, the person being removed from Skype, and daily monitoring of Skype and phone accounts (once the teen had access to those things again).

kris3
Photo by Hernan Piñera

It also resulted in the, well, the stuff hitting the fan at our home. School was completely derailed on the day that all this came to light – a day on which my husband happened to be off work, thankfully.

School was also completely derailed the following day when my husband felt so strongly about what was going on that he left work to come home and deal with it.

Because it wasn’t just pushing boundaries and breaking rules.

It brought to light a crisis of faith. That, to me, was a bigger issue than everything else. My teen telling me that he/she didn’t really believe all that Christianity stuff and was just going through the motions. We weren’t sure if this was a matter of said teen trying to hurt us or if they were really questioning their faith.

After much prayer, many sleepless nights, and the counsel of good, Christian friends, my husband and I came to the conclusion that this crisis of faith was normal. Our kids can’t live life on our faith. It has to be theirs. They have to wrestle it out on their own and sometimes you can’t do that without some deep questioning.

I told my teen that as long as they live in my house, they will attend church, we’ll pray together as a family, we’ll do Bible study, and we’ll memorize Scripture. When they become an adult, they will say one of two things: “My mom shoved that Christianity crap down my throat all my life” or “I’m so glad my mom didn’t give up on me.”

I told my teen that I hoped it would the latter, but even if it wound up being the former, I hope that they would understand that if I believe what I say I believe – and I do – that my love for them would allow me no other choice than to continue to share my faith with them.

You think that was enough for one year? I sure did. Apparently it wasn’t, though. A week later, another teen came to me with another serious issue. And, the week after that, it was something with the third. Yeah, three kids in three weeks.

I don’t think I can discuss the other two issues in detail without risking some privacy issues, so I’ll just say this: homeschooled teens – even those from “good Christian homes” – are not immune from things like:

  • Rebellion
  • Disrespect
  • Experimentation with drugs and alcohol
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-harm
  • Promiscuity
  • Lying
  • Sneaking out
  • Breaking rules

The list could go on and on. And here’s a scary thought: All that stuff you did as a teen? Your teen is not immune. Even when you homeschool.

Five friends in a row

The issues we dealt with were enough to drive a person to drink, despite the fact that they were probably fairly mild in light of what some parents of teens are facing. In my case, it was enough to drive me to my knees.

Looking back, I can honestly say that a lot of good came out of a very difficult season. My faith was strengthened. Family relationships were strengthened and now there is much more open communication about even the hard topics. My kids know that they can come to my husband and me with whatever they’re dealing with and we’ll listen without flipping out (too much).

My kids’ faith was strengthened, too. All three of my teens went through a crisis of faith period. Two seem to have worked out their faith struggles. One is still wrestling a bit and I’m still praying a lot.

One of the biggest things that helped me through all this – apart from my faith – was opening up to some trusted friends and discovering that my family wasn’t alone. I was often surprised at who among my friends has dealt with certain issues because I never would have guessed.

That was a big deal because it showed me two things:

1) We all want the world to see only our best side and not our struggles and…

2) Good families with good kids go through these things.

It wasn’t a failure on my part. My kids aren’t bad kids. It is all just part of them testing their independence and their boundaries. It is all just part of growing up.

It made me very thankful that we homeschool, as well. We were able to deal with each of these issues as they arose, rather than being forced to push them aside until we were all home together.

So, parents of teens, I want you to know, whatever you’re going through, you’re not alone.

What would you say to parents suffering from teen-induced insomnia?

This post is part of our Hardest Part of my Homeschool Year series.

About Kris

Kris Bales is the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest voice behind Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She and her husband of over 25 years are parents to two amazing teens and a homeschool grad. Kris has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. She also seems intent on becoming the crazy cat lady long before she's old and alone.

Comments

  1. My eldest is 8 and I’ve started sharing some of my stories from being an older teenager (homeschooled, practically born in a church service). I’m not sure they’ll be able to outdo me, and I know my parents had sleepless nights. But you’re right, I had to make up my own mind about boundaries, faith, etc. My prayer for my kids is that they stay alive and functional during those transition years, because if they’re anything like me it’s going to be awful.
    Rebecca’s latest post: Unnoticed

  2. I suppose that (increasingly rare) feeling of wanting to ‘shove’ my kiddos right back into the safety of my womb will never truly go away. I don’t have an ‘unbelievably supportive’ husband/family when it comes to homeschooling. So all I can do is read, research, and pray. And keep trying. My friends have older kids (mine are only 6 and 3) and are beautiful examples of this faith and learning journey that you write of and that I want for my children. Thank you for this blog.

  3. I’ve got 3 teens now, one on the cusp, and eventually 8 more to become teens some day. I so understand what you’ve written about here . . . more than I can possibly describe in a blog comment!
    Anne’s latest post: A Week, Briefly (#1)

  4. Your post reminded me of Matt’s insightful Why Millennials Lost Their Faith (And How Parents Can Prevent Their Children From Losing Theirs). He makes some very observations about building faith.

    ~Luke

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this, Kris! I’ve read your blog for years and your transparency has kept me coming back. It is so nice to know that other christians have these struggles with their teens. We’ve had some really hard years and I’ve had a hard time sharing with friends because their experiences have been so different from mine. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

  6. Kris, a heads up that your “former” and “latter” appear to be mixed up in the paragraph regarding the two options of what your kids will say to you about their faith when they are grown.

    Gently, it’s rarely so simple as anger (shoved the faith down my throat) or thankfulness wrapped in faith. For some of us, a third option is most accurate. Something like, “My parents loved me so much that they taught me everything they know about their faith and showed me how they love their God. They also taught me to question and study, and I’m so thankful for that too. My parents are amazing even though we no longer share the same beliefs.”

    Crises of faith are hard and scary for all involved. My thoughts and prayers are with your family.

  7. This was for me today. Thank you.

  8. My almost teen (6 months shy of 13) approached us this weekend saying he was struggling with whether or not our Christian God was the right one. My instant feeling was panic, then prayer, then hopping on the phone to a pastor which then led to another wonderful church member comforting me because her son began questioning at this age too. This article has also brought me comfort because I’m learning that this journey is long and that no matter how hard we try, we are raising human beings with free choice, so there are going to be areas of struggle and pain, and for parents, much worry and fear. Thank you for reassuring me as we’re just beginning this teen journey and for reminding me that going to my knees is the best place for me to go when things arise. Blessings to you!

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Jennifer. Yes,that was my realization, too – that we’re raising human beings with free choice. This was followed by another rather frightening realization that I confirmed with my parents – no matter their ages, you never quit worrying about your kids. I’m 40-something years old and my parents still worry about me. I think I cause a little less worry than I did when I was a teen, but still…
      The best thing to come of all this, though, is that I’ve discovered that the best cure for worry is prayer. God and I have been chatting a lot lately – and that’s a good thing no matter how you spin it.
      Kris @ Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers’s latest post: How to Find Activities for Homeschooled Teens When There Isn’t a Local Homeschool Group

  9. Amen and Amen! And it can be so hard when you feel you have no one to talk to in the Church or homeschool community because you will be judged and told what a horrible mom you are! Thank you for sharing.

  10. Thank you for sharing so candidly, Kris. We are close to the teen years here, and I am starting to see glimpses of what is to come. I am so grateful for your heart to encourage and deal in truth.
    Shawna@nottheformerthings’s latest post: What Has Surprised Me Most Since My Son Was Diagnosed With Autism

  11. What you say is so true, our teens are not exempt from anything just because they are homeschooled. I have homeschooled 5 children, who are young adults now, and 2 out of the 5 fell hard at the same time. But God is faithful, even when we feel weakened in our faith. The good that came out of it for me personally, was how it humbled me. I am truly thankful for that, and I still have hope that His word will not return void in their lives.

  12. I so so appreciate your honesty here…I have dealt with some tough tough things with my teens and it didn’t feel like I had very many safe places to turn to. We definitely need to know that we are not alone and that God loves them and will pursue them and we just need to be faithful with our particular call. It’s exhausting for sure…especially since we still have preschoolers in the home too!
    Aimee’s latest post: On the Value of a Personal Retreat

  13. One of my favorite sayings during those trying times is “The clay isn’t dry YET, Mama…” There is still time to mold and shape character. God bless!

  14. This is such good insight for me as I mentally prepare for my kids becoming teens as well. I sure pray they are spared from the poor choices and rebellion of my teen years, but I also pray that with discernment I will know when and how to share my life with them. I don’t want to hide them from the world. You’re right on Kris that homeschooling allows for the benefit of working through things in the comfort and safety of home on a daily, even hourly basis.
    Thank you for your transparency in this post – it is very helpful.
    Cara Thompson’s latest post: #Back2School in #31Days: Day 12 – Planning: Requirements & Records

  15. SoCalLynn says:

    Thank you for your willingness to share these hard things. I think it is hard to open up, especially as a homeschooling family because everyone thinks we have it ALL together, when our teens struggle with being teens. My oldest daughter, now 29, gave me many gray hairs during her senior year of high school (brick and mortar) and first few years of college. It was tough, but I had a wonderful group of women who met monthly to pray and there were some strong prayers going up during those times. My youngest had some struggles with boundaries on the internet, even though we had explained the dangers to her. Thankfully, a friend of hers loves her enough to tell her mom who loves me enough to come to me so we could handle it. No matter what we teach them, they are individuals who will make their own choices. We are here to pray, teach, and love them through it.

  16. Thank you for sharing your story!
    “I was often surprised at who among my friends has dealt with certain issues because I never would have guessed.” I firmly believe that isolation is a tool of Satan. If he can get us to think that we’re the only ones struggling with a certain trial, then it is so much easier to fall into a hole of despair and woe-is-me.
    Shirley’s latest post: One personal story of addiction, and another on the way…

  17. I appreciate you sharing.
    That being said, I was that teenager who questioned everything. Being in church made me feel fake, I feel God in nature. I never wanted to be there. Sometimes I wonder if my Mother respected my feelings and choice as a teen, maybe I wouldn’t have pushed back so hard. I just needed patience and understanding. It’s not far off to say the religion we grow up believing is relevant to where and who we are born to.

    So as that questioning teen, this is how it ended for me… “I’ll always respect the religion I was raised to believe, but it not what I identify with.”
    Olivia W.’s latest post: on being real

  18. Despite the agony and self-doubt we suffer as Christian parents of struggling teens, I have come to see that our “mistakes” and “failures” and all those unexpected teen problems enable us to have grace and compassion on others. I would be so proud and sure of myself if my kids had cloned into what I thought they should be, and yet now, I am so grateful to see them emerge so unique and amazing. I shared my own “Getting Real” posts – here’s one on “Attitudes”. and another “Giving Up”. Parenting on my knees in prayer. Blessings.
    Nadene’s latest post: Travel Art Set

  19. Thank you so much for sharing this article! This is really inspiring to me, especially where you say that your love for your children gives you no other choice than to share your faith.

    I’ve also found that as I’ve shared with close friends the things I struggle with that I’m not ostrasized like I feared but welcomed and loved even more. Thank you for the encouragement and advice!
    Katie Laws’s latest post: Carnival of Homeschoolers!

  20. Oh, Kris, I am right there with you. My 16 year old daughter is also going through a faith crisis. She says that she believes there is something greater, but she isn’t convinced that Christianity is the only way. She wants to study world religions, which I’m honestly not too sure about, and yesterday I found her in the New Age section at the library. After a stern warning not to be deceived, I went on to tell her how I myself read some of the New Age stuff before I was a Christian, and we had some laughs when I shared with her how “out there” some of it is. I’ve also resolved to go through the book Jesus Is _____ by Judah Smith with my teens (13, 15, and 16) when they start school next month. (The younger kids are already in their 5th week of school, but my older kids wanted to stick with the conventional school schedule.) I’m praying my daughter and your teen will find their faith again.

  21. Homeschooling does not keep some of this from happening, but after comparing my kids teens to other teens in the extended family, I can honestly say, it was better, since they didn’t have as strong peer pressure to deal with.
    Linda Sue’s latest post: Wooden Toddlers Beds Prevent Naptime Mayhem

  22. Teens are awesome people, and they too often don’t get the credit they deserve. They need to rebel, to question, to push boundaries. It’s really the only way for them to become the truly thoughtful adults we want them to be. Great to give them space to work through their issues, while being present and supportive.
    Winston Sieck’s latest post: Is this Unhealthy View of Intelligence Killing Your Motivation?

  23. cs roberson says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your struggles. I have 6 children ages 30yrs -13yrs old. I have been homeschooling for nearly 18yrs now. Only my youngest 2 are still at home…ages 13yrs & 14yrs. Having teenagers teaches one the true definition of the old phrase “a love/hate relationship”. I have experience in what to expect from my teenagers. I know it gets better. My 30yr old is also one of my best friends (now). My 25 yr old has his own wife and children now. He’s gone from being angry about being homeschooled (& most everything else we did as parents) to asking for advice about homeschooling his own children 🙂 All of my kids got to a point where they had to question the faith they were raised in…it’s a natural thing. “We” don’t become Christians just because we were told to be. “We” chose to be Christians. Neither my husband or I grew up as members of the church/religious community we both chose to join as adults. I know it’s difficult when kids get to the point where they question….heartbreaking when they become insulting/derogatory about our faith. IMHO I feel that how we respond is of the utmost importance. It’s not easy to look a defiant teenager in the eyes and calmly state “I’m sorry that’s how you feel but I feel differently. I feel there is a God…I feel the Holy Spirit/Ghost. I KNOW you were a gift from God in answer to our prayers for children. With great gifts come great responsibilities. I was entrusted to raise and nurture your physical body & your spiritual body…” If we as spiritual beings allow this to become an argument…if we respond in anger it only makes it worse. Patience and prayer (a lot of pray) really does work. My older children have all said they remember when we went to church regularly & were very involved in our religious community & they remember times when we weren’t. Life was always “better” when we were 🙂
    BTW…we also had issues with our 14yr old texting & with her use of facebook. We actually took her to a therapist who told us her issues where our fault because we homeschooled her. He flat out stated that “homeschooled children are isolated. They have no other option but to hit the street, become promiscuous and take drugs & it’s your fault”. That was our last session with him. After many tears….an amazing amount of support from our older kids…& a lot of prayer we tried a different therapist who was recommended by a friend from our church. When she found out we homeschool she was very excited….she was homeschooled as was another therapist in her office. My child is now proud of being homeschooled & she’s back on the right path. Praying works miracles both big and small.

  24. Thank you for this. My 15 year old is currently dealing with one of the things on the list you gave. It’s so true that homeschooling does not exempt a child from these situations. I wonder so many times where I failed, but I need to keep my trust in God.
    Marcy’s latest post: A Homeschool Day in the Life with a 15, 10 and 4 year old

  25. I was not homeschooled myself, but went to a very straight-laced, private Lutheran school. I was raised in a home where Christianity was presented as the only option. And I played along well with the rules until I was about 17. Through the rest of my teens and early 20s I was an adult who said “My parents shoved that Christianity crap down my throat and I want nothing to do with it.” And then, through finding recovery from my own struggles with drugs and alcohol, and through my parents learning to let me walk my own path instead of the path they made for me, I became an adult who now says, “I’m so glad my parents never gave up on me.”

    Take heart! It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job. You’ve definitely provided some inspiration and solace for this homeschooling mama who has two very spirited pre-teens. And we haven’t even gotten into most of the issues you name here yet. Based on how our toddler years went, I’m bracing myself for a wild ride over the course of the next decade!

  26. Whew. I agree. So good to finally meet you a few weeks ago – now when I read your wise words I can actually hear them! I will be sharing this post. 😊

  27. I just must say is thank you, thank you. Having two adult children WHO WERE NOT HOMESCHOOLED BUT ATTENDED PUBLIC SCHOOL their entire education has often made me feel that their spiritual and behavioral struggles were solely because of that decision. (Especially when I do see homeschool blogs where the families look literally perfect.) My three youngest are all homeschooled. The one hope I have from homeschooling: we are able to see, hear, talk and pray about their struggles where with my PS-ed kids, between AP classes and sports and homework, there WAS JUST SO MUCH LESS TIME TOGETHER. God is working and will work and you are so on target with the two choices: my parents “brainwashed and sheltered me in Christianity” OR “my parents continually loved me, had hope and prayed for me.” Our sole responsibility is to LOVE. BLessings.

  28. I just must say thank you, thank you. Having two adult children WHO WERE NOT HOMESCHOOLED BUT ATTENDED PUBLIC SCHOOL their entire education has often made me feel that their spiritual and behavioral struggles were solely because of that decision. (Especially when I do see homeschool blogs where the families look literally perfect.) My three youngest are all homeschooled. The one hope I have from homeschooling: we are able to see, hear, talk and pray about their struggles where with my PS-ed kids, between AP classes and sports and homework, there WAS JUST SO MUCH LESS TIME TOGETHER. God is working and will work and you are so on target with the two choices: my parents “brainwashed and sheltered me in Christianity” OR “my parents continually loved me, had hope and prayed for me.” Our sole responsibility is to LOVE. BLessings.

  29. I was glad to read this article. I don’t feel “quite” as isolated. My husband and I have a 15 year old homeschooled daughter who has been quite rebellious. She was bullied at a young age and for years after that in our small church. (We approached the parents on numerous occasions about this with not a lot of change.) She felt lonely and started reaching out to others on the internet when she was about 12. She got involved on the internet into some pretty shameful things. She was involved on the internet for two years before we knew what was going on. We thought she was just writing stories on wattpad. It broke our hearts. We sent her to live with her grandparents for about four months to “detox” without computers. With some money she stole from her brother, she bought her second iPod touch while staying with the grandparents. (The first we confiscated after her brother found her with it. It was also purchased behind our backs with stolen money from my cash stash.) After she returned home, we placed her in a Christian school. She now is doing somewhat better. She is very rebellious talking still and depressed. She is very anti-God. The people she talked to on the internet she said convinced her that there was no God. She will make sassy faces and remarks sometimes when we talk about God. Everyday I’m so sad inside. Her brothers are happy and eager to read the Bible and socialize well. I just ache to have the same for her. I feel like such a failure. Please pray for her. I feel so desperate and alone in this.

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