I’m in 7th grade and have always been homeschooled. For years I thought it was something to be proud of, but recently that changed. I was at youth group and we were answering some questions about peer pressure, and they all seemed to be about things that happen at school. Currently I do take classes at some homeschool co-ops, but whenever I answered the questions with things like, “Heck, what would I know about being pressured into buying illegal retired circus elephants from Nepal! I’m homeschooled!” I knew the rest of my group immediately thought I was weird. They all still seemed nice, but they mainly talked amongst themselves that night and I was mostly left out.
Another time a similar thing happened was when I was at a dance clinic over the summer at a local high school. I tried to talk to a girl who looked lonely since the only person I knew there was a high schooler who was busy. I introduced myself and sat on the floor by her, and it was all going well until i made the mistake of asking her what school she went to. In return she asked me the same question, and when I told her I was homeschooled she slowly scooted away. Not even getting up! Just scooting away…
When I become a freshmen, I’m going to go to normal school (most likely an all-girls Catholic school), and my question is, should I keep it a secret that I was homeschooled? Will they judge me harshly? Will I have to move to Nepal with the retired circus elephants? Or will I become a lonely teenage cat lady?
Oh, definitely not.
Well, okay: almost definitely. I mean, seeing as none of us actually holds the power to predict the future, we must make reasonable allowances for the <0.0001% possibility that you’ll end up living out your days surrounded by cats and/or circus elephants (which doesn’t even sound so bad, now that I’m thinking about it? RETIREMENT GOALS)!
But with that said, Sparkler, my best guess is that you’ll be just fine. Just from your letter, it’s clear that you’re a perfectly delightful person: easygoing, friendly, interested in other people, and fantastically un-self-conscious in a way that’ll serve you well long-term, even if not all your high school classmates have the good sense to appreciate it.
The bad news is, some of them probably won’t, and that’s where things get a bit more complicated. You’re earnest, sweet, and a little bit different, and these are wonderful things, but they are also things that can make you a target for bullies, especially if you’re in a rigid environment (like, say, a Catholic girls’ school) that doesn’t always know how to handle offbeat personalities. Add to that the lack of social experience that often goes hand-in-hand with being homeschooled, and it’s going to be extra important for you to find and connect with the kids at your school who appreciate you for who you are—and that you not sabotage yourself by accidentally doing stuff the people find alienating.
Which brings us to this: you don’t have to keep it a secret that you grew up homeschooled. There’s nothing wrong with being homeschooled! But you should probably stop talking about being homeschooled in a way that makes you sound like you’re from another planet. Take the story from your youth group, for instance: this was a conversation in which everyone else was able to find some common ground, but you went out of your way to announce yourself as an outsider with nothing to contribute to the discussion except a total lack of understanding. It’s no surprise folks didn’t talk to you after that, you know? Not because they thought you were weird, but because you treated them like they were, and like their lives were so foreign and far off from your own that you couldn’t possibly relate to them. And I know you didn’t mean it that way—you were just trying to be funny, right?— but that whole scenario is a great example of how an attempt at self-deprecating humor can cause you to exclude yourself when people might otherwise have included you.
Fortunately, that’s the kind of mistake you can easily avoid making in the future, just by being mindful about the way you approach people. Instead of shining a spotlight on what you don’t share, focus on the things you have in common. Assume from the outset that you can relate to people, and that they can relate to you, even if you don’t have identical lived experiences. And if you don’t have anything to contribute to a conversation, that’s okay! It’s a perfect opportunity to take an interest in what other people are saying—which is how you get to know the folks who will ultimately become your friends.
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