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Schooling for kids experiencing social anxiety or bullying

by The Varsity Tutors School@Home Team

No matter how you slice it, school can be a traumatizing experience for students of any age. Bullying, issues with classmates, and teachers who might not understand your kids are just a few of the emotional stresses that they may have to deal with in a day.

In fact, bullying may be more rampant than we realize. The National Bullying Prevention Center reports that one out of every five students has been bullied, and the Centers for Disease Control warn that bullied students “are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, lower academic achievement, and dropping out of school.”

Furthermore, the 2009 “My Voice Aspiration Survey” of 414,000 students revealed that only 48% believe that their teachers care about them. Even more upsetting, of the 66,000 students in grades 6-12 who were surveyed by Quaglia & Corso, just 46% reported feeling like “a valued member of their school community.”

Even children who seem to be doing well may be dealing with toxic conditions at school. For children who may have social anxiety, the burdens of attending class multiply tenfold.

However, there is a practical remedy: homeschooling. One of the many benefits of educating from home is that this practice can be a better, more productive, and confident learning environment for students who may be experiencing negative social contexts in conventional school. D. Carbone of Largo, FL is one parent who turned to homeschooling for this reason. In an interview with Varsity Tutors, Ms. Carbone disclosed the following: “I chose to homeschool my son Jesse because he was being bullied at school, and it got so bad that he became petrified to get on the school bus in the morning. One day, I saw him crying while he was waiting for the bus, and I thought, ‘There has to be a better way.’”

When asked if she noticed a change in Jesse after beginning homeschooling, Ms. Carbone remarked, “It was like night and day . . . he got to be around his younger siblings, who he loves so much; finished his work happily every day, and even had more free time to ride his bike.”

Ms. Carbone wholeheartedly recommends homeschooling to parents whose children are in a similar situation, reflecting, “It was one of the best decisions I ever made. It makes a huge difference in a struggling child’s self-esteem.”

And Ms. Carbone’s beliefs have been confirmed by research. In 2003, a study by Dr. Ray found that homeschoolers were “much more active in community and social life than their public-school counterparts . . .[and] scored higher on the happiness scale.”

For students who suffer from social anxiety, a surprisingly pervasive condition, homeschooling can also be the healthier alternative. According to a study by psychiatry professors Denise Chavira and Murray Stein, “rates of childhood social phobia have been found to range from 29–40%, making it one of the more commonly seen child anxiety disorders.”

We can all relate to the comfort of being at home, surrounded by faces, spaces, and things we’re already intimately acquainted with. You don’t have to worry nearly as much about your outfit, how your ideas will be received, or any number of the mortifying possibilities that go along with being a traditional student.

Unfortunately, proponents of traditional schooling attack this argument with the appealing claim that homeschooling wrongly protects children from the discomforts—those humiliating “rites of passage,” if you will—that make us tougher, more resilient individuals.

But children are still exposed to the ways of the world whenever they leave home or—perhaps even more frequently—as soon as they go online. In addition, many homeschoolers supplement their learning with classes at libraries, museums, community colleges, and other “in-the-world” learning opportunities, making the “unsocialized homeschooler” myth ever more irrelevant.

So, homeschooling isn’t a fool-proof way to shield your children from anxiety or uncomfortable social situations. However, it can significantly increase their confidence and ability to navigate them during one of the most cognitively critical stages of life. Cook, et al. explain that “Exposure to chronic, prolonged traumatic experiences has the potential to alter children’s brains, which may cause longer-term effects” in areas like attachment, physical health, emotional regulation, behavioral control, and more. (The Cambridge dictionary defines trauma as any “severe emotional shock and pain caused by an extremely upsetting experience.”)

Aside from the psychological harm that stressful school situations can cause, parents may also be concerned about their children’s academic performance. When children don’t feel their best, it follows that their grades will suffer. * To be sure, homeschooling can help children emotionally and academically, no matter which issue came first. There is a proven positive correlation between homeschooling and academic performance. More specifically, homeschooled children tend to score higher on standardized tests and have an 8% higher average college graduation rate than their public-school peers.

If your family might be thinking about homeschooling because your children are experiencing negative social interactions in conventional school, we’d love to help. Varsity Tutors School @ Home offers something for every homeschooler, whether it's customizable complementary instruction in both academic and elective subjects or a digital app that makes daily homeschooling logistics easier for parents. Learn more here: