- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Economists say the limiting factor in a situation will become the desired commodity and will gain in value. If we apply that concept to the situation of families in our country today, one could argue that parents one-on-one time with their children has become a shrinking commodity and therefore is gaining rapidly in value.

According to this logic, home-schoolers are the new elite.

While this may be a shocking statement, I believe I can make a case for it. If you read about the lives of families in the past, you will see that despite other hardships, they spent a lot of time together. Agricultural life demanded that children and parents work side by side to care for the land and the livestock. Many children could not go to a formal school or were limited to a few months a year. Yet, in such seemingly deprived conditions, children flourished, and the literacy levels were higher than for many of today´s high school graduating classes.

Even during the harsh conditions of the Industrial Revolution, when children as young as 6 were put to work in factories to help support the family, we did not see the levels of crime and violence among youth that we see today. Children may have been endangered in the workplace, but they were still part of intact families with a strong bond of love between the generations.

Our own grandparents and parents came through the Depression and wartime without developing the social problems commonplace today: blood baths in schools, teen promiscuity and plummeting academic achievement.

On the other hand, among home-schoolers today, we see very different phenomena emerging. Home-schoolers are doing better academically, socially and emotionally than their counterparts in schools. When I compare my children and other home-schooled children with their friends in private and public schools, the home-schooled children are noticeably free of drug, alcohol, emotional and academic crises.

If there was any other factor responsible for children´s development, surely the schools would be producing far better results than home-schooling. Schools have better facilities, highly trained teachers, plenty of textbooks, laboratories and gymnasiums. Numerous in-service training programs help teachers develop new teaching methods. There are auxiliary staff and services, such as guidance counselors, janitors and administrators.

If student achievement was predicated on any factor other than parental attention, there would be no way home-schooling could equal, much less surpass, the institutions.

My theory is this: Children thrive on the tailored love and attention that come from their parents. Conversely, when there is inadequate love and attention from parents, children feel dissatisfied, and it shows.

I learned this the hard way when my children were small. Running my own business from home, I often needed to meet a deadline, only to be thwarted by a sudden spate of crankiness, accidents and needy behaviors from my three toddlers. For a long time, I didn´t realize what was happening. It seemed like coincidence, or rebelliousness on the part of my children, that was conspiring to keep me from concentrating on my task.

Then, one day, enlightenment came. I found out my children knew when my attention was focused elsewhere, and even at those young ages, they didn´t like it. They wanted to be more important than the document on my computer screen. They wanted me to care more about them than the person I was interviewing over the telephone. They wanted me, their mom, full time.

I discovered that if I stopped my "urgent, very important" work and gave them some unqualified, appreciative attention, they transformed into happy, peaceful children. Amazing. I had the key all along but didn´t know what was causing their resistance, so I hadn´t used it.

Professional educators know the key to students doing well is you guessed it parental involvement. Schools in which parents pay attention to the children suddenly have better results. No wonder everyone wants parents to read to their youngsters, oversee their homework and science projects, or come to their athletic and extracurricular events.

Home-school parents grow accustomed to a certain number of raised eyebrows and disdainful attitudes from others. There is a lot of discrimination, even now, against those who are educated within the family. Yet, our family´s experience is that those friends who are home-schooled are happy, vibrant, self-assured and independent, and those who are attending private or public schools are more self-doubting, angry with parents, and more likely to make poor choices.

One parent recently told me, "We´re going through the normal teen-age problems," and listed various worrisome behaviors. I was nonplussed because my normal teen-agers are doing none of those things. The parent was conscious that the child had been affected by the school environment. No one argues with that. But the point is, how can it be counteracted?

I will make a radical statement: I believe the solution to every youth problem is in their parents´ hands. When we make our children our first priority, when we invest the bulk of our time and love and thought into them, they will respond. If children already are acting out, it means we need to invest even more. We need to love more, not less, if our children are going in a negative direction.

This may mean discipline at times, and it may mean long and honest conversations at other times. It may mean holding each other and crying together and really apologizing for past ignorance. But I am convinced that no therapist, no expert, no social worker has the power of a parent to help his or her child to grow and thrive.

Put your children first. You won´t regret it.
Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer living in Maryland.

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