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Challenges to Homeschooling High School


The Challenges of Homeschooling High SchoolBy Beth Gorman

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(Names and identifying characteristics in this story have been slightly altered to protect the individuals involved; however, all other circumstances are true.)

Homeschooling a teen can be really hard. While I’m overall glad to be homeschooling, I have a high school age daughter who is difficult to work with and who is inconsistent in her approach to homeschooling. She has always been a challenging child, and as expected, the teen years have had a lot of turmoil. Homeschooling seems to catch a lot of blame for our problems — but it’s not from outsiders or family members. She spends a lot of time lamenting being homeschooled and blaming us for trapping her in home education — despite the fact that she has always had the option to attend school, an option we would have genuinely supported.

Challenges to Homeschooling High School

Social Issues

Homeschooling parents spend a lot of time saying there is no shortage of social experience for their kids. This is true for elementary kids and still somewhat true for middle school kids, especially in urban and suburban areas. However, so many homeschooled kids choose to attend school for high school that there few homeschoolers left. Many long-time friendships become difficult or impossible to maintain as the formerly-homeschooled kids who begin to attend high school become busy with school activities and new friends.

She actually does not miss things like proms and football games; we do have ways to create similar milestone experiences in the homeschool world that she is satisfied with. What she misses is having generous time to hang out with a few close friends.

The other thing is that a high percentage of the kids who have continued to homeschool have done so because they have specific issues that would make it difficult for them to attend school. Of course there are plenty of “regular” teenagers — again, especially in more populated areas — but there are also a number who would truly have a hard time in school because of their social differences. This means that a lot of the homeschool teen gatherings we have attended have seemed to our daughter to be largely “freaks and geeks” — which sounds terrible, but she actually includes herself in this stereotype.  I have told her that if she were in school, she would find there are “freaks and geeks” everywhere, but she has this persisting idea that just around the corner at the public school there are these shiny, welcoming cheerleaders who would be her friend.

I know.

Still, I understand that in the very small world of homeschooled teens in our community, it’s difficult for her to have the kinds of relationships she imagines as “normal,” since some of the homeschooled teens are so quirky with extremely narrow interests and not much tolerance for anything else, so that leaves even fewer kids that she might have something in common with. Yes, she recognizes her own quirks contribute to this scenario.

Emotional Issues

Our daughter has problems with anxiety. She is convinced that attending school would have made tests and other “opportunities to fail” (as she calls them) less stressful. I don’t really agree with this. Her issues have been present since toddlerhood, and I think school may have made them worse. She has actually had many opportunities to succeed and fail in her homeschooling life, and it really doesn’t get any easier for her to face them except when she is successful using specific coping strategies we have worked on for anxiety. She doesn’t really have an understanding of what school is like (despite being welcome to begin attending school any time she wanted), and I don’t think she has a good base to speculate on how the schedule and pressure of school may have affected her. In any case, there is no way to know—we can’t go back and do it both ways with the same child in order to find out. However, it means that she has ill feelings toward homeschooling, since she thinks it has contributed to her anxiety issues.

We are able to provide appropriate support to assist our daughter in learning to cope with anxiety, but her belief is solid that attending school would have made this problem more manageable.

Parental Self-Doubt

Because my daughter has been negative about homeschooling, it has made me doubt myself much more than I did with my older kids or than I do with her younger sister. You read a lot about outsiders criticizing homeschooling, but you hate to think that your own kid that you’re doing so much for is unhappy with homeschooling. This is a really difficult place to parent and homeschool from. I often struggle to produce a homeschooling experience that I think will address her concerns, but I also have to work to accept that she is not a very “satisfied” person in general. After all these years getting to know her, I am coming to understand that she would probably also be unsatisfied with any school she attended — and she would complain about it. Still, these are not exactly the rave reviews for homeschooling that you hope for from your teen homeschooler.

Academic Issues

My daughter expresses preference for structured academic experiences, classes, and group learning. I go to a lot of trouble to set these up and get her there, but she is often unable to take the tests because of anxiety, or she is unwilling to do the homework because she believes the requirements are unreasonable or don’t help her learn. (Do you begin to see why I don’t think public school is the answer either?) At the same time, she seems to learn well at home by reading and studying topics of interest to her, but she doesn’t think that learning is “real” because it’s not “like school.” She has been in a family that supports all these approaches to learning, but something inside her just won’t see learning-outside-of-a-school-like setting as authentic. As you can imagine, it’s hard to figure out how to homeschool when she can’t or won’t participate fully in her preferred kind of homeschooling but doesn’t trust the genuine learning she does on her own. On the other hand, I’m close to my two nieces, and I can see that my daughter’s education, even with its drawbacks, is more comprehensive than what they are getting in school, so I try to tell myself not to worry.


Our daughter would like to play team sports, but she has aged out of most opportunities in our small town. She is probably good enough to run track at high school level, but she is not allowed to try out at the high school because of the laws in our state. I hate that she misses out on this and even encouraged her to attend school if she wanted this opportunity, but she feels she is “too old” to adjust to school ways. She feels, then, that homeschooling all these years has caused her to miss out on something important.

Developmental Issues

All of these things are complicated by the normal teen development challenges we know about from raising other kids. While my child is learning to become more independent, there are the inevitable and expected differences in our relationship and her outlook. Unfortunately, just as school is often the setting for disagreements and turmoil in families with teens, homeschooling is often at the center of our struggles.

This makes things really personal. When she is upset about something not going well in one of her homeschool classes, she is more than willing to blame me for not having prepared her well. While I rationally know that her work is her responsibility, and I know that she has been given good support for academics, I do feel sensitive to the criticism. Given that she’s a teenager, she’ll also blame me for not having many friends, not being normal, and having limited opportunities.

Hard to hear — but also true: she does not have many friends, her anxiety makes her somewhat other than normal, and there are some opportunities she has missed out on.

On good days, she will also talk about the opportunities she’s had because of homeschooling. She has much more time to write and work on her art, and she’s had some opportunities to study with accomplished artists because of her flexible schedule. These things are important to her, and she concedes that she has opportunities in these areas that public school teens rarely have.

In fact, in my heart, I tend to believe that she doesn’t want to give these kinds of advantages up, and that this is why she has continued to homeschool. She may also feel she is somewhat “trapped” because in her heart, she understands she would really have anxiety problems if she transitions to public school.

However, she has chosen to continue to homeschool, and she has continued to complain about it.

Stressed and Blessed

I feel both stressed and blessed to homeschool this child. She makes valid points about the hard side of homeschooling as a teen, but as a mom, I also see that a lot of these things would have corresponding “hard sides” if she were attending school — or that there would be other problems. Her dad and I have speculated about how she might cope with her anxiety issues if she were exposed to the illegal drugs and peer pressure that are present in our local high school. We have wondered how she would manage the stress of meeting six classes five days a week, with hours of homework every night, much of it that would surely not meet our daughter’s “approval” as a positive learning experience. We feel we are providing her incremental opportunities to grow in these ways without creating crisis or over-sheltering.

But it’s hard. It’s hard enough to homeschool when a kid feels relieved to have been pulled from a bad school situation or when a generally happy healthy child has been homeschooled from the start and tends to respond well to your efforts.

I feel a lot of stress with this particular child, who isn’t happy to be a lifelong homeschooler and sees homeschooling as a liability and almost as an embarrassment. She is too old for me to be able to “make” to do school work or most anything else, and I am often embarrassed myself when she does not prepare well for her homeschool classes or takes a big stand in a class against a particular homework assignment that fifteen other kids simply accept and do without question.

It helps me to know that her older sister and brother, who were always pretty positive about homeschooling, are now even more positive about it as young adults, and they homeschooled through high school too. Then again, they did not have the same personality or challenges that she has.

In a lot of ways, homeschooling a high schooler is just an extension of parenting a high schooler, and if you have a more challenging kid, it is going to be more challenging no matter what the approach to education.

I know that there are gifts attached to my daughter’s challenges — a lot of her complaints are vocal because she is not afraid of telling the truth as she sees it, and she’ll never be someone who goes along to get along. I admit that those kinds of people are hard to live with on a daily basis, much less homeschool, but I know our society really needs them.

I’m sure right now she would disagree — but I also think homeschooling is a good way to make sure that some truth-tellers make it to adulthood still telling the truth. Woe is me in the meantime.

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  1. Kelly

    Love this post and have shared it as a reference for Cruising Mom Blog readers here: (We homeschool on boats = boatschool.) Thanks for sharing great content!

    • Jeanne Faulconer

      Hi Kelly,

      Nice to see your boatschool blog provide resources for challenges in homeschooling. We at TheHomeSchoolMom appreciate your including Beth’s article and hope it will help other homeschoolers.

  2. Cindy

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am about to embark on homeschooling for the first time with my 10th grade daughter who also has anxiety and depression issues. I am nervous but it helps to know I am not alone in the struggles. We both want what’s best for our children. Maybe we should both try not to beat ourselves up to much along the way. Love you, Mama!

  3. Emily

    Thanks for the article. I relate to your description of your daughter, except my daughter may have a few more issues with her diagnosis of Aspergers. We have bounced from public to private back to public and now have just decided to homeschool her for high school. SOOOO nervous about this. Getting lots of raised eyebrows. But her anxiety crushes her in school and she either ends up in the counselor’s office all day, or can’t even make it out of bed in the morning. Of course she’s been on meds. Of course she’s in therapy. But I finally have to admit that public school is not for her. The homeschool group we joined has a good 10 kids in her class, but they drive from all over the state so not sure about the social/friend piece yet. As it is, she has almost no friends. When you are higher functioning on the spectrum, especially if a girl, the no-friend thing becomes a source of debilitating anxiety. We live in CT and I am scouring the internet for resources so that my kid won’t be so isolated. Like you, I will be happy she can spend more time on her art, writing, music… but loneliness can breed more anxiety so I will have to be vigilant. And I can totally see her becoming resentful of me for this decision even though it’s what she wanted 😉 The high school won’t accept transfer credits from homeschool though, so she won’t be going back. Anyway, thank you for the article!!! Parenting a challenging child definitely keeps you on your toes!

  4. Beth

    Thank you for sharing your struggles. I have homeschooled my children for 21 years; 3 are now college graduates, the 4th is a college senior, and the last is home and in 11th grade. We are blessed to live in an area with an abundance of homeschool resources, activities, and opportunities, several of which my husband and I created over the years. I have not experienced the difficulties and challenges that you have. But you describe one of my close friends to a T, whose son is best friends with my youngest.

    He is 17, and has decided that his parents have ruined his life by homeschooling him. He has some learning disabilities, which probably should have been addressed much earlier, but he is getting assistance with them now. As a result, he has very weak academic skills, and because he is embarrassed by that, he just doesn’t try. He is a good athlete and plays on a homeschool basketball team with my son, which has been a good experience for him because he can be a hothead. The coaches have been firm but patient, and he has had to learn self-control. discipline, and teamwork. Another area that he struggles with is being black in a “white homeschool world”. There are other minorities in our homeschooling community, but the reality is that the majority are white, He soooo wants to be part of the “hood”, much to the chagrin of his parents, who really DID grow up in the “hood” in Chicago, and don’t idolize that culture at all. But their son wants to be a rapper, and his goal is to be rich and famous; he has decided that he doesn’t need an education for that. Many people are trying to convince him otherwise, but he doesn’t want to hear it. He has asked to go to school, but admits that his only reason is to socialize, and that he has no interest or intent on doing any academic work. Since he is easily swayed and drawn to the “wrong crowd”, his parents have ( I believe wisely) refused that request. He has already gotten into some trouble with social media, to the extent that some threats were made ( that he claimed were jokes) and the police were almost involved.

    All this to say, you know your daughter. Other commenters who think you should just enroll her in school are not considering the potentially crushing effect of peer pressure and school pressure on someone with extreme anxiety, and I think you know your daughter better than anyone and need to follow your instinct on that. That is what I tell my friend as well. Her son’s criticism stings her badly, but I think she has great courage and wisdom in persisting to do what she absolutely believes is the best for him, even though he doesn’t see it right now. He is resisting strongly, but throwing in the towel won’t make his issues go away. It will just remove the only protection he has from himself right now,

    I think he will have a very rude awakening when he leaves home, which he plans to do when he turns 18. He refuses to get his drivers license. He applied for a few jobs over the summer but when faced with an application that asked for more than the basic fill-in-the-blank information, he refused to complete them. Even WalMart, where his dad works, asked too many questions for his taste.

    I pray you will find encouragement and continue to advocate strongly for your daughter and her uniqueness. I tell my son’s friend all the time that there is nothing wrong with being different, and most of the great people in history were “different” when they were young. But he must also seek wisdom and humility! And my prayer is that God will use him for great great things one day!

  5. Lisa

    Amen sister!
    Refreshing to hear such honesty, I too mirror your story…How is your daughter now?
    I have already graduated (homeschooled) 1 son & 1 daughter. I have one to go, entering 10th grade.
    We are not the “stereo typed” family. As a matter of fact, we were the only Mexican-American familia for a long time in the early 2000’s.

    My boy never had an issue with friends or social events (there always seems to be plenty of boys).
    My “tom-boy” princess never had girls around so she tagged along w the boys.
    The Lord gave me a peace, as I would pray & lament over her, it became clear He had her exactly where He placed her. Away from distractions, catty girls, drama!
    Now, I can tell you by looking back, that it was a time for her to grow & focus on studies, family relationships & to be at my side. She has grown to be an intelligent, wise young lady. I often seek her couple to keep me grounded. Praise God she has a Godly countenance but is strong & can stand on her principles!

    But now, I have a 14 year old…repeat, lather, rinse! lol

    – None of my kids have desired to go to public school and all went to a private school for a few years at the beginning of their education. I always check with them to make sure they have that option.

    – For their Senior year, I enrolled them into a few classes at a Private High School PSP campus. This allowed them to experience classroom structures, gain new friends, attend campus classes & experience all “Senior” opportunities to prepare for college/workforce. For example:
    Class schedules, Senior portraits, School Yearbook, Prom (which none of them did), Senior Night Out, Senior Beach Days AND to walk the stage to receive their diplomas under the Private High Schools PSP umbrella, alongside all the other school seniors! It was awesome!!!

    It’s hard for me as a mom, especially since I experienced having girlfriends as girl because I desire that for my girls. BUT then I remember how it really was: so many distractions, temptations, jealousies, gossip, boyfriends, sex, drugs) Eeeeek! And now add social media & cyberbullying to that list.
    It’s overwhelming for the tenderhearted. It’s not sheltering, trust me my girls get enough exposure through media, family & church! But it’s an opportunity to walk daughters through these challenges & help them to succeed and trust in God. God is our center & focus of our familia.
    He has a plan and it has worked for us.

  6. katie

    One other thought to add. I don’t know your daughter and maybe even if you enroll her she will refuse to go. I would enroll her anyway and then let her make the final decision whether to go or not, but let her know she is enrolled and you have taken all the necessary steps. If she decides not to go on the first day of school, she can certainly never say that you never made the effort to make it happen. She may need evidence that you think she would make it in school. Actually enrolling her could be your vote of confidence.

  7. Katie


    I really enjoyed your story. You are definitely in a difficult position and it sounds like you have done all you can to educate your daughter and make her happy at the same time. My only other suggestion would be to just enroll her in school. Don’t let her make the choice. Tell her you are afraid she will always resent you if she doesn’t at least get the chance to try. It may very well be a disaster, and she may still blame you for not making her try sooner etc etc. It sounds like she may always blame you for something, but at least she won’t be able to say you didn’t let her give it a shot. It might make her more grateful for homeschooling. I was homeschooled through high school myself and though I didn’t voice it, always thought I missed out and I know my sisters felt the same, but we would have been both elated and terrified to try high school unless they just made us. I have four children. Kindergarten, 2nd, 4th and 8th grade. The middle two go to school. My 4th grader was making life miserable for himself and everyone else at home. He thrives in school. I almost can’t believe the difference in his behavior and attitude, although he is still by far the most challenging to parent. My 8th grade daughter has the choice to attend school at any time as well, and next year she will take two classes at the private highschool so she can play sports. However, although she is pretty confident and very smart, without me encouraging her and actually enrolling, I don’t know if she would have. I know personally, homeschooled students are often not sure if their education is adequate, especially if their learning isn’t traditional or super structured or if they don’t have things like report cards. Anyway, I am sure you are right and with her personality school will not work for her, but make her try. I don’t think you will be sorry.

    You are a strong mama.


  8. Florence

    I resonate with much of your journey, particularly the anxiety issue. Thank you for a thoughtful essay.

  9. Ann

    It sounds like you are doing a good job in a challenging situation. Thank you for your honesty. I think teens know how to push our buttons and some do it a lot when they are feeling insecure. My daughter does this at times and it makes me question myself and my own judgement. I try to remind myself not to let her insecurity become my insecurity. I’m learning to speak to her emotion rather than play into the conflict. She would love to engage me in that when she’s feeling frustrated. You are offering options and wise guidance. My advice is to remind yourself that you have much more perspective than she does and trust. It sounds to me like you are an amazing mom.

  10. tewre

    What resonated with me in your story is the critical attitude you mentioned. I grew up in a critical family, and didn’t realize how critical and unfiltered I was until I was married in my thirties! My husband is a very good communicator, and has taught me so much. He handles my difficult family well and they have no idea the kind of diplomatic art needed with them. They just know they like him, and somehow where he wanted them to go in a conversation is their idea, even though it wasn’t. Since future success will depend, in part, on people, my suggestion is to check out some books on communication arts. With the right one, she might see the kind of power in her attitude and words. I enjoyed one called “Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion”. The author, used to be one of those difficult people, and had a hard to control temper. My son had a short temper so that aspect was very helpful learning how the author was able to really master that and how nothing can get under skin anymore. As one dad I watched on TED says to his son every night, “Dream big, work hard, and don’t be a jerk”.

  11. Anne Burris

    I enjoyed your article. I still have elementary aged kids, so this gives me some insight as to what possibly may lie ahead. Wishing you the best!

  12. Eunice Snell

    Dear Beth,
    I’m loving that you’ve written how it really is in your family with a teen age daughter homeschooling! All the things we’d love to say start to fall by the wayside, sometimes, as the kids get older…We’re now on our sixth and last so do have a bit of perspective, as have you having “completed” with your two older children. Age fifteen or so has often been our bit of a stretch time (as I remember it was for me!)…I realized afresh yesterday that all the assigned work she has may not actually be the most important thing for her future (mostly, as we watched the Olympics instead and talked about other things 🙂 So often my more artistic children just haven’t fitted the “box” even at home. One did thrive taking her Math 10 and 11 outside of home in a classroom setting, however, as time has gone on, she is realizing that her identification of herself as preferring a very social world with oodles of friends in her after school years is very wearing. She now, in some ways, homeschools herself as an adult–pursuing many interests in her home (painting, writing, CREATING) and most often welcomes her friends into that lovely space (“Noone hosts others anymore…It always has to be in a coffee shop so I have them over to my house.” Something along that line, anyway…)
    So a bit of a quandary: If home isn’t their ideal always as teens, how do they process all of it, including other options? I think that, maybe, they can’t be completely satisfied as that does thrust them out of the nest more. It is a bit of gritting your teeth, though, as others realize, too, that our children might not always practice as much, say, for their lessons as we might like…Said fifteen year old has had a year like that and just this week has decided to go for it, saying how much better of a singer she would be if she had worked HARD. Well, that inner motivation is really what we’re after anyway, isn’t it? So maybe the stumbling around and “kicking” at things is just like the rest of the world–What am I made for? May your daughter find that and the peace that comes from a God who loves her in all her struggles…(Does that sound too preachy? 🙂
    Please let me know if this is any help, at all…

  13. Karen m.

    I just want to thank you for sharing this article. I literally was reading my own story…except that I have 3 teens. I found comfort in your words and reassurance in our similar struggles. Thank you so much and good luck to you and your daughter, I loook forward to reading more!!

  14. Cindy Gruver

    I hope that you do enroll your daughter in high school. First, unless you do, your daughter will always wonder what it might have been like — and have an unrealistic, idealized image — until she experiences it firsthand. Second, it just might be her “cup of tea.” Different children bloom in different environments, and we cannot always know for certain what is best for our children — in the abstract. Plus, if it fails, she may return to homeschooling with a better heart. Third, you would be sending her a powerful message of love and flexibility: that she,who is that special, unique person, is so important to you that you are willing to step out of your comfort zone for her.

    Whether high school works for her or not, both you and she will be winners. Success in high school will help prepare her for college and/or the working world. Lack of success in high school will answer some questions that she apparently feels needs to be answered and may make her more compliant at home.

    Good luck!

    • Beth

      Thank you for commenting. You suggest my enrolling my daughter in high school as if it were a new idea. Please note, as I explained, that we have encouraged her to attend school, but SHE has asked to continue homeschooling. She would absolutely have our full support in attending school. I am not someone who homeschools dogmatically, and I would love to think that high school would be her “cup of tea.” Not only might that make HER happy–it would make me happy if she were happy!

      I meant the point of the essay to be not which type of education she chooses — but that from a parental point of view, it is difficult to support someone in an educational path that she chooses but complains about, especially if it is not the mainstream choice.

      I would be oh-so-happy for my daughter to attend school. We are not anti-school. But I definitely don’t believe school enrollment would make her more compliant as you suggest (especially if it were against her will, which it would be). I have known her too long, and think that part of what I have learned is that she is her own person, and that being a complainer is part of her personality. She is really expressive, but she’s also abrupt and says what comes to her mind, often in a highly critical manner. It’s hard to accept less attractive qualities in our kids, and this is definitely one of those qualities. She has found fault with nearly every class and program she has ever begged to participate in — and despite her blaming homeschooling for the shortfalls in her life, she has always been firm that she wants to continue homeschooling.

      Actually — your response sort of makes the point for me about the nature of this challenge for ME. People tend to assume that SCHOOL ENROLLMENT would solve the problems. While we’re more than willing for her to enroll in school, and we wish it WOULD solve her problems, she does not seek to become a school student. The fact that school attendance is the “default” for most kids makes it that much harder for many people to understand our family’s challenge. The usual response is “Just fix it by sending her to school!”

      My search, though, is for support for homeschooling a difficult teenager and helping her address her challenges within her chosen path — homeschooling — no matter how negative she is.

      I actually think she has a kind of wisdom in wanting to work through it rather than avoid the fact that while homeschooling, she has a lot of responsibility for how her classes, activities, and friendships go. She has parents who will provide opportunities and help her make positive changes. However, given her critical and outspoken nature — as well as sometimes debilitating anxiety, it’s hard for her to find positives, and it’s hard for me to hear so much from her about the negatives.

      She works at it every day. I just sometimes run out of steam as I attempt to listen, love, support, and guide.

    • Tammy

      I do not agree that this child should be allowed to attend public school,so that she can have first hand experience,should we allow our children to try drugs inorder to have first hand experience? I think not.Our children do not know whats good for them,thats why God gave them us| guide them in the right path.That child sounds like a challenge,i have a child who is similar and I am so greatful for this information.

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