I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. -- Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Are Homeschooled Kids Too Dependent?
Chinese vs. American Perspectives

The question of whether homeschooled children are too “dependent” on their parents is related to the oft-encountered “socialization” question, but the “dependency” question seems to get less attention among homeschoolers.

Because I married into a Chinese family (my parents-in-law were born in mainland China), I try to think about such issues from a “multicultural” perspective: how does our American idea of children’s “independence” compare to Chinese ideas of “independence”?

Chuansheng Chen, a professor at the University of California at Irvine, has done research in the area of Chinese vs. Western adolescence, and has noted:
Feldman and Rosenthal (1991) found that U.S. and Australian adolescents had earlier expectations for autonomy than did Hong Kong adolescents. The largest cultural differences were found for behaviors that would fall into the category of misconduct (e.g., smoking and drinking alcohol) and those related to peers (e.g., "attending boy-girl parties," "dating," and "preferring to do things with friends than with family")…

For example, peer factors play a less important role in Chinese adolescents' misconduct than in American adolescents' misconduct because Chinese adolescents spend less time with their peers (Chen et al., 1998).
Does the fact that Chinese have “less expectations of autonomy” than Americans imply that Chinese kids are more “dependent” than American kids?

My wife has explained to me that it is more subtle than that.

Consider which of the following sorts of children should be considered truly dependent:
  • Those kids who spend a lot of time with their parents and whose parents work hard to instill mature values and an understanding of the consequences of one’s decisions, so that, when the children finally become adults, they can independently make intelligent and informed decisions
  • Those kids who lack an adult’s perspective on values and consequences and are therefore, in reality, heavily dependent on the ill-formed judgments of their adolescent peers.
The American concept of a child’s independence tends to be that the independent child makes decisions on his own, even though those decisions may show no regard for his parents' values or judgments or what the parents have tried to teach him.

The Chinese concept of independence is that a child shows independence when he has properly internalized the parents’ teaching and is able to make a judgment similar to the judgment that the parents would have made had the parents been present and privy to all the relevant information.

The American concept of independence means ignoring the value of adult (especially parental) judgment. The Chinese attitude is that true independence comes when the child has acquired and accepted adult standards of judgment.

Most importantly, when a child makes an “independent” decision as a result of bowing to peer pressure, Americans still see this as a sign of the child’s independence, even if the decision is obviously unwise.

To Chinese, this is a sign of a very unhealthy form of dependence: dependence on the ill-informed and immature opinions of other children.

To Americans, a child’s spending more time with his peers is therefore a sign of his growing independence. Chinese have a different perspective.

I think this helps illuminate the “dependency” question we homeschoolers face.

If “independence” means kids’ making decisions without having internalized an adult’s understanding of values and consequences, then, yes, our homeschooled kids are less “independent” than many American kids.

At least, I hope so.

But, if “independence” means that a child is not dependent on peer pressure and can make mature decisions because he has acquired and internalized an adult perspective on decision-making, then I think that homeschooled kids may often be more independent than typical American adolescents.


  1. THANK YOU. I needed to read that today. :)

  2. Well thought through! Too many teens become 'independent' far too early because some parents are too busy to have them 'dependent' (according to the American definitions) - and there are fatal or life changing consequences.

    Mama Martin

  3. Good thoughts! I bookmarked this.

  4. Thanks for sharing this!

  5. I totally agree with your views on homeschooled kids versus schooled kids in regards to peer pressure, but it is impossible to compare Chinese values to Americans. People are always making the mistake of equating the two cultures and comparing them with the underlying thought that Chinese kids are some how better off. This couldn't be more wrong. My views are set this way because I have seen first hand what "Chinese values" can do to a young child's spirit. I can only equate it to the military style of breaking someone down and them building them up. I wish Americans would stop romanticizing the Chinese.

  6. Hi, May-Lin!

    You wrote:
    >I have seen first hand what "Chinese values" can do to a young child's spirit. I can only equate it to the military style of breaking someone down and them building them up. I wish Americans would stop romanticizing the Chinese.

    Well… I don’t know if you’ve married someone of European descent or Chinese descent, but, let’s just say that if you had been a fly-on-the-wall in our house over the years, you would have heard some interesting debates on Chinese vs. Euro-American approaches to child-rearing!

    Obviously, I do not endorse every aspect of Chinese culture (or Japanese or Korean or whatever). I was just making a point about the “dependency” issue: i.e., not all forms of “independence” are really positive.

    Have you followed the great “Tiger Mother” debate vis a vis Amy Chua’s book? I’ll try to blog on it in the next few weeks after I finish the book. I’ll just say here that I think that Chua had basically good intentions, but that she went so far off-base because she holds some basic beliefs about kids, inherent in Chinese (and perhaps also American) culture, that are basically and fundamentally wrong.

    You wrote:
    >I totally agree with your views on homeschooled kids versus schooled kids in regards to peer pressure…

    Perhaps you and I are pretty much in agreement.

    If you have a blog or other Web presence, please post it here, as I am interested to learn more about your own experiences and perspectives.

    All the best,


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