Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Family Forte: Socializing and Thriving as Families

By: Topher Wiles

    The question used to surprise us.  Well meaning people who knew our family’s activities would ask the question and I struggled to understand the logic.  Our kids are involved in sports teams, community clubs, outdoors events, the YMCA, our church, a homeschool cooperative, music lessons, and more.  Knowing that, I’m always surprised when someone asks, “Don’t you worry that your homeschool kids aren’t properly socialized?” 
     Since we are well known for our home education efforts, we get quite a few concerned comments about our children being properly “socialized.” Caring people live in fear that we are short-changing our kids without involvement in the standard school system.  I appreciate their care and their willingness to ask.  I guess it is true that there are some homeschoolers who live more like hermits, but that’s definitely not us.  So I try to turn their question to address social isolation for families as a whole.
     My usual response begins by asking, “Did you know I was a public high school algebra teacher?”  Once I’ve solidified common ground that I can talk intelligently about our current education and social structures,  I follow with, “Have you ever seen a socially awkward or isolated student in a standard school?”  They always return with a “Yes, I know a few.”  Sometimes they even admit that they themselves were the awkward one (really, we all went through middleschool and struggled didn’t we?).  Then, I follow by thanking them for their concern and letting them know that positive socialization for all of members of families and the malady of loneliness are important issues to us and to our God, no matter how we receive our education.  If they are willing, we talk about loneliness and what we can do to help.  In my years in public education, I saw more than my fair share of those who struggled with isolation, awkwardness, and feeling out-of-place.  Sadly, I see it even more now in adults than in kids and have seen first hands some of the dangerous affects.
     From the New York Times Article “How Social Isolation IsKilling Us” comes the following eye-opening information of a loneliness plague that is hurting our families in the United States.  Author Dhruv Khullar gives us the following news.

“Since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent. Loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking. Socially isolated children have significantly poorer health 20 years later, even after controlling for other factors. Socially isolated individuals have a 30 percent higher risk of dying in the next seven years, and that this effect was largest in middle age. Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. One recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent. About one-third of Americans older than 65 now live alone, and half of those over 85 do. Loneliness can accelerate cognitive decline in older adults, and isolated individuals are twice as likely to die prematurely as those with more robust social interactions.”

     Social isolation or loneliness is a growing problem in our country in every age range and its negative affects can be clearly seen in the medical and psychological fields.  The good news is, there are quite a few tools you can use to help someone avoid this malady and encourage positive relationships that breath life into their existence.
     The tool I appreciate most for my kids and my wife is the Lord’s church. 
Perhaps God knew all this isolation was debilitating when He inspired this remedy, “(Let us) not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25) In a day of TV church, Radio church, and Podcast church, nothing can replace the benefits in my children's lives of the face-to-face real Church, which is the gathering of loving people and purposeful encouragement of the of those around you.  Even though we at Central livestream our services on our website, I encourage viewers to meet together as often as is possible.
     God has also given us some other wonderful social constructs such as extended family, civic clubs, and sporting teams.  Ashley and I endeavor to keep our kids involved in a little bit of each.  We love the Vision basketball league in Cookeville that focuses on sportsmanship and positive relationships.  We are excited about the start of a Trail Life program in Sparta later this year (it’s the Christian version of Boy Scouts).  We treasure the moments when we listen to live music and play chess with neighbors at the Coffee Collective in downtown Sparta.  Our local YMCA, where I serve as a board member, is growing to be even more of a positive, healthy, and encouraging environment for all people to enjoy.  God has blessed us with many wonderful ways to develop deep and regular meaningful relationships in our church and community so that we can avoid the harmful affects of social isolation. 
     Just as you push your kids to invest time eating healthy foods and exercise, for the sake of your family, can I push you to also invest time in positive social relationships?  Come experience family love at Central Church of Christ or come see me at the YMCA and I’ll make sure to give you a welcoming smile.  If you are “properly socialized” and know someone who struggles with social isolation, then lovingly and regularly invite them to come along with you.  We’ll give them a big smile too. 
     “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.