It's the first day of school, the students are anxious about starting a new grade, the teachers are anxious to meet their new students, but there is no one else more anxious than a parent. Teachers can't go out into the hall without tripping over a parent. You see a mother dabbing at her eyes and hugging her little one for dear life. The bell has rung for the first class and you assure her that her child will be safe. She, along with other parents peep in and cautiously survey the classroom to determine if the environment is worthy of their children. Even after their "babies" are safely in class, some still lurk in the shadows. The counseling office is filled with demanding parents wanting to change their child's schedule, or distraught because their children have not yet been registered.
As the days and weeks go by, these parents are calling, emailing, volunteering, and popping up throughout the course of the day. They want to find out about a missing assignment, about a sad face given, to see why their child is afraid to go to school, or just simply to be able to give back to the community. These parents are highly visible, terribly concerned and want to be connected with the teachers who spend so much time with their children. We have the cell number, the work number, the pager number, email address, home address, and the number of every family member in case none of those work. This innate desire to protect and to regulate their child's education and safety is carried out through the rest of the school year. An educator's response would be, "How dedicated and admirable!" Others would say, "Now that's a parent!"
What I have just described to you is some teachers' nightmare, but a great educator's dream. I have also just described to you the elementary school years. When the kids are cute and cuddly and they hang on mom and dad's every word. Now naturally, there are exceptions to this rule. You have some parents who will be great throughout their child's whole life, but for the most part, it would seem that parenting does pause when puberty is placed in the picture. Generally, from 1st grade to the beginning of 6th grade, these eager parents are willing to nurture and be an influential presence in their child's life.
Here's what prompted this article. I have worked with kids of all ages for my whole life. At the age of 14, I started working as a nanny, I volunteered at a preschool every summer for about five years, I worked at a local preschool and I did my internship for my bachelors at a preschool working with infants, and at an elementary school working with 1st and 2nd graders. I recall that every scratch, every bruise, every unidentifiable object found among a child's belongings were questioned. The parent was interested. "How was Kevin's day today? Did he eat well? Does he have any homework?" These are the questions asked as the parents pick up their children (on time, I might add). Another playful interrogation takes place on the ride home as the parent encourages the child to give a blow by blow of what transpired throughout the day.
In comparison to this, I've worked with preteens and teens for about eight years at a church youth group, I've worked in middle school for another eight years, and I completed my internship for my masters in counseling at a high school. Let me paint a vivid picture of what generally happens. When the "2 P's" kick in at their maximum level (middle school), the parenting starts to pause. What are the "2 P's" you ask? Puberty and peer pressure are the cause of a lot of parent-child relationships gone astray. Teachers and youth workers look forward to unmotivated students, bad grades, parents who enable children and make excuses, and my favorite, parents who don't want to be found. You wouldn't believe how many parents will leave incorrect numbers (purposely), and wrong addresses to ensure that they will not be "bothered" throughout the day. More times than I care to remember, I have called parents to discuss the behavior or academic problem of their child and they have responded with "I don't know what to do with this child, don't call me any more" or "I have other children and I need to take care of them". For the third time in my teaching career I recently heard a parent say that their middle school child left home from the afternoon before, and they hadn't seen them since. Apparently, they come and go as they please.
These students are exposed to so many issues at home and in their community that they have no business seeing. How are they exposed? They roam the streets for countless hours after school with no accountability. They go from house to house without permission and without supervision. Whatever happened to the days when you need to meet the parents and know them before your child could even step foot into the home much less sleep over? When my students confide in me and tell me about their weekends and weekday activities, I often think to myself, this is the kind of thing that causes abuse, rapes, and kidnappings.
Most youth workers, club sponsors and tutors face this next problem. Tutoring is over, we're back from the field trip, or the program is over for the night? You look around the parking lot and there is no sign of the parent. Okay, maybe they're running a few minutes late. You tell them to call and make sure that the parents are on their way. Almost two hours later, the parent arrives, or you're forced to call the police because no one has shown up. You look at the child's face and they don't even look surprised. They look hurt, but not surprised.
After reading all of this, you wonder, where is she going with this? Well, I dare say that we are allowing our children to grow up too fast. Puberty and just the whole adolescent period require a great deal of supervision. I challenge parents to come to the realization that when your child enters middle school, you need to hold on tighter as opposed to letting go of the reigns. When that let go too soon, you lose control as the parent. When your children see unregulated freedom, they are going to go for it. They are going to toe the line to see how far you will let them go, but if they realize that you're not going to reign them back in, they'll cross it. By then, it's too late to try to give consequences and make interventions. Most parents wait until their children are 14-16 to snap back into reality and try to start raising their children again. Here's a clue: This time of life is where these children are trying to find themselves and figure out who they are. If you have expectations of them, they won't know it if your presence as a parent isn't felt. They are going to find someone to identify with. The question is, who will that person be? They need you to guide them and to provide boundaries. They need people to police them at a safe distance. Yes, you allow them to be a bit more independent and they are given a bit more responsibility. This, however, has to be a gradual process. Respect is something that is earned, and with respect comes responsibility.
From a teacher and counselor's perspective, I urge you to do the following to give your child a fighting chance to be developmentally, as well as academically successful:
1. Be a positive role model in your child's life
2. Give your child age-appropriate rules to adhere to
3. Know where your child is at all times
4. Keep in contact with your child's school & know significant dates such as report cards, progress reports, etc.
5. Have at least one parent conference per semester
6. No matter what the situation may be, allow your child to be doing some sort of academic enrichment for a minimum of an hour every night
7. Talk to your children and know their friends. Make sure they know that you are there for them
8. Involve them in programs, clubs, sports, etc.
9. Instill good morals & values in them. Pray with them & take them to church.
10. Reward good behavior & let them know you're proud
Now here's the scary part, puberty for girls is getting to be earlier and earlier. At one time the age was 13 and now it's right about 9 years old. If my theory is right and parenting turns off at this age, this explains the problems that are now surfacing on the elementary school level. Isn't that a scary thought? These children are our future and we need to do right by them. I have come to find that most of the problems that I have encountered with students in my classes throughout the years stems from the absence of proper parenting and care. So to sum up my plight in one simple question: "When are parents going to step up and take responsibility for their children and stop passing the buck?" If you are giving birth to these children who have so much potential, isn't it only fair that we equip them with the necessary tools to be successful by partnering with teachers in this shared responsibility?
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Shakera Reid was born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in Miramar, Florida. Her passion in life is counseling and educating youth. Hobbies include reading, writing and watching movies. Her hope is to encourage others through her writing and to help them in their Christian walk.
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