Saturday, September 08, 2007


(News-Herald, September 6)The relationship of parents with their offsprings’ schools is just one of those many parts of parenting most clearly seen in the rear-view mirror. My children are now post-teens, off to school; now that my nest is empty, I have a full wish list of parental do-overs.

You could focus on a whole long list of specific rules to follow when your child is in school, but I think it’s easier to focus on the broad principles. And I think the most important broad principle is to remember the end product.

For instance, most parents would agree that their child should emerge from school more or less ready to function as an independent-ish near-adult. But it’s easy to forget this long-term goal while addressing short-term issues.

The term in the ed biz is “helicopter parent,” the parents who hover over their children at every step. They check over every homework assignment, provide personal individual coaching at every sports event, oversee every aspect of Junior’s school life.

Some of this is the natural parental protectiveness. Childhood is rough; the teen years are particularly brutal. It’s the most natural impulse in the world to step in and protect your child from hurt. Some helicoptering comes from parents who believe that if they can control every aspect of their child’s life, that child out will turn out to be exactly as the parents wish.

Both views are mistakes. Lifting weights hurts, but if Mom lifts your weights for you, you don’t get any stronger. And anyone who thinks that they can engineer a young person to grow to order is doomed to disappointment (and a child who one day announces that they’re getting twelve piercings and moving in with someone named “Barf”).

Both views often feed the short-term approach, which is a mistake.

The school years are filled with things that simply won’t matter in the long run, and many of them are mighty seductive.

It’s easy to pursue grades. Cutting corners is easier than ever, with the cooperation of both your fellow students and the ever-reproductive internet. Parents can get sucked into the grade chase as well; more than a few of my students have turned in writing that included extra parental assistance.

But once students arrive at college or tech school or their job, their high school grades won’t mean a thing. What will matter is what they know and what they can do; school is their chance to load up on those things.

We make it easy to focus on the omnipresent PSSA testing. We do our darndest to convince students that the PSSA test scores are critical to the fate of Civilization As We Know It. But years from now, after they’ve picked up their high school diploma, their PSSA scores won’t mean a thing.

Parents of athletes want their children to win every contest, start every game, never sit the bench. But way too often the pursuit of winning sacrifices the very character that sports are supposed to build. Every record falls sooner or later, but a person’s character lasts a lifetime.

Even the social games of the school years are not forever. Most of us should know better—is there anyone who doesn’t know the story of a Most Popular High Schooler who grew up into a life of disaster and failure, or the social outcast who grew up to a solid life of success and achievement?

We don’t want our children to be left out, not to get invited to parties with the cool kids. When they have a falling out with old friends, we’d love to fix it. We want to see them have the kind of friendships with The Right People seen in every fantasy-filled movie about high school. Though we know there are more important things than the popularity game, we hate to see our children lose at it.

But the shiniest trophies of school are the some of the most empty and worthless. It’s the learning, the growth, the relationships based on something deeper than coolness and convenience that have the life long value.

Parents should absolutely be involved. They should stand up to the schools for their children, and they should stand up to their children for education.

But through all of that, take the long view. Worry a little less about how you hope your child feels this afternoon, and focus a bit more on that day, some years away, when they are high school graduates and you’re about to send them out into the world. When that day comes, you’ll want to know that even without you, they can handle the world; you won’t want to be wishing you could go with them because you’re afraid they can’t.

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