In the last 24 hours, many interesting articles, Facebook conversations, phone conversations and real-time face to face talks converged in such a way I really wanted to connect with parents ‘out there’ in the blogosphere.
A friend posted a Facebook question about allowing two 13 year old’s being allowed to go to a street fair ‘unsupervised’ – the responses were all over the board. I wanted to ask how many of the ‘respondents’ were parents, teachers or both a parent and a teacher. My reasoning is that IF parents really knew what teachers know about teenagers and tweens, there would be many more conversations at the dinner table between parents and children, there would be many more family conversations and parents would know a great deal more about their children’s friends AND the parents of said friends. What parents may think they know about their kid is not nearly what they really know and the question of ‘when is a child old enough to go do X on their own’ becomes more than an issue of trust, rather it becomes an issue of parental confidence with whatever outcomes may happen. Another parent/teacher friend of mine stated it well – the better you understand risk, the better armed you are to decide what, where, when, how and why your response needs to be X.
All of the conversations listed above do not change a parent wishing to know the risks of letting their child go out into the world alone. The conversations add a layer of knowledge and in this case, the fatter the layer the better. Sadly, at the very time children need parental involvement, parents feel it is time to relinquish the reins and let the children grow up. Trusting a child became the touch phrase on the Facebook conversation. Most of the responses had to do with trust obtained and bestowed by a parent.
The trust word became a moment for me to laugh/chortle as I have had parents in conference tell me how much they trust their child and would let said child babysit the younger children in the family while I was hard pressed to find an appropriate way to state I would not trust the same child to complete a supervised science lab involving matches. Trust is a perception and it is a perception inherently built on ‘belief’ and the self-reflective quality of a parent having done a great job raising their child.
As a teacher, trust is the perception that 30-34 other children will not be endangered by the behavior of one and the ability to control said behavior of 3o-35 students. Trust is believing you actually did enough to safe guard everyone in your class room (or on a field trip) because the very last call you ever want to make as a teacher is, “Hello Mr./Mrs.________. This is ___________ and I am at _____________ER with your child.”
Teachers have a different ‘knowledge’ than parental knowledge and it comes into play because unlike any other profession, teachers are given the PRIVILEGE of working with children and often times the parents don’t even know us by name. Teachers have to earn that trust day in and day out – with parents, but more importantly with students. The trust is so explicit that we are often told more than anyone else by students about their life and only when we have proof or a darn strong feeling that the ‘hypothetical’ discussion taking place is real can we report the issue to parents or social services. We can ask all manner of questions, suggest other people the student can talk to, services and phone numbers to contact but we are limited in giving opinions. By law we are mandated reporters and we stress to children that what they tell us falls into this category because we want them to know we care enough to do what is right, no matter what the outcome. Sometimes the most we can do is recommended to the school psychologist, the administrator, etc. that this child have an appointment. We can not even write our concerns in the cumulative file so we share them with another teacher(s) because each child is so precious to us and we don’t want something to happen.
We, as teachers, try to find the most politically correct way to tell a parent we are worried about their child academically, physically, etc. because even the best PC phrases, stated in front of our principal are not enough to protect us from a lawsuit. This fine, thin line of trust is stretched because at the end of the day, we want what is best for students and we have to communicate some really scary things to parents.
So, I want to share some of those conversations you should be having with your children because the gut feeling of trust is just not enough. What happens at school pretty much stays at school unless you the parent interact with your child and/or the teacher. These conversations are based on very real situations which have happened in classrooms with children age 10 and above. The questions required honest answers and raised alarm bells and parent conversations. In almost every instance the parents had ‘no idea’ and immediately blamed the teacher for insinuation about their child.
The situations requiring reports to child protective services were the longest, darkest days and nights of my life but it had to be done. There were things I did not want to know, but I was the receptacle. There are times when myself and other teacher friends question ourselves about doing enough or not.
When you can discuss the following with your children, YOU the adult are ready to think about the risks out there.
- Discussing the difference of huffing (glue) and the effects of ‘choking’ as cited in the game above.
- Dressing appropriately because you want to – not because your parents ask. Advertising your body and leaving nothing to the imagination generally attracts the wrong type(s) of attention.
- What do drugs do to the brain and body, including alcohol and weed and discussing DNA and for the high schoolers, epigenetics.
- Cutting – because there was a question about going parallel or perpendicular to the wrist for the best effect.
- Being able to use the same clinical voice for uvula (back of palate/throat) and vagina, coelom (pronounced sea-loam, the gut) and chlamydia, when to say mammary gland and when to say breast, etc. because if I didn’t, the students would not trust me to give information. You can not laugh at these things and being embarrassed does not help a student ask questions. No matter my opinion on sex or birth control, I need to be able to be informative and direct.
- Having the wisdom to state it is important to get parental advice and/or guidance from the priest, rabbi, etc. because no teacher knows the ‘answers’, rather we know how to get information and direct students to information. This is crucial when 10 year olds and above talk to you about oral (rainbow parties) sex versus ‘regular’ sex. Trust me, what Oprah discussed on TV was actually behind the times with what teachers were dealing with in the classroom.
- A 13-year-old asking me to go to the abortion clinic with them…….and going because the child asked and the mother was scared and wanted some one there who knew what was going on besides herself .
- Being scared about a parent touching, hitting, pinching, slapping, etc. too much or in the wrong way. If a child has questions of behavior from a parent, they may not know when to question it about some one they love and this is what perpetuates abusive relationships and other problems.
So, ignorance is actually not knowing about your child but trusting them by not asking and having the incredibly difficult conversations your kids often talk about with their teachers.
Stupid is the desire not to know so you don’t have to make difficult decisions as a parent, like what age is okay to let children go do something on their own.