Wednesday, January 5, 2011

You Can't Make Me!

 On last night's local news there was a story about a local high school that has scheduled a mandatory meeting for parents of kids who participate in school sports. The agenda for this meeting is a new drug/alcohol policy for the school. The school stated that parents must attend the meeting in order for their child to be eligible to participate in his/her chosen sport.  Apparently during the fall there had been a number of serious drug/alcohol incidents with this town's high school students. The principal, looking out for her student's safety decided one way to get parents attention to this matter was to make a meeting about this issue mandatory, knowing that usually when meetings like this are scheduled only a handful of parents attend. And the parents that do attend, make it feel like you are "preaching to the choir".

By the reaction of the parents in this town, you would have thought that the Principal was mandating them to attend a full day event, no food, no bathroom privileges, strapped down to a chair! Hello, it was an hour! Comments like the adult version of "you can't make me" were bountiful. Even the kids, who will also have to attend their own mandatory meeting understand the importance of this meeting. One student commented that it would help parents to see what the issues are and be able to help the kids better. But the parents, not so much. The biggest objection seemed not to be the subject, but that they were being told what to do, and they didn't like that. Hmmm, sound familiar?

 First of all, it would seem to me that the most important issue here is the safety of our teens. Getting information to parents is not an easy task. Parents are busy people, working, and taking care of families, and it is often very difficult to motivate parents to come out at night for a meeting. I think sometimes we all need a kick in the pants to do something when really what we want to do is get in our jammies and lie on the couch. The school thought this topic was important enough to do the kicking. Second of all, and I think more importantly, parents are models. Your teen is watching you very very closely on just this kind of issue. When a request like this comes up, whether by a school, an athletic or arts group, a religious organization, and you bash the request as being stupid, you send a message to your kid that you shouldn't have to do something you don't want to do. You model dismissiveness. And the next time your kid is required to do something he/she doesn't want to do, watch out for backlash. " Why should I have to, you didn't when the school said you had to!!

Thirdly, when a school says, we have some safety issues with our kids around drugs and alcohol and we think it is so important that we are "making" you come. Take heed. If you dismiss this, the message your kid gets from you is that drugs/alcohol is no biggie. How much more meaningful it would be to say, "I get there is a lot of drugs/drinking at your school, I need to get as much information as I can to make sure we can help you stay safe." When you take this issue seriously, so will your kids.

When my daughter was in high school, some years back, they also had a mandatory meeting for all parents on drug and alcohol safety. As a parent rep I had a list of parents to call to remind them of the importance of coming to this meeting. One of the parents I called, was quite clear on her intent not to attend, saying" I don't need to come to this thing, my kid doesn't do any of that stuff". Talk about the head in the sand approach, as it turns out her son was one of the bigger druggies in the school. All the kids knew it , and so did the parents.

Some things in life are stupid, many things for that matter. But as a parent, one of your jobs is to prepare your kids to have to "suck it up" sometimes. And the way you do that is not just by making them do things they don't want to do, but by showing them through your own actions. Doing things you don't want to do, not with resignation and negativity, but with an openness to potentially learning something new.

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