Here we are again, it’s that time of year – back to school. The time of year when you are dreading car lines, back to those extra early morning wake up calls, threatening your teens if you call their name one more time that there will be consequences. If you haven’t gotten back into the swing of things, you will shortly. My oldest has already gone back to school, but the youngest has one more week of freedom…so to speak. We take him to meet the teacher this week, which dad and I have already done at the parents’ meeting. This year was to be his first year of kindergarten, but we opted to do what is called bridge-k. It’s all that kindergarten entails without as much math. So, we will do a lot of work at home. I didn’t feel he was ready for kindergarten socially so I made the decision to do bridge-k because he is a younger 5 year old, and why should you push a child when you can obviously see that they are not ready? I think that is part of the problem with a lot of these children or young adults who you see acting out and taking part in these school shootings and making threats against other students and institutions. We push them ahead before they are ready, we do not integrate them socially, we do not encourage social relationships enough and they end up alone and vulnerable to someone bending their minds. It is my belief that is part of the reason we see so many school shootings and individuals vulnerable to persuasion.
My daughter has barely been in school a month and there has already been a threat at her school that they believed was credible enough to employ a police officer at the school. This is the third year she has gone to this high school and she has been in private school her entire academic career and never had to walk the halls with a police officer looking over her shoulder. They took away their cell phone privileges this year; where as before they could use their phones before school, during break, at lunch, in certain classes once their work was complete the teacher would allow them to use them to listen to music, etc. Now, once they walk onto campus they must put their phones away until they are leaving for the day or face getting their phones confiscated and having to pay a fine. We were told that this was to encourage more social interaction between the children, cut back on cyber-bullying and to prevent inappropriate pictures from going around – a problem we encountered at the school last year. In your opinion, do you think that this will stop any of this from happening? Maybe between the hours of 8:15 – 3:25, but after that; it’s open season wouldn’t you say? I’d say that the only thing they are preventing is potential cheating. We cannot stop what happens all the time and if they want to do it, they will. It is up to us as parents to constantly be present in our children’s lives, talking to them, explaining consequences, teaching them right from wrong to keep them from doing the wrong thing.
How can we keep our children safe in today’s volatile environment? First and foremost I would say is to be present. Be there for your child and know their friends. You can’t just allow your child to be friends with everyone. Meet the children, meet their parents, are their values similar to yours and do they believe that just because they are teenagers doesn’t give them “carte blanche” to run around doing what they want. We raised ours to say yes ma’am, no sir, please and thank you – you give respect to your elders…that means teachers, adults and anyone in authority. I’ve met so many rude children that go to school with my child, none of whom she’s friends with – or that come to my house. I always get respect from her friends. I digress because that is how I was raised – with respect and to respect. So back to how do we keep our children safe in times of bulletproof backpacks?
- Talk to your child about the possibility of something happening at school. Do not instill fear in your child, but if they are my child’s age and even younger they understand the risk of an active shooter. It’s not just teenagers that are bringing guns to school anymore. I told my daughter, I’ve been out of school for almost 20 years and during the time I was in school the only thing I can remember happening was the shooting at Columbine.
- Make sure that your child knows a safe place to hide. Most schools have active shooter protocols in place, which usually include getting to a classroom and placing a special barrier behind the door to prevent the shooter from entering. This will not stop a bullet from coming through a wall, but getting behind a locked door and placing a protective barrier between you and the shooter would be the next best thing. However, if they can exit the building safely and undetected – I would advise they do so. Drop everything and run to the nearest business or safe enough distance to call for help.
- Be an involved parent. Don’t get involved when things go wrong, but be there when decisions are being made. Make your voice heard because you may have input that someone hasn’t thought of yet.
- Voice your concerns. If you see something, say something. So often people think, “that doesn’t concern me,” and the very thing you could have spoken up about may have ended up concerning everyone.
- Make sure you and your child know what the schools emergency procedures are. You know that every year your child gets a handbook. If you read the handbook I want you to comment after reading this, if you just sign the paper stating I have read the student handbook for the 20xx-20xx school year and agree to the terms therein, I want you to comment and say, I just signed it. I’ve done both! I mean, how much has changed right? Do you watch the news? How much has changed, yet is still the same? Although it’s the same, protocols have to change to adjust to how we handle things because it is obvious how we handle situations is not working because the same things continue to happen.
While you have done your job as a parent, teachers and administrators have to do their jobs as well. They are an extension of us as parents once we send our children off to them to learn. We have a certain expectation that they will do their very best to keep our children safe. They now have to seek the proper training in protecting our children from potential dangers. I know that isn’t why they became teachers, but that has become the reality of the job. Just like Wal-Mart cashiers didn’t expect to have to fight for their lives while doing their jobs, that has become the world we live in and it is such a sad thing to say. Teachers and administrators see our children sometimes more than their own parents do, so they may notice changes in behavior and recognize potential signs of trouble. Noticing the signs and knowing how to intervene appropriately and timely can be the difference between helping a child or experiencing a great tragedy. Teachers have days where they are scheduled for in-service or work days. I believe some of those days should be used to learn to identify behaviors of troubled children and teens, how to approach them, and if you are incapable of approaching them; notifying the proper person to help that child before the situation gets out of hand.
We are so focused on the education of the child, which we should be; but I think we should incorporate mental health days. These days should be filled with meditation, exercise, group counseling sessions, individual session – if needed because these children experience pressures of adults sometimes. I’ve seen my daughter’s course load and it is massive. The pressure of the workload, making and maintaining friendships, hormonal changes that they go through at these ages, bullying, peer pressure and feeling the need to fit in is the reality of getting back to school. When our children go back to school, so do we. We are there to help with homework, friendships, makeups, breakups, the potential hazards that come with going to school in the 21st century and being a “generation Z-er.”