Room to grow

Time to reflect and examine what’s going on with our kids. Another school year has come to a close, riddled with unexpected twists and turns. Growing pains are always to be expected. So, is this year any different?

  • Stressed, overworked teachers
  • Negligent caregivers, and over-involved parents
  • Excess extracurriculars and lack of quality time
  • Suicide
  • Social media

These are just a few persistent, troubling themes in American schools. As usual, there have been friendship problems, tragedies, and too much information in too little time. But, what sticks out in 2017 as impacting our young children most? When I think back on this fast school year, many issues are avoidable.

More and more continues to be demanded of our public school teachers and this stress does trickle down to students. Yet, many teachers have accepted that the list requirements will always be growing and changing. Teachers seem less stressed than they were a couple years ago when the new evaluation system was first implemented. Yet, teachers seem no more happy. It’s hard work and more work with no more money! Yet, there are so many great teachers willing to persevere because they believe in children and shaping their future.

Sometimes these are the only consistently positive role models our children have. More and more, children are not experiencing the 2-parent, traditional home. The model of a family continues to shift, whether it be living with a family friend, to having multiple homes, or being raised by a grandparent. This is impacting our children’s resiliency and confidence. Some children expect the unexpected at an early age making it difficult to concentrate on being a student and stress-free kid.

Divorce continues to be an issue that many young children face. And, it’s not easy. Sometimes it takes years for children to accept, if they ever do. Changes in schedules and bouncing from different homes is challenging even if it’s the best decision for the parents. Kids miss their mom or dad when they aren’t with them. Going for months on end without seeing a parents hurts.

Grandparents as caregivers present another set of challenges, as their role as a guardian is not the same dynamic as a parent. Many times, they are juggling working and raising their grandchildren, while also dealing with whatever factors got the children there to begin with. It’s a lot of pressure and these children don’t always get the discipline and consistency they need. They may get away with more and less is expected from them as many times the grandparents feel sorry for them. Or, the grandparent is too tired to fight the fight. Many children aren’t held to same expectations as their peers when it comes to household or school responsibilities. And, they aren’t getting the help they need with their school work at home either. Academics have changed and become more rigorous. And, many times parents and grandparents don’t know how to help them. They weren’t taught the same way, or they don’t remember. So, many kids don’t do their homework. They’d rather stick them on a device to pacify.

On the other hand, there continue to be the parents who micromanage every move their child makes. Every little quiz must be an A and the teacher is contacted if their child’s grade drops to a B. Teachers find this type of parent just as frustrating. The entitled parent expects ongoing communication if their child has a bad day; this parent wants to monitor every move. This child is not allowed to have a bad day, and if they do, there has to be a reason that must be fixed immediately. This kid deserves to be the best because they are the smartest, of course.

For all kids, of all races and socioeconomic status, electronic devices seemed to cause the most trouble in 2016/17. We still haven’t figured out balance and how to regulate our kids. And, there are more and more opportunities for children of all socioeconomic levels to get online. Whether it be texting or messaging, being sucked into YouTube, or just the simple games like Roadblock, electronics are seriously impacting our children. Many times, parents are unaware or checked out from regulating these devices. This school year has been the year of hurt feelings over what started out as a simple message or text. Middle-class girls whose parents value education and are involved are NOT involved in monitoring this process. Many misunderstandings and cyberbullying could have been avoided.

Children in elementary (not to mention even middle and high school) are just too young to practice mindful online communication and react appropriately on their own. It’s complicating their lives and spilling into their school day too! It’s impacting their self-image and really causing damage to their outlook on whom they can trust, believing they aren’t good enough. Kids in elementary are too young to explore online without an adult. The world of electronics can be isolating and addictive.

Sadly, this has been the year of suicide. 13 Reasons Why sparked the conversation but kids were already hurting. Young kids are hurting. It’s surprising that so many elementary age children are already aware of what suicide is and some are even talking about doing it. That’s been the most difficult part of this school year, knowing that children the age of my own son are contemplating dying and living with feelings of hopelessness.

Most are not serious about completing the act, but many are already causing self-harm. There are many red flags. And when a child in elementary school is already considering this as their coping strategy, we should be alarmed. They don’t think they are smart. No one likes them. Their parents don’t care. I’ve heard it all. I’ve witnessed this myself after calling parents and encountering their lack of alarm or immediate attention. These kids are crying out and many parents aren’t taking them seriously.

Then, there were 3 high school students at Knoxville’s most affluent high school who did complete this act. We must take early warning signs seriously. It seriously disturbs me when parents don’t listen, take the next steps, or just don’t believe their children. Mental illness or instability, at the very least, is going undiagnosed and without care.

Parents aren’t taking the time. Parents are taking time buying them new stuff, micromanaging their school work, and running them to practices. But, parents aren’t really taking the time to connect, like truly connect. Parents need to ask questions and take time to listen, in the car, before meals, at bed. Many young children feel disconnected from their parents. Everyone is busy and many times, children are home alone or just feel alone. This has become way more acceptable in all circles. Working parents or just busy families are not taking the time to be with their kids.

There’s the 7-year-old who gets off the bus by himself and spends a couple hours alone while mom is still at work. And, there’s also the affluent parent who’s rushing off to a multiple practices and has their child involved in every possible extracurricular. Quality time is becoming scarce and parents don’t know their children as well. Instead of spending time together, more parents are signing their kids up for structured activities or sports where the family is apart.

There seems to be a push towards valuing education in America. We sure are raising the academic standards but why do we expect all children fit this mold? There’s pressure to achieve and watch those graphs go up. Maybe we are pressuring our children in developmentally inappropriate ways, however. With our youth, we should be spending the most time developing a sense of self, understanding and relating to others, and forming friendships. These are the life skills that lead to a fulfilling life.

Looking forward to this summer, we need to get outside more. We need to sit down and talk with (not to) our kids. We need to explore, adventure, read, play, and talk more. We need to stress less and laugh more. We need to slow down! We need to take time for friends and leave our devices alone. We need to have more fun!

Thanks for listening and being the kind of parent who already lives with perspective and love! Those of you who read this are the ones who are raising respectful, well-balanced, and creative kids! Keep on rocking in the free world! ego.jpg

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