The information age has done a lot of things and one of them is make parents a little cray cray. Ok, a lot cray cray. There are certain times of the year when this unique version of crazy goes into overdrive and the start of school is definitely one of them.
And for the record, almost all of the minutia that sends parents into a tailspin at the start of school falls neatly into the category of #firstworldproblems. So right out of the gate we know that none of it is remotely a big deal compared to the very real problems that far too many parents face when it comes to their children’s return to school. This piece is not about the big stuff like bullying, racism, and unsafe conditions.
Honestly, you’d think we were sending our kids millions of miles away where Martha Stewart, Super Nanny and the Princeton Review will be judging them —and us—on everything from their their locker decor (yeah, locker chandeliers and disco balls are a thing now), to their first quarter grades, to how many homework assignments they’ve missed to whether or not the lunches we pack cover all the food groups. (Disclaimer: My lunches definitely do not.)
It Can’t Really Be That Bad
Yes it can. And it is. Well, at least with some high anxiety and hyper involved types. But it’s not all the parents’ fault. The schools, with the best intentions and in an attempt to “engage parents” and keep them in the loop by 21st century standards, have pretty much turned parents (mostly moms, let’s be honest) into intermittent nut jobs. Non-emergencies become crises all because of the promise of access to online information and school Facebook pages become gasoline on the fire of parental freak out.
At the start of the year, a middle school or high schooler’s schedule is a really big deal. And I do get it since I remember being handed a paper the first day of school with my schedule on it (and then racing around, in person, to figure out which of my friends were in my classes.) Fast forward to 2017 and the schedules are released online before the start of school and snapchat is immediately ablaze with kids ‘snapping’ or ‘streaking’ one another to see if they are lucky enough to have a class together.
What I don’t get is why parents feel the need to see these schedules before school starts. Why are parents on pins and needles over their kids’ schedules, even badgering administrators to tell them exactly what time the schedules will ‘go live.’? It’s not like we are trying to buy airline tickets on Southwest for April vacation, folks. We, the parents, aren’t the ones who have to be in a specific homeroom at a certain time or sit through a 100 minutes of math every Thursday. What is the big deal?
Oh my God. I never took a bus as a kid because I lived in a community with sidewalks and anyone who lived within two miles of elementary school had to walk. Middle school and high school walking distances were 2.5 miles so unless you lived further, you were walking, hopping on your bike, of getting a ride from someone kind enough to give you one.
I now live in a place where walkability is very limited in at least half the town and where buses literally stop almost every 100 feet to pick kids up and let kids off. On a busy road without sidewalks, I can understand. In any other context, I really can’t. But putting that aside, I learned as a school committee member years ago that busing is one of the most explosive issues when it comes to our local schools. And I don’t mean busing that integrates black and white students from different communities; I mean basic busing to and from school in a safe suburb.
A fellow committee member and I still lament that we were never able to pack a room full of parents because they were upset about our appallingly low math, science, and writing scores. The most packed meeting I ever saw was standing room only and it was over a change in walking distances and a subsequent busing debacle. (The other was over a reorganization of elementary schools. Academic achievement? Never a big crowd.)
You see, busing is a retail issue that impacts a family’s day to day life. And retail issues drive public outcry and public gratitude. Give a guy the stop sign he wants, he’ll love your forever. Improve the reading level of every kid in town, he probably won’t know or care.
The Parent Portal
Remember the days when you copied down your homework or shoved it folded in half into your textbook (or into your back pocket!) Well, those days are over and assignments are available to students and parents online. The upside is that if a student is home sick or away, it’s easy for them to access what they need to do. The down side is that way too many parents are way too plugged in and anxious about every single thing their kid is expected to do.
In a recent piece entitled “Beware the Parent Portal,” Parenting guru John Rosemond describes the phenomenon this way:
These parent homework portals take advantage of ubiquitous parent anxiety – borne largely by mothers who seem to think that their children’s grades reflect the quality of their parenting – regarding school achievement and successfully turn many parents/moms into micromanaging enablers.
Now there are some parents who aren’t wired to check their kids assignments or grades online—I’m one of those who can’t usually even locate my password to get in and take a look. And I have no interest in micro-managing my middle schooler’s homework or tracking how many ‘good behavior points’ my 8 year old gets each day. If I need to know something, I’m confident I will. And if it becomes necessary that I start logging on more often, I will. But that’s me and it’s in my nature to be that way. Others feel compelled to look at everything the school makes available and that can become debilitating, especially when the portal can be accessed from your phone. Yup, in a lot of districts, there’s an app for that. Not only is this monitoring and constant checking hugely time consuming but it inevitably shifts at least some of the responsibility from student to parent. It isn’t healthy to be logging in every day to see if your child’s science grade has moved up or down, but the availability of the information becomes too tempting for some parents and turns them into prisoners of the parent portal. Certainly those of us with multiple kids know that the amount of parental involvement required varies but the rule of thumb is that we limit our level of interference as much as possible. We are trying to raise independent and resilient people, right?
If only we channelled even a fraction of the energy and angst of the parent portal and bus routes to how well our schools are preparing our children—and other people’s children—for the future. Let’s hope the 2017-2018 school year is the year for a focus on what actually matters.
A Happy Medium
There is always a happy medium to be found and we moms would be wise to find ours. Unless a child is truly in crisis, any kind of obsession over our kids’ day to day lives in school is unnecessary and can quickly become pretty toxic not only for us but for our kids. Instead of empowering them, it undermines their independence and abilities and, in the process, makes us seem and act pretty damn crazy.
So stop it.
And instead, pat yourselves on the back for a summer well done and send those baby birds off to kick some ass in school, to learn from their mistakes, to dust themselves off when they fall down, and to come to you when they really need you.
If your kid’s school has a parent portal phone app, delete it now.
And then, go get your toes done in a nice fall color and pick out a back to school outfit for yourself.