Finding Balance

For the past few weeks, we have been inundated with advertisements about endless back to school specials. It's hard to believe that another school year is fast approaching. As the new year begins, as parents ...

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For the past few weeks, we have been inundated with advertisements about endless back to school specials. It's hard to believe that another school year is fast approaching. As the new year begins, as parents we should think about what our expectations are of our children who will be in school this year.

The education of our children should be a top priority. Most of our children love going to school, but not necessarily going to class. We have been successful in creating a school environment that is welcoming and loving. Unfortunately, we have not been equally successful at creating an engaging academic climate that entices our students to want to learn.

Some of that lack of enticement is due to our children. However, a greater percentage is due to our system of education. As the new school year begins, we as parents have to recommit ourselves to being an important variable in our children's educational experience. We can no longer depend on our school district to stimulate and engage our children in a positive learning experience.

A growing number of students who will begin school this year will not be motivated. They will be distracted by many non-productive variables. We live in a culture that celebrates behaviors and social dynamics that are counterproductive to the overall growth and development of our children.

Some examples that quickly come to mind: "Face Book and My Space" accounts are not only out of control in their content but also in the amount of time that our children spend engaged in keeping up with them. As a parent, if you have not seen your son or daughter's Face Book or My Space account, do yourself a favor and check it out. You might be shocked and possibly even overwhelmed.

In and of themselves, they are harmless. Unfortunately, because controls are lacking, some of the content and postings are outrageous for elementary and high school age students. The answer is not in banning the sites, but rather engaging your children in a substantive conversation about what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. That conversation might also afford you an opportunity to speak about social boundaries, respect and accountability - very appropriate themes for the beginning of a new school year.

Another area of concern as the new school year begins is time management. What do our kids do with their time? How many students this year will come home to an empty house and have to be self motivated to do homework and take care of other household responsibilities? Lack of supervision is clearly one serious concern.

However, another serious concern is our son or daughter's school schedule - classes, extracurricular activities and sports. Some students will begin their day at 7:00am and won't get home for super till 8:30pm.

When they get home, they will be expected to have dinner, do their homework and take care of their household responsibilities. By 9:00pm, most of us are shot. Thinking that your children will have the energy to do schoolwork at 9:00pm is delusional.

All in the name of wholesome, good activity, our children will be overburdened by the third week of school. We want our children to be involved. If they are in middle school and high school, many of us want them to play sports and be involved in extracurricular activities.

Unfortunately, I think in some ways, we are going overboard. We are burdening our children with so much activity that they have no room to breathe, to grow and to become their own persons. We want them to be engaged, but we don't want to choke the life out of them.

What will your children be doing this fall? What activities will they fully participate in? Who will help them to create the balance between school, work and play? Be careful not to allow athletic activity to control their lives. We need to be mindful that they are children and need to have free time and fun.

Our high school teams are not the pros, nor should we treat them that way. We all want to win, but not at any price. That is not to say that high school and middle school athletes should not be committed to their respective teams, work hard and honor that commitment. My greater concern is that our school teams exercise balance and moderation in what they ask of student athletes.

What should a school week look like? Classes, possibly a sport or after school activity and a mandatory meal. After dinner - homework, possibly housework and a reasonable bedtime curfew with lights out. That outlined schedule seems so simple and easy, but as most of us know, it's never that clear cut.

As we look at that school week schedule, what we must factor in is the new phenomena of text messaging, instant messaging, cell phone communication and the Internet! If those variables are not challenged, they are going to be a child's greatest distraction. Who wants to read a boring book for homework when one can text message a friend for hours on end?

As parents, we need to set some parameters around these technologies. Our children have instant access to whatever they desire. If they would only apply the same energy they use for all of these technological gadgets to their schoolwork, most would be A plus students.

It seems like just yesterday, when everyone was excited over the beeper. Now we have affordable cellular phones for everyone. A growing number of parents are justifying their children's abusive use of that technology.

An interesting question to raise: Do our children really need a cell phone while they're in school? Last time I checked, all of our school districts had working phone systems in every school district building. If your son or daughter had an emergency, they would have phone access to reach you. Unfortunately, the cell phone is not used primarily for emergencies, but rather as a toy to be played with when one is bored in class. They've also become a great distraction in class due to students inappropriately text messaging one another or because they forgot to turn the phone off or put it on vibrate. There are a growing number of educators and parents who think cell phones should be banned. Something to think about!

What about Ipods, should they be permitted on school grounds? Ideally, they should be, but unfortunately, for a growing number of students and teachers, they become an obnoxious distraction.

Dress! Should schools have mandatory dress codes? Not mandatory uniforms, but rather a very clear understanding of what is acceptable and not acceptable attire for the school day. Such as: no printed or slogan t-shirts; pants worn at the hips, no rips; dresses, if girls wear them, to the knee with a respectful collar; if the school is going to ban hats, they must enforce that ban.

The purpose of the mandatory dress code is not to encourage a fashion show, but rather to establish a respectful baseline for what is socially acceptable within a learning community. The hard part with any of this is consistent enforcement. If parents, faculty and administrators are not in concert, supporting each other in this issue, it will become an exercise in futility.

Probably the most explosive issue in this school year is whether or not high schools should permit open campuses. Whether or not the high school campus is open or closed is immaterial. What is important is your position as a parent. No matter what the school's policy, they need a letter from you giving permission for your son or daughter to leave the campus. If you don't feel it's appropriate, don't write the letter and be adamant that the school enforces its' policy.

As the new school year begins, we need to be mindful as parents that school is about learning and growing as a person. It is not merely a social adventure. We need to hold our schools accountable and they need to hold our children accountable, if this new school year is to be productive and fruitful.