As a high school Assistant Principal, I often have to meet parents under the worst of circumstances. The shortest and easiest meetings of all take place with parents who have teens with priors, meaning their teens have been previously suspended from school or even arrested. There is no shock factor to contend with, and these parents hardly ever argue with the details of the investigation. In contrast, parents of first-time offenders don’t even know where to begin. On the phone, they are incredulous. When in my office, they reply to my statement of the facts with questions. Some examples: “They had this (drug contraband and/or paraphernalia, weapon, inappropriate item) on them?” or “Who started the fight?” or “How do you know my child copied the test with their phone?” Invariably, I end up repeating myself, doing more convincing than recommending socio-emotional assistance. Sometimes I have to wait until a second conversation with a parent/guardian before I can help them make sense of the situation. I always start these conversations about parenting a teen like so:
“The older they get, the less you really know them.”
The best advice I can share with a parent is that they should never assume they know all there is to know about their teen’s character, activities, or behaviors. This is dangerous. I’m not just saying this from experience. There are biological knowns that back me up. As a toddler grows, they will surprise you with what they have learned to do on their own. Small children live in a small little world that is confined by mom and dad. Still you send them out, away from your constant vigilance for multiple hours each day at a place called, school. The behaviors children capture at school live at school. It’s only when children make the mistake of accidentally showing off what they have learned at school, at home, that you can redirect them as a parent. But guess what? Children learn to be even cleverer at hiding things from mom and dad as they age. To make things even more complicated, growing up also provides kids additional socialization opportunities from peers as schools get larger. It may surprise you then to learn from a middle-school administrator that your child is bullying another child. Or that your child is stealing; do you inspect their backpacks randomly? If you never inspect your child’s backpack, room, etc., how can you say without a doubt that they wouldn’t steal or be in possession of drugs, paraphernalia, a weapon, and so on?
Parents, what are the adjectives others (not your best friends) would possibly use to describe your children? Would people choose descriptors like: down-to-earth, sincere, humble, kind, level headed, trustworthy, and helpful? Notice I left out “smart” and “intelligent.” A teen can be intelligent and still have dangerous qualities about them. For example, if a teacher described your teen as, manipulative, entitled, bossy, flippant, and deceitful, there’d be great cause for concern. I’ve known many students over the course of my career that had one or more of the previous traits. Sadly, many also had parents who were in complete denial, or who did the serious injustice to their child by being enabling. These teens were all over the map in terms of academic performance and aptitude. I am saddened by dealings with teens (and their parents) that are on their way to college ingrained with such deep anti-social issues. I am at a loss for words meeting entitled teens with Helicopter parents. How will they fare in a world that is ever more collaborative and social?
Since you can’t observe your child at school without them noticing, teachers, counselors, and administrators, therefore, become your eyes and ears. If you truly wish the best for your teen, ask an educator after several months of school (toward the end of the school year) to give you an honest opinion about your child. They will be hesitant to do so, perhaps even suspicious. It nonetheless behooves you to be persistent with them. Email and state that you are trying to get an idea of who your child is outside of their home environment. If you do an email to several parties at one time, tell each individual they can email reply just to you (this is actually best) so that the reconnaissance assessment of your teen is like a blind study.
Think again before you, so vehemently assert that you know your teen. Children become teenagers you hardly even know! It’s part of life. It’s as if you meet a stranger every day that leaves the bedroom that used to belong to your precious boy or girl. But I’ll leave you with some good news. Sometime after college, that strange teen that left your home finds their way back home. They find their inner child once again and rekindle their relationships with mom and dad. Thus, all’s well that ends well.