We send our kids off to school so hopeful! We prepare them diligently then kiss them goodbye and off they go. A child’s education should be filled with creativity and rich intellectual adventures, and boy, oh boy, do we want them to LOVE learning. But often our kids want nothing more than to just fit in. The learning can get lost in social pressures, and instead of caring about mathematics, kids get sidetracked by classroom dramas. The challenges kids face while they’re at school have accelerated for them today, largely because of how technology has sped up our lives. Childhood innocence is threatened earlier and earlier, so it’s important that you’re aware what kids of all ages deal with at school, beginning in the elementary years.
1) WANTING TO FIT IN
The school year is new and kids everywhere are adjusting to a new social strata, having grown another year older. It’s not easy, says parenting expert Michelle Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions (Jossey-Bass; 2009), but you can help make your child’s transition smoother. Become acquainted with other parents, offer to carpool, be a room mom and attend school functions so you meet other moms and become known. This will help your child by being “in the loop,” and not on the outside of what’s happening. Help your child blend in, Borba says. Clothes, haircuts, shoe styles and everything else matters to kids for peer approval. Also role play making friends with your kids since they learn best by first watching and then trying.
Yes, the messaging app with quickly disappearing “Snaps” is a BIG DEAL for kids and teens because it’s fun to share custom photos with friends. DO know that Snapchat has a downside. While it’s intended for ages 13 and older, plenty of young kids are using it. According to CNN research, 25 percent of Snapchatters send “sensitive content” regularly including sexts and cruel messages. Forty-seven percent of users do screenshots and 52 percent have had others take screenshots of their messages. If a child happens to sext or send an embarrassing photo, there is always a chance that it will become public. Snapchat also has a feature called “Discover” in which your child has access to sexually oriented content from publishers. Snapchat can be fun and engaging, but you should set very specific ground rules and be vigilant as you monitor your child’s activity with the app to prevent problems including cyberbullying, sexting and seeing illicit images of pot use and more from older kids.
3) JUULING, ETC.
The thought of alcohol, pot and other no-nos happening to young kids is awful. But just last year, an enormous wave of “juuling” — vaping small pods of “Ejuice” from slim devices that pass for flash drives — took over the teen scene. One Juul cartridge holds the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. School administrators will continue to battle juuling in schools this year, and it has seeped into middle schools and possibly elementary. The Centers for Disease Control warns that Ejuice contains chemicals linked to lung disease, and it’s not FDA approved. Talk to your kids, and educate them to understand the dangers of juuling and be aware. Get a fact sheet here: aap.org/en-us/Documents/AAP-JUUL-Factsheet.pdf.
4) SHAMING BEHAVIOR
Teachers employ behavior management systems each year for “containing” students in the hope of incentivizing good behavior. If kids don’t “fall in,” they can become “tagged” as a “problem” for all to see. Peers will stay away from the “problem” child and a vicious shaming cycle can ensue. Be on guard if this happens to your child. According to Borba, using fear and shame as a deterrent does nothing to encourage self-confidence and self-regulation and can actually increase the frequency of problem behaviors. No teacher or administrator should stand for the shaming of students in school. It is NOT a useful strategy.
5) SCHOOL SAFETY and ANXIETY
The real incidences of school violence last year left many kids anxious about their safety at school. School safety spans many areas, and Tennessee has taken big measures to improve it (see “School Safety Update” on the homepage of nashvilleparent.com). Know that safety is a main priority of your child’s teachers and administrators. Learn more at tn.gov/education/health-and-safety/school-safety.html.