This post is by Tim Sullivan who is the Founder and President of School Family Media and a frequent writer and speaker on all aspects of parent involvement in education. Tim’s take on schools and families has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, MSNBC, Fox & Friends (national) and hundreds of additional broadcast and print outlets. When he’s not writing about schools and families, he’s living it–as a father of 4 and as a co-president of the parent association at his children’s school.
Full disclosure: my first date with my now-wife was at a 9th grade dance that my parents chaperoned. I can still remember how much I hated the fact – at the time – that they were going to be there. Now I realize that it likely wasn’t their idea of a great Friday night, either, but I do look back and appreciate that they were connected with my schooling (and my schools) while I was growing up.
And that’s the deal with middle schoolers and teenagers. In a very unscientific survey I conducted, 99.9% of teenagers would be either: a) so embarrassed; or b) so, so embarrassed, if their mom or dad attended a school event. And that makes the involvement challenge that much greater. If you’ve ever read our stuff over at schoolfamily.com, you know we specialize in how parents can stay involved and connected with their kids’ education and schools. You might also know that we generally focus on elementary schools, where – frankly – the involvement is much simpler.
But some of the most intriguing questions we get, and some of my favorite solutions, have come from middle school moms and dads. Often, these are folks who were involved well in the grade school and are now feeling left out. They know they need to step back some as their kids grow, but they don’t want to let go completely too soon and they also know that the research on the value of parent involvement is compelling.
So what’s a mom or dad to do? My best advice is to go with the resistance. You may have been a class mom or field trip chaperone at grammar school, but that model would now send your teen into convulsions. The key, I’ve found is to put the proverbial peas in the potatoes. In other words, sneak the involvement in. Find things that your teen might love (even if you have to put up with activities you’d rather avoid) that also require adult presence. I loved, for example, what one of our Parent Group of the Year winners (from PTO Today) did out in Washington State. They threw an all-night teen party and had the kids very involved with the planning. The video game tournaments, the Velcro wall-jumping, the sumo wrestling (in padded suits) – these were all events the kids loved, the parents had to help organize, and which had – by the middle of the night – parents actually interacting and competing against and generally connecting with their teenagers. You don’t see that every day.
If this had been a completely parent-run, “you’re going to like it or else” event, the standard teen malaise/coolness would have kicked in big-time. Never a word was spoken about the event being an opportunity for parents and kids to connect (that would have been the coolness death-knell). Instead, the kids felt ownership and leadership, and the involvement and connections were a great bonus.
The kids need us as much or more at this level as at any other. It’s our job – difficult but doable – to keep working through all that angst to stay connected. The kids know it (like I remember that school dance), even if they won’t admit it for decades to come.