Before you get started reading, let us try hard not to let the opening sentences chase you off this post! Please believe that we never, ever judge you or your kids by their missteps. We, too, are parents to two high schoolers. It’s a full time job helping kids navigate the very precarious waters in the safe harbor they’re getting ready to leave. It’s uncomfortable to see our kids run aground occasionally–even worse to think that others are watching from the safety of their own decks. We are all in this journey together and we know as well as anyone that all of our kids will make mistakes. They are supposed to!
We’ll be honest. Every year, we hit that place where it’s rough-going as leaders. We’re at it, so this break comes at exactly the right time to help us re-center. We, like our students, need time to recharge and get ready for the sprint to the end of our school year so that we can end at our best!
We work every day to ensure that CSD is a safe place. Despite all that we do, we know we are not immune to the troubles and challenges of the world all around us. Our kids have good, true souls, and yet we stumble over the implied racism of casual language and popular culture. Their characters are sound, but we nonetheless confront age-old issues like underage drinking, academic dishonesty, and bullying. And while technology brings so many wonderful opportunities to our lives and our education, it also brings new challenges for us as educators and parents and certainly new opportunities for giant mistakes for our children. Affluence and abundance surround us but nothing insulates our students from struggles with emotional well-being.
When we’re laid low by circumstances that we know put our children at risk the only answer is to go to the source. We talk to the kids themselves.
Help us understand, we ask. Give us some sense of where things have gone wrong. Let us help you tunnel out and maybe, just maybe, avoid this pothole again.
The responses we get are instructive.
In conversation after conversation we hear a common thread from the kids: they are worried about getting in trouble.
More. Than. Anything.
They tell us that they do not want to “get someone in trouble.” They worry on a hair-trigger frequency: “Am I in trouble?”
And that makes us ask: Really? Getting called on an error in judgment and being asked to address it is the worst thing our kids can imagine?
Maybe. Our kids are incredibly well-off. Most of them have the security of knowing that the refrigerator is full; the house is warm; the safety net is firmly beneath them. In their relatively secure place on this planet, maybe admitting a mistake is the worst thing they can imagine. Their safety, much less threats to it, is the farthest thing from their minds.
As full fledged adults we know that there’s far worse out there. We worry about all of the things our kids stand to lose if their safe and predictable world goes belly up. We know that there are mistakes out there that lead to injury and grave physical risk. Mistakes that lead to legal charges and records that follow. Mistakes that cost others their own security and sense of self-worth.
But as adults, we must also ask ourselves: are our own fears preventing our kids from learning how to own a mistake? Are we telling that them they owe us perfection? And in doing so, are we teaching them how to bury the big and little mistakes they make as kids and leaving them to wander into the life-changing mistakes that drive our fears in the first place?
There’s not a one of us who hasn’t made a mistake we don’t want our kids to suffer. We all know there’s a razor-thin edge between tragedy and inexplicable luck. That’s the heart of loving these kids to the depths of our souls . . . And having the privilege to spend little time on anything else.
But should we also stop and ask: what are we taking from them? If it’s the chance to stare fallibility in the eye and address it honestly before it sets them up for a bigger fall, maybe we ought to step back and more readily embrace the fact that our kids make mistakes because they are human. Because they are learning how to be adults. Because, right now, their brains don’t clue them in to the things we adults have the privilege of knowing or of having dodged ourselves.
It’s time to have a tough conversation with your children. Remind them that you will love them no matter the mistake. Reassure them that the adults they know best are their truest allies–even when we must call a mistake for what it is and address it. Reinforce that it is their well-being and safety that matters most. More than the Honor Society membership. More than the AP scores. More than the college admissions. More than having to face having misjudged a situation. More than a temporary recognition that they and their peers are indeed fallible and vulnerable.
And then have the same tough conversation with yourself. Know that we reach out not to call your child on his or her failings but to stave off the risks we see in the offing. Lately it feels like the scope and the reach of the missteps has widened considerably. We don’t judge our students’ characters, but we sure do spend a lot of time worrying about whether we intervene sufficiently to prevent bigger issues down the road.
It’s not easy for any of us to look a mistake in the eye. And yet, it’s our primary goal not to be left in the position of staring down an irreversible one for our kids. Prom season, final grades, and graduation are just around the corner. Be clear in the warnings you set out:
- Do the best you can in your coursework and testing without falling prey to the temptation to cheat or cut corners.
- Compete with integrity and respect for your opponents; winning is the cake not the meal.
- Drinking is illegal until 21 but when and if you do make that choice, please don’t drink and drive.
- Don’t ride with anyone who does drink and drive–even a little bit.
- Think before you use language that diminishes someone else–even with your friends, even when you believe you are only joking.
- Know that you have inherent and intrinsic value as an individual, as does every other person you encounter. You have a right to expect that no relationship should leave you feeling diminished or discounted. Compassion does not require you to sacrifice your own integrity.
Be just as clear that you and we stand ready to help, not judge, when our kids fall down. Help us help them. Allow us and them the space to be frank. Know that the consequences we offer are not meant as a slap but as a reminder of the risk not worth taking. Worry less about what anyone will think of the inevitable slips teenagers make. Work with us to catch the little ones before they go to seed and become deeply rooted. And grab on with both hands to our shared commitment to keep them from harm.
It’s hard, we know. But what got all of us here is adults who called us on our missteps. Let’s give the same space and gift to our own kids.