A few years ago I went to the jr. high school to meet with the principal and when I went into the office I saw 6 kids waiting justice of one sort or another. I quickly realized that I personally knew 5 out of 6 of the students, and greeted them by name as I was ushered into Mr. D’s office. I remember looking at the principal and saying, “Well, Mr. D, I suppose if 5 out of 6 of the kids sitting in your waiting area are from my youth group, I’m either doing something really right or really wrong!” He laughed and said that he figured it was the first option.
That was a tough year for our jr. high group. Our attendance exploded and for some reason the numbers swelled with kids from a really tricky demographic. There were constantly students to discipline, parents to call and even a few trespassing notices that were served. On the one hand you really want those kids to feel at home at church, but on the other hand, we had a bunch of amazing kids who were starting to feel like they were being left behind. Most parents can probably imagine how tricky it was to navigate those waters. Tricky if the kid belongs to someone else. You know the kid from the dysfunctional home, the kid who has gotten mixed up with the wrong crowd, but what happens when the principal (or pastor) is calling you about your kid. It might be that they were just lippy (me in grade 3), or that they skipped out on a detention (me in grade 9), or that they took off from math class ignoring the teacher’s call to return (me in grade 10), or that they got into a fight (me NEVER!), or that they threw a bead during nap time (Kindergarten, guilty as charged.) Whatever the charge laid against your child, it usually doesn’t feel great. In fact, I think being called to the principal’s office as a parent is just as stressful as it was when we were kids. Regardless of the crime they committed, and I do mean regardless of the crime they committed, I have some suggestions for what to do next.
First don’t overreact! Look I’m actually for a little emotion now and again, there is certainly a time to let your kids know that you’re mad, but we need to use that method sparingly. More often the best approach is to keep a very level head and hold your tongue. This is why: 1) It’s biblical (James 1:19-20; Ephesians 4:26). 2) If it’s the first time (or at least at the beginning of their life of crime) your overreacting is going to isolate them and make it really hard to have a safe relationship with you. Nobody wants to feel like they can’t make a mistake. Finally 3) if they are repeat, even chronic, offenders, your anger probably isn’t going to phase them. In fact, it might even throw them off their game to have a level-headed parent to deal with. So keep your cool, and keep the big picture and the end result in view. In the grand scheme of things, throwing a bead during nap time isn’t a big deal. But actually a scuffle on the playground isn’t that big a deal either. We want to raise godly kids who make a difference in the world, but I don’t know of many world changers whose ride to the top was a straight clean line.
Next always support the authority figure. Every year the news will pick up on some hot head parent who blows their top and does something really stupid at a hockey game or other sporting event. They clearly need to review step one, but they also need to learn to submit to authority! I go to enough CFL games to know that ref’s and officials are humans, (with bad eyesight apparently) and that they will make calls that don’t make sense or are even wrong. But how can any parent actually expect to receive any sort of respect from their child after they demonstrate a flagrant lack of respect for other authority figures? We need to be an example of respect when it comes to those in positions of authority and that means that if a teacher sent your child to the office for messing around at recess, that is the verdict regardless of how your child feels about it! I’m not saying there isn’t a place to defend your child, but your child should never, ever hear you question their teacher unless you are absolutely certain of the circumstances. Last year when I needed to deal with an issue with a young teacher I was very careful to talk to the right people, and that wasn’t my son. I eventually told him what I had done so that he knew I had taken him seriously and had his back, but it was after I had seen for myself what was happening.
Finally lay out fair but firm boundaries. Bad behaviour needs consequences. If your kid got a red or yellow or pink or whatever colour card the teachers are using these days on the playground, then they likely need a red card at home to match. This shows them that you are on the same side of their teacher, but it’s also just good parenting! We can do this with a smile and without overreacting, but guidelines need to be in place. We can’t expect our kids to live up to our expectations if we haven’t clearly communicated them. So give a good consequences, get that garage cleaned out, or the garden weeded, some wood chopped (older kids… before you all email me), and then explain what is going to happen in the future should a similar incident occur.
The moral of the story is that kids get into trouble, sometimes simply by virtue of being a kid! Have grace, but also be a parent, give them the proper consequences so they know that there is a price to pay for their choices.