I've been doing the back to school thing for 14 years now and I've been inquisitive every single one of those years. Schools and officials will tell you one thing, but stand next to a parent who has been around the block and you'll hear everything you need to know. If by chance you can fill them with a few drinks, it gets even better. Here are some of the things I know to be true:
Unless you run across a relentless bully, the primary grades are a breeze - The biggest tip I can give there is DON'T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF - and like the old saying goes, it's almost all small stuff. Don't call the teacher unless you absolutely have to. At this age, it almost always works itself out. Kids are building the foundation for their wings - just sit back and let them.
Middle school and above is where the drama and trauma happens - We're all trying to keep our kids off drugs, alcohol, and the opposite sex - middle school will set the ground work for it all.
Join a club or sport at the beginning of school - Starting out lost is a sure fire way to drift to the wrong crowd that doesn't have a common purpose.
Find someone to sit with at lunch before lunchtime - Seems so simple, but it's another way your kid is targeted.
Don't take the bus - I realize this isn't an option for the majority, but I've heard from more than one parent in more than one school district that the bus ride home from school is where drug deals are made. This is a HUGE generalization, and the vast majority of kids make it to and from without a problem or encounter, but if you have any questions at all that your child is sliding, then drive them. Big fat pain in the ass, and it doesn't mean you're completely safe, but all we're trying to do here is stack the odds.
Be home when they get home - Again, not an option for the majority, but as much as you thought being there when they were little was important, being there when they're in high school is critical. Do whatever you can to alter your schedule so most days they know you're waiting. It's kind of like when they go out at night on the weekends. If they know you are up waiting for them, you better your chances of them not doing anything wrong than if they know you're sound asleep every night by 9:00.
Network with parents - This is SO much easier in the primary grades when you all know each other, but so difficult when the schools start combining and getting larger. I have a HUGE network of parents that I touch base with every now and again and I've found out great information.
Keep your kids on their toes - Between my parent network, other kids, being at the school and social media, I find out lots of interesting things. Every once in a while I'll throw out a nugget of information that's always met with "OMG, how did you know that?!?" I never reveal my sources, but they always know I know things...
Talk - This one is the hardest. Especially when they hate you. Find any weird opportunity to talk that you can and it only needs to be for short periods every day. My oldest and I are very much alike and clash often. We've naturally gotten into a pattern of sitting at computers next to each other while doing work (Facebook) and casually chatting. There's no face-to-face, so it's not confrontational, but very relaxed and have produced the most insightful conversations.
After doing all this, will you have amazing children? I have no idea. I'm still a work in progress. However I do know that I've seen some great kids come from my friends and I make sure I ask how that happened.
Of course nobody knows for sure. The only thing we're doing is stacking our odds and delaying the inevitable. Most kids will make mistakes/try and do things they probably shouldn't. However, we need to try to delay that until their brain matures a bit more and they can make less destructive decisions.
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