On October 16, 2016, a 15-year-old granddaughter of a dear friend of ours was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting. She was an uninvolved bystander. We did not know the girl well, as she lived in another state with her mother. But the impact on everyone was devastating.
This week we had an incident at school and did not call the child's parents in a timely fashion. Consequently the child told his parents the "story" before we did. Long story short, we had to schedule a parent conference to finally straighten out the facts.
I'm relating these incidents for parents reading this as a warning of sorts. The first warning is to know always where your children are and what they are doing. I'm reminded of the auto commercial in which a father lets his daughter's date use the family car ... which has a remote GPS. That seems extreme but maybe not.
The second warning is that if your child gets into trouble in school and you don't hear from the school directly, force the issue and schedule a conference. Many school systems are overcrowded. I was told one public system here in Alabama had 35 in high school classes. With that many students, teachers can get overwhelmed and have difficulty communicating with parents directly.
Parents are dealing with high school kids who are pushing their independence. Many of the children are driving, which further complicates the matter. In some families, the kids can't get much help with academics at home. All of these tend to push parents and children apart.
The only way I know to combat these difficulties is to be active in all of your children's activities. Know their teachers, coaches and friends. Know their friends' families. Know what your children are doing all the time. Working parents will find this quite difficult, but the modern cell phone can bridge many of these gaps. I suggest you have the cell number of every teacher on your child's schedule. And make sure the teachers have yours. Include significant school administrators, such as the principal and guidance counselor. Ask them to send you a quick text with their name and title and you should answer it likewise.
Once you have all this set up, use it sparingly. Teachers and administrators don't need a text message from every parent every week. Reserve it for important occasions requiring further action on their part. Handwritten notes are still best for routine things like dental appointments and the like.
If your school has electronic grading with a parents log-on feature, be sure to have an account and use it. Many teachers use these features to communicate with parent groups as a whole, with class schedules, lesson plans, a calendar, and, of course, grades.
Consider two other things: having a GPS tracking device installed on your kids' vehicles and programming their cell phones. This is not as intrusive as the kids might complain. Vehicles can get stolen, so a well hidden GPS tracker could help save the day.
Cell phones give people considerable power in knowing where they are and in communicating with others. But this assumes that they are physically able to use the phones. What if a child is incapacitated?
Never assume your children are safe. Never assume school is going well because you are not getting any phone calls. Never assume your children are where you think they are. And never assume your children's friends are good kids.
Parenting is tough. I hope some of this helps.
Gene Canavan is a retired West Point Graduate and Paper Mill Utilities Manager and lives in Prattville, Alabama, USA.