I want to first apologize for not having been able to write to you much since coming back in January. My days, unfortunately, are largely filled up with a deflating paradox of trying to enforce attendance and engagement for many kids, while simultaneously sending batches of perfectly healthy kids home from school as this quarantine nightmare continues. This is not what any of us signed up for. I love to engage with Cresthill parents in this vital dance we call parenting, to share insights and tips learned from my own adventures as a parent, and sadly there has been very little of that this year. I can't tell you the last time I felt like what I did at work was even remotely related to being an instructional leader or even worthy adolescent wrangler.
But this is not about me. I want to share something with you that I've been noticing and thinking a lot about lately and offer some thoughts. Each morning as I'm driving to school I try to put myself into the heads and hearts of my students. I try to see and feel the world from their perspective so I can be a better principal for them. This week especially it has smacked me in the face like stepping on the wrong end of a rake. I think it is the confluence of several factors that have converged this week that caused such a dramatic shift in student behavior - and it has been a very 'dynamic' week with our students. The fickle spring weather already tends to shake the soda can up all by itself. Add to this the surging hormones of our young teens along with the promise of summer break on the horizon. But when I really try to tap into the mindset of where our kids are at I find something else staring me in the face. There is something inside our kids that is missing right now and it is starting to leak out.
In my backyard, I installed an old oak wine barrel to function as a rain catcher for my gutters. When it is filled up and swollen with water it is tight and solid. But when it drains and dries up, it leaks from the joints between the staves the next time it rains. I think that's what's happening - our kids have been depleted of something and they're starting to leak! What fills our young adolescents up during more normal times - what they crave - is a sense of empowerment and agency. They thrive on the burgeoning sense of control and power that they are growing into. And as parents and educators we did what felt normal and imperative when our lives were suddenly turned upside down and backwards: we shielded our kids to protect them as best we could. We adults had to step in and take control of virtually everything in their lives - including whether or not they could show their face outside of the house, who they could visit or hang out with, what restaurant options were even options, and how far they had to stand and sit from one another just to go to school part-time. Overnight, our kids were stripped of vast swaths of autonomy and self-direction - which are precisely the developmental tasks they are wired to be working on! It was the right thing for us to do.
And, not to paint with too broad of a brush but certainly what I've seen in my own extended family and neighbors, to ameliorate the pain of these harsh new realities for our kids, I found we tended to go soft on our expectations for our kids as part of the bargain - almost as a cosmic apology. To soften the blow of more dependence and restrictions, we let them have more screen time than normal, blow off chores and other household expectations; we allowed them unregulated snacking, and we looked the other way when they deepened their addiction to their phones. In short, I'm afraid we have unwittingly reinforced a comfort-seeking, responsibility avoidant, passive-passenger mentality. And it has actually made our kids less happy. Just this week a student approached me in the hall and said, "Mr. Rundle we shouldn't have to do anything at school that we don't want to do because, well... Covid." Lovingly, I disagreed and expressed that I don't find it useful to look at this pandemic that way. I refuse to be a victim. Victimitis is a crippling condition that is harder to overcome than any virus I know of. We need a more productive approach - one that scratches our kids where they itch.
I believe we will find it healthy and helpful to be intentional about filling our kids back up with what has maybe drained out a little bit over the past year: self-regulation and self-management. Your middle school student should be spending much more time behind the wheel and increasingly less time in the passenger seat! Not literally, of course! I'm speaking figuratively here. Let go of trying to orchestrate their peer groups or social life. Do talk about healthy relationships and what are the qualities of good friends. Resist rushing in to rescue your kiddo from a failed grade or missing assignments. Do offer your sympathy that access to video games or other devices will be temporarily suspended pending scholastic responsibility. Your tween is capable of developing a range of coping strategies to help THEMSELVES feel better when they've experienced uncomfortable emotions. But we deprive them of the gift of struggle when we feel it is our responsibility to take away the discomfort for them or too quickly try to distract them. Certainly, offer suggestions like taking deep breaths, going for a brisk walk, talking to a close friend, get busy helping someone else, etc. But our kids need to regain a sense that they are in charge of their own lives and happiness and that they suffer from expecting the adults around them to constantly pick up the pieces.
Every parent wants to protect their children from the hard things. But to ensure our kids get filled up with the flowing waters of resiliency we have to push them to develop and practice the skills they need to effectively navigate life's challenges and upsets. Strong boundaries and clear consequences are always the best tools for building sturdier human beings. And when our kids begin to feel again that they are expected to be the captain of their own ship, great horizons await them.