One of the most challenging situation parents can find themselves in is when the school principal or teacher believes their child has a learning disability and perhaps requires special education intervention. Unfortunately, a learning disability is seen as a stigma by many parents and their response is predictably, “No, my child is normal. My child does not have special needs. How dare you say something like that about my child?!” The reality, however, is that each child is different; each child has his or her own special needs.
A child can be gifted but still require special education services. Each child needs to be able to have his or her needs met, and different learners learn at different paces and have different abilities. Parents need to remain open to the fact that the feedback from the school is likely correct. Maybe the child does need help, and parents need to consider how they will avail themselves of the resources that are out there to help their child.
The teenage years are delicate years. Typically, teenagers move away from listening to their parents or seeing their parents as the ultimate authority. Beyond that, they view their parents as people who do not understand them or what they are going through, so they look to their peers for validation. Having a conversation with a teenager can be difficult, but this is not unusual and should be expected. Mood swings and emotional outbursts are common in teenagers as well.
Parents often wonder how they can know if their teenager is using drugs when his or her behavior is so erratic under normal circumstances. Parents should look for sudden changes in a teenager’s appearance, hairstyle and friendships, especially if the new friends are very different from the teenager’s previous peers. Pay attention to the pictures teenagers hang on their walls because they could indicate a connection with drug use. They will not be putting up pictures of drug paraphernalia, of course, but rather they will have pictures of people they look up to who are associated with the drug community or with using drugs. The appearance of drug paraphernalia, such as rolling papers, is something else parents should look out for at home.
Most parents have heard the adage to “never argue in front of the children.” But this might not always be the best advice, especially if we know how to “argue” in a constructive way. Very few of us are taught how to argue, so when moments of disagreement arise, we cling to our viewpoints and feelings and stop listening. This always leads to trouble, and it becomes a vicious cycle. Rabbi Shea Hecht believes showing children how to discuss, disagree and debate in a way that conveys our ideas to the other person respectfully, might be the greatest tool we ever give children.
If two adults are engaged in unfair and dirty arguing, then that type of arguing should be out of sight and earshot of children. Arguing that includes name-calling and putting each other down only damages a child’s ability to interact effectively with others. This type of arguing sets a bad example.
If you suspect a teenager is abusing drugs or alcohol, do not panic and do not immediately speak to the teenager about the situation. Speaking to the teenager before you have a plan usually backfires because the conversation quickly disintegrates into a confrontation, which accomplishes nothing.
The first thing you need to do is think of people in your life who can be helpful and think of professionals to contact. Determine if there is another adult—an uncle, older brother, or favorite cousin—with whom the child has a good relationship and may have some positive influence. Is there a member of the clergy that can be helpful? Does the child have a pediatrician who has been a regular part of his or her care? Think of people in your life who can connect with the child you are concerned about. Enlist one or more of these people to spend time with the child, since he or she might open up to this person when not being open to a parent.
Bullying is devastating for those who experience it, and it is extremely unpleasant for those who witness it as well. Bullying doesn’t just impact the lives of victims and the bullies themselves, but it also affects those who see it happen in the school or the community.
Imagine if every day when you went to work there was a strong possibility that one of your colleagues was going to be brutally teased, socially excluded, or embarrassed. It wouldn’t be an easy place to function. How can we expect children to learn if our school environments are rife with the feeling that at any moment somebody could be a victim in a similar situation?
For most teenagers, parties are a rite of passage and attendance or lack of attendance at a party can significantly impact their social standing. In today’s society, young people feel the pressure and opinion of their peers constantly, thanks to social media and the “standards” set by celebrities and social media influencers.
It is very important that parents communicate with their children concerning parties where alcohol and drugs may be present. Forbidding a teenager from going to one of these parties is ineffectual in the long term, and it shuts down open communication between the parent and the child. Instead, before the party, the parent should say, “I know there may be drugs and alcohol present at this party, and there’s going to be potentially risky behaviors. I love you and I care about you, and I hope you are strong enough to resist them.”
It is difficult to determine what causes bullying but there are usually specific indicators which we can learn to recognize. In order to do so, we must first understand the temperament of children and how they develop. All children have inborn, pre-wired temperaments which are evident from infancy. Some babies are more assertive about letting others know what they need, while other babies are more passive and will wait until someone takes care of them. Children who are aggressive and like to be in charge are at risk for becoming bullies while shy and passive children are much less likely to become a bully.
A lot of bullying, especially among girls, has to do with language. A child who has very strong language skills knows how to use a turn of phrase to make people laugh or to make people cry. These children are at greater risk of being bullies than a child who struggles with language.
Alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs, though legal, are often abused. People can get these substances whether they are of age or not, and the same thing is happening with marijuana. Walking through almost any neighborhood, one can smell marijuana everywhere. Dena Gorkin recalls walking down the street with her twelve-year-old daughter and her daughter said, “Smell that, Mom? That’s marijuana.”
Parents and schools share a common purpose — they want to educate the children in their care and ensure they grow to be healthy adults. However, there is one place where parents and schools diverge in their goals. The parents are, rightfully, always looking to protect the interests of their own child. The school though, must protect the interests of all the children. Most of the time these two things go together, but sometimes, especially in bullying situations, they may diverge.
Teachers and administrators are often confronted by hurting parents whose child is being bullied and they feel the school is not doing enough to stop it. There are several difficult truths that must be confronted in this situation. The first is that the very best bullying prevention programs being rolled out in schools are accomplishing somewhere between a thirty to forty percent reduction in bullying, in spite of all their resources. Basically this means that even if your school is doing everything they should be doing, the international standard suggests there will still be quite a lot of bullying that parents and children will have to deal with.
People living mental illness are often ashamed or even afraid to tell others what they are going through. They are worried about the judgments people will make about them if they knew that they are taking medication or seeing a therapist. It is important for people to remember that there is no shame in getting help with mental illness, like depression, obsessive- compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and there are many different types of help in today’s world.