It never fails. Every year when school starts, I find that parents are the ones learning a new lesson. For me, it was the moment my son came home from his first day of middle school with a unique assignment: to log into the school's online communication site. The site would be his main way of checking assignments, reviewing his schedule, and sending email to his teacher.
My mind started racing: He'll have to get an email address. He'll have to use the computer every day. He'll probably get sucked into more computer time -- and soon, social networks. Suddenly, there were decisions to make, boundaries to create, and rules to abide by. Along with taking the bus and finishing homework, we'll be holding him accountable for safe and responsible use of things like instant messaging, video chatting, and social networking. And I thought buying him his first pair of skinny jeans was a challenge!
A friend of mine is dealing with other surprising new developments in her third grader. A tomboy who never gave clothes a second thought, she's suddenly insisting on wearing outfits that look suspiciously similar to a certain pop star's uniform: ripped tights, mini skirt, halter tops. It all made my friend want to scream: "Why is Lady Gaga standing in my house, and what have you done with my daughter?" Suddenly evidence of pop culture's influence on kids was standing in her living room.
As much as we try to keep it at bay, the bigger world of online and media influences creeps in, surprising us and teaching us to be vigilant. Maybe your kids are coming home from school bursting with news of the new virtual world they just have to join because all of their friends are on it. Or they have to buy more Pokemon cards because everyone at school has them. How can you put this newfound interest into perspective?
Rules to Live By
Stop, look, and listen. Think about what your child is going through. In elementary and middle school, social pressure steadily ramps up, and kids begin to look at peers for cues on how to act and dress -- and even what social networks to hang out in.
Allow them to test the waters. A lot of times, the things our kids want to try can be attempted in age-appropriate ways. As parents, we can help guide our kids in the direction that we want them to go.
Remember the Empire State Building. It may be the biggest cliché in the book, but the old saying "If all your friends jumped off the Empire State Building, would you do it too?" helps remind them that just because other people do something doesn't mean they have to do it as well.
What are your back-to-school challenges, and how are you dealing with them?