Dear Flint Hill School Families,
Yesterday, I started the first session of my Headmaster’s Parent Discussion Series. The focus this winter will be on parenting at the various ages. I love talking about parenting. The topic we touched on yesterday in the Upper School caused me to reflect on the concept of parenting in today’s world. Parenting is without question the greatest responsibility any of us will ever carry. We were all excited when we first learned that we were expecting our children. We were amazed at the moment of birth, and then anxious, yet thrilled to bring those bundles of joy home from the hospital. But in spite of the tremendous responsibility that comes with parenting, there is no rule book for it. So much of it is trial and error and working hard to do our very best, experiencing great moments of joy and painful moments of disappointment and frustration.
Parenting is much more complex today. Raising children has never been easy, but the list of challenges we must confront for our children has grown. When children are little, we teach them how to dress themselves and how to practice good hygiene. Then they learn to do chores and perform well at school. But before you know it, drugs, alcohol and bullying enter the picture. Then come issues of sexuality, relationships, and the emotional components that come with it all. And now, the increasing complexity of the world around us adds to the strain. How do we help our children interpret current world affairs, inaccurate news and of all the new challenges that come with the digital age?
Today’s children are truly a digital generation. They may think that phones have always been cordless and that they were always available in our pockets. They believe that television has always had 24-hour programming filled with channels and sources. They can’t comprehend a world without social media and the ability to instantly connect with friends wherever they are, whether through text, Facetime, Skype, Snapchat, Twitter or a live image. Social media is surrounding them in every form. It can be frightening for us as adults to imagine all that is before them and yet, it is our responsibility to guide them to create the confidence and the competence to deal with all these communication tools. We must also help them make meaning of the frightening and/or confusing information we all glean from local, national and international news. If the adults are feeling the pressure, how can children make sense of it all?
This is why I hope you never lose sight of the fact that we are here as partners in this adventure. It is part of what we do. We work constantly to be ahead of the curve, to keep our eyes and ears open for where things are going, and make certain that the foundation in our students’ lives is as solid as necessary. So what do you, as parents, need to do in this new age? Several thoughts cross my mind:
- Be knowledgeable. This can be a challenge given the volume of information we must now process on a day to day basis. We all need to read articles and get information, particularly about all that is happening in social media. We need to realize that the old idea of being teased takes on a new significance in today’s world. When I was younger, if you got teased at school, at least you could go home as a respite, knowing that you were safe inside your house. Now, bullying can continue 24/7 through phones, tablets and other devices. It is important to know your children’s passwords and check their activity online. We need to work together to make certain that they are safe and that they are doing things properly, like being conscious of their own language and actions. And with a new cycle that never stops, for better or for worse, we need to do our best to calmly focus on our four core values, and use them as the consistent guide to put the news reports in perspective.
- Listen. We all need to understand how our children are interpreting the world around them. And it is important to create moments when you can do that, whether it is around the breakfast table, the dinner table or quiet moments in the car. With our boys, years ago, it was either during breakfast or time in the car that became our time. The car was great because they couldn’t get out, and we could engage fully in conversations that just had to be held. We also used breakfast time because we all were so involved in various activities that mornings were the easiest time for us all to come together. That tradition even extended into their college years when they came home during their breaks. Many times, before they would go to bed and after a late night of visiting with their friends, they would tell us: “Please don’t get me up for breakfast.” And then, as they would leave our bedroom, we would hear a whisper, “But I know you will.” In whatever form it takes, we need to hear our children, listen to their beliefs and values and understand the things that drive, worry or scare them. We want to know whether or not they feel safe, and we need to provide an environment where they can open up and share what is on their minds. The current research tells us after decades of talking about peer pressure and the power it holds over children, that parents actually have the greatest influence on their children today. You truly make a difference.
- Set limits. At every age, we need to set appropriate limits. Whether it is bedtime, rules for TV and movie content, or putting limits on digital time, setting limits is a critical component of parenting. Children can be great manipulators — they may compare you to other parents by telling you that your rules are stricter, that you are meaner, and that you are not listening or caring enough. They will tell you that other parents are “cooler” or better in some way. I learned a long time ago that no matter the severity of the limits we set, our kids would inevitably get angry about it. They would kick and scream and challenge us at times. Follow your instincts. Setting limits can be uncomfortable, but it benefits everyone in the long run.
Our children need us to be parents, not older friends. They need to know that we are there for them, that we have experience, and that we can help them navigate what at times can be a frightening world for them. The end result will be tremendous triumphs and great moments of joy when reaching milestones in their lives, as well as being able to celebrate with them their journeys in life, their discoveries, and the beauty of knowing that we have had a powerful impact on the lives of our young Huskies — whether they are in our Junior Kindergarten or a Senior soon to graduate. And we can assure them that our world within the boundaries of Flint Hill is a safe place, a caring place, a place that values them and loves them for who they are!!
If we can help in any way in this journey, please do not hesitate to call on us. We know how much this means to all of us. Our children are the most precious people in our lives. All of us at Flint Hill look forward to joining you in celebrating and applauding the many accomplishments and achievements they have ahead of them.
Best wishes to you!
John M. Thomas