Caution: Road Work Ahead

Anyone who has driven in Northeast Ohio knows the ever-altering encounters between potholes and orange barrels. Yes, Clevelanders, sometimes we weave through both at the same time! Driving along, this was the picture that formed in my head as a woman on the radio advised me, “You can prepare the road for your child or you can prepare your child for the road.” It was a beautiful day in the Metroparks and my personal road looked smooth and clear. All I had to worry about was a few bicyclists. Even the deer were behaving. Still, I reflected on the proverbial message and thought, “Which way is the ‘right’ way to go?”

            As a parent, an educator, and a mature adult (meaning I’m not that young anymore!), I have struggled to balance out these options. I have also witnessed a rising struggle among other parents to do the same, resulting in precarious and at times scary results. Honestly, it concerns me.

            At a very young age, my own son displayed symptoms of anxiety and depression. His behaviors might have been confusing or unrecognizable to most parents. However, with my professional background and personal mental health history, I held prior knowledge. Some of the things my husband and I were seeing included an inability to make decisions, an unwillingness to be separated from us including going to school, and a sadness that sometimes looked more like downright crankiness. As parents, it was heartbreaking.

            This kind of experience including emotional and school issues may set mothers and fathers on opposing sides. This in turn results in marital and overall family stress. The majority of the time this is how it goes:

Moms tend to line up on one side and say, “Ok, let’s clear this road and open a straight express lane for my kid to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘Z’.” Meanwhile, Dads often move to the opposite side and proclaim, “Hey, life is tough. So, let’s get this kid prepared to handle whatever life is going to throw at him. No excuses!”

And…, let the fighting begin!

            In reality, both approaches are needed, but success lies in when and how to do each. In our family’s case, we chose to prepare our child for the road. This included counseling at an early age which did not work (only years later did counseling prove beneficial) and holistic therapy through a chiropractor involving diet which yielded only moderate results. That left us with seeking medical advice on the use of psychotropics. I don’t know any parent who wouldn’t struggle with the decision to try medication. Our society has made amazing advances in understanding how the brain works, but we still have such a long way to go. Children’s bodies are in a constant state of growing, so medication is, in my opinion, a matter of educated trial and error. However, that doesn’t mean that meds are bad. On the contrary! If a child has diabetes, it would be neglectful not to administer insulin as needed. In our case it took a referral from a pediatrician to a psychiatrist and within a year we had an effective dosage and plan. I would be remiss to say that was all we did to prepare our son. During this time and still to this day we have been active in our church and local community. We taught our son who and whose he is. We taught him how to pray and how to serve others even when he didn’t feel like it. This was a vital part of prepping our boy for the road ahead.

            But, the journey was still bumpy and we found that along the way intervention was necessary. Now it was time to look at the road. About three years into our adventure we chose to seek help through the Lakewood City Schools using something called a 504 plan. A 504 plan does not include goals like an IEP (individual education plan), but it does provide accommodations. These accommodations smooth out the educational road and provide bridges for crossing deep crevices. For example, our son had social anxiety, so the 504 plan stated that a teacher would assign a peer or group to partner with on projects. This small thing made a big difference! In the end, it took a combination of approaches to achieve success. By success, I do not mean a certain GPA or tangible achievement. Oh, how we love our awards and trophies in this country! I mean a child who knows himself, likes who he is becoming, and sees a bright future on the horizon.

            So why am I concerned? As I mentioned earlier, it was heart wrenching to see our child suffer. As parents, we can get a little crazy when we see our children hurt or hurting. From my vantage, there are a growing number of adults today who mistakenly believe that society should be able to create and maintain smooth, yes even perfect, roads that never even produce a speed bump. Oh boy! That is just not realistic and it is having dire consequences on today’s public servants and society’s youth.

            Human and health service people today are facing a burden they were never equipped to endure. In fact, I would argue that they can’t meet these unrealistic expectations. Police are tasked with consequencing those who break the law. They aren’t being “mean.” They have a job to do. If they catch a kid vandalizing or stealing property, it’s the parent’s job to address the issue with the child, not blame law enforcement. Likewise, teachers have the duty to educate students on both academics and responsibility. Did you know that the number one reason employers justify firing employees is worker tardiness and absenteeism? Even if that isn’t the fundamental reason for termination, it is the easiest means. That’s why if students are tardy to school, consequences are essential to teaching the life skill of punctuality.

            I have a personal saying. “Pay now or pay later.” We parents, teachers and community members are partners in education. When children are younger, it’s often easier on adults to put off consequences. This usually occurs under the guise of kindness and could be why everyone gets a trophy today. However, in actuality, it simply gives birth to enablement in a negative way. Instead of becoming empowered, children come to expect an external locus of control to “feed” them success. As adults, we know that life is full of detours, roadblocks and yes, sometimes accidents. So, when you don’t pay now the price goes up later. What do I mean by this? If you always succeed- pass the class, get the award, are told you are exceptional-- how are you prepared for failure?

You are not.

Nor do you have the skills to cope.

The price just went up.

            I encourage parents and community to consider what it means to prepare today’s youth for the road ahead. We should not fear failure or pain, as it often results in shaping who we are and leads us to success. Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is courage to continue that counts.” For most of us out there, being a parent is the most challenging thing we’ll ever do. Remember, with the right roadmap, anything is possible.

Read More on Schools
Volume 13, Issue 13, Posted 3:03 PM, 07.05.2017