I’ve been asked to talk about how we navigated our kids through public school. Well if I’m going to be quite honest it was hard and we certainly made mistakes along the way. We had homeschooled for 17 years, with our oldest 2 going all the way through homeschool. 14 years ago, when we moved to Greenville, we put everyone in public school. At the time, we were burned out from homeschooling so many children for so long. We didn’t have good options or the finances to choose Christian School, so in a step of faith we put them in Greenville Schools. In reflection on our 31 years of children in school, no school option is perfect, each has advantages and disadvantages. Overall, the school and teachers are fine. There are many quality teachers who supported my kids, cared about them, and worked hard to educate and cheer them on. I am eternally grateful for their efforts.
The difficult part is the social influences. The Mean Girl, Bullying, and Girl Drama are real, even at very young ages. Coming from a positive homeschool community, these were the most difficult things for my kids to face. With social media and cell phones, this garbage comes right into your home, right in the face of your child, and there is no escape. Our policy was that our kids couldn’t have a cell phone until they had a job and could pay for it. Most of my kids didn’t have a cell phone until high school around 10th grade. We however caved for our youngest and he got a cell phone in 8th grade, which was still older than most of his peers. After a year, he said he regretted that we let him get a cell phone that young. I highly advise putting off getting a cell phone for your child as long as you can. If you do decide to get them one, know what their password is, check the phone regularly, and you can put their apps on timers, so they have limited use on them. I think this is a masterful thing to do. Also, my friend has everyone put their cell phones on a common table at night so nobody has their phones beside their beds at night. This is a good policy for parents AND kids alike. I heard Mel Robbins say that the first 30 minutes you are awake should be set aside for YOUR dreams, not scrolling and reading about someone else’s! Wise words.
Two things I believe are key to help kids navigate public school:
1. A strong family life. Having a close, loving family is one of the biggest strengths you can offer your children. If the home is full of affection, warmth, lots of talking together, laughing, playing games or family activities together, this will give your kids a strong foundation to face the challenges that come their way. This takes time and effort on the part of the parents. Rather than have everyone in their own rooms on their own screens, engage your kids and be with them. Our kids often would walk in the door and head to their dad’s study to say hi and to catch up together on the day. Make your children your priority, be present with them, when they talk, listen to them! (my post on Family Dinner has some good ideas about the importance of family meal time).
Kids should feel that home is a haven, a shelter from the storms of life, where they can just BE. Your kids should sense that the people in their home are FOR them. If you are married, a strong, loving marriage is a powerful refuge in the lives of our children. Without them even realizing it, our kids take the security of a loving, intact family into their own marriages. If you are a single Mom or Dad, you have a really hard job and my hat is off to you. I know you must feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of it all. God can give you the daily strength you need to make your home life loving and affectionate with your children. I know many great single parents who are working hard and doing a good job of raising loving children.
2. The second thing I believe makes a huge difference as we help our kids navigate public school, is for them to be in a biblical church. When our children sit under a Christ-centered preaching ministry, each week they are brought face to face with the living God. They will know that God is holy and they must give an account to Him. But they will also learn that in Jesus, we have mercy and grace to help in time of need. As our children see Christ clearly, they learn to take pity, and pray for the person who bullied or made fun of them. We can encourage them to pray for those who are excluded or made fun of. We teach them to befriend those who are outcast. We can use these situations to teach our children a heart of compassion for others. Our hope is that they will be able to stand against the crowd and stand up for what is right. A biblical church is also an important place for our children to get grounded in the word of God and for God to show them their need of a Savior.
A loving church community will also accept kids as they are. Some of my kids went through some tough times. Loving people in the church surrounded them, entered into their lives, cared about them, talked with them, and just loved them through the difficult stages. This was huge for us! When you have other adults love your kids and praying for them, God uses that in a powerful way in our kid’s lives.
A strong home life and being a part of a biblical church are the two big things you can do to give your kids the foundation to help them navigate public school.
However, I’m not going to sugar coat it, its going to be hard, at times brutal. Things will be said to your child that no child should have said to them. They will hear the foulest language in the hallways, the crudest jokes, degrading comments toward women and girls, disrespecting and talking back to teachers. Think Lord of the Flies. That pretty much sums it up. Administrators have told us the amount of sexting by girls is at epidemic proportions, with very little they can do to stop it. And then, every time you hear a siren during school hours, you desperately pray its not a school shooting. And each year it seems to be getting worse. With the breakdown of the family, and the lack of discipline among children, parents are too exhausted to put forth the effort to raise their children. Often, they are working so many hours to make ends meet or to have that extra car or trip to Disney, the school is overwhelmed with trying to do the job of the parents.
My advice is: be proactive, know what’s going on in your child’s school, classrooms, on the bus, etc. Stay close to the teachers, ask for updates regularly. Talk to your kids, pray for and with your kids. Feel free to say NO to protect your child. Many times our kids didn’t participate in dances that we felt were not appropriate at their ages, or co ed parties that we felt they were too young for. Don’t be afraid to be the parent. Girls sleep overs can wreak all kinds of havoc on young girls. Beware and be proactive. Our kids always knew they could call us or text us at a moments’ notice and we would be there to pick them up, no questions asked. We always told our kids blame it on us! If they didn’t want to participate, tell their friends “my parents won’t let me” we were always happy to be the excuse to protect the kids from ridicule. One time I dropped my daughter off to a party at a new “friends” home. She was in 6th grade and I wanted her to make some friends since we had just moved to the area. Well from the moment I dropped her off, it was sketchy. The whole scene gave me the creeps, but I didn’t want to embarrass her in front of the kids. So I sat in the car in front of the house and I couldn’t bring myself to leave her there. Within 10 minutes she was on the phone and she came right out. She discerned this is a bad scene and she was out of there!
Ok so what if it doesn’t go as planned? What do you do if your child gets caught up in bad things? I hate to break it to you but it WILL probably happen! We’re not raising perfect kids, we’re raising sinners, who in the normal course of their lives are gonna screw up. We’ve had calls from the principal, and yes even police at the door! As difficult as these times are, they are teaching moments and opportunities to bring guidance and truth to our children. I am always thankful if my kids are doing something wrong and they get caught. It’s a mercy, that God didn’t leave them to themselves, but stops them in their tracks. I also always tell my kids, “Everyone makes mistakes, it’s what you do with those mistakes, and how you move forward and learn from them that determines your character and your future.
A word of caution if your child never does anything wrong outwardly. It may make your life easy as a parent, but that child may be riddled with pride which is also a sin. Remember the parable Jesus told about the Pharisee who entered the temple and raised his hands before the altar saying “Lord I thank you that I am not like that sinner over there.” Then the sinner came in with eyes lowered and prayed beating his breast, “God be merciful to me a sinner”. Jesus said the sinner went away justified. It is hard to show a proud person their need for Christ. Great sinners, once God gets ahold of them, are unstoppable for God. To quote my friend Connie, when kids go through rebellious times, “They’re just working on their testimony!” In Luke 7, a woman of questionable character came to anoint Jesus’ feet with costly oil and she was weeping. Jesus said to the Pharisee who was judging her, “He who is forgiven much, loves much!” I have found this to be true with my kids a well.
One more thing about school is that we were always glad that our kids went through questions, struggles, etc. while living under our roof. Such a blessing that we as parents can help them through these times, talk with them, give them guidance, etc. while living with us. God is big enough for their questions. Questions never scared us as parents. We have a lot of strong thinkers in our family so we welcomed their questions. The one good thing was that by the time they graduated all of them had worked through a lot of issues and had come down on the side of God in their belief systems. Grappling with issues such as evolution vs creation, the existence of God, etc. led to great discussions. We would much rather have them work through this while in our home, so that by the time they got to college they at least have a bit clearer idea of their belief system.
In conclusion, if you decide to place your kids in public school, have them in a solid church where they will hear the word of God preached clearly. Stay close to your kids and talk to them. Be aware of what’s going on in their lives. We recently had a meeting with the principals of the High School, to discuss what we felt was a very inappropriate book assigned in a class. They appreciated us coming and caring enough to voice an opinion. Don’t forget that the most powerful influence in your child’s life is YOU! Your love for them, your values taught to them, and your life with God will carry them far in life. When the soldiers were storming the beaches of Normandy, many of the men as they were dying cried out “Mom.” I’ve been at funeral homes and children were looking over the casket of their deceased father and their comments were “That man was the most important influence in my life.” Be the best, most godly parent you can be. Lead them in the way they should go and you will be blessed and your children will be blessed.