The other night Tom and I attended a meeting for parents of elementary school students in our area. I received an email last week about the event from both my 3rd and 5th grade children's teachers as well as receiving hard copies in their folders the day of the event.
The three topics on the meeting's agenda were: understanding drugs, bullying and friendships, and self-harm intervention. All prevalent, worrisome topics. And, although I have read a fair amount about all three topics, and experience them in the work I do with families, I thought it would be interesting to attend and hear what the area's experts were sharing with parents of our kindergarten through 5th graders.
Before I share what I found disturbing regarding this meeting, let me just say the information presented by the DEA Agent, Denton County Friends of the Family, and LISD's CHOICES program was all very important, relevant and even if you knew it all, it was a great opportunity to be in a room with other parents talking about what is going on in our schools.
For example, Tim Davis (DEA) told parents the two most prominent drugs they are dealing with are marijuana and heroin. He went on to tell the attendees the pot we may have encountered in our youth is now much more potent (THC was at about 3% in the 1980s as opposed to 10% now, and they see up to a 30% THC level in hydroponic marijuana). Mr. Davis talked about marijuana as a gateway drug. He talked about how kids who begin taking prescription meds often end up on a path to heroin use because of both cost and availability.
So what was Mr. Davis's advice to parents of elementary school students? Get involved and stay involved with your children. Talk to your kids, ask about their day, know their friends and their friends parents. Make time for family. Look at their phones, social media pages (if they have them), understand that marijuana is no longer "just pot". It is often laced with other things and because of the higher THC levels kids are getting hooked MUCH more quickly these days. The use of marijuana can have a profound effect on their academics as well as on their social skills.
The information on bullying was equally enlightening. A few parents talked about incidents their children had experienced and how the school district has handled their issues. The information on self harm was largely about how, at times, kids learn to cope with their stress and unhappy life or emotional circumstances by cutting themselves. There was information on what you should do as a parent if you see that behavior in your child or a child's friend.
I estimate there were 100 people in the room the other night. Towards the end of the 90 minute meeting the counselor running the show asked all of the school counselors from LISD to stand and be recognized.
It was a third of the audience.
This was what I found disturbing.
I don't know exactly how many elementary schools were invited to attend this event, but I know we have almost 900 students in my children's elementary school and I know Tom and I drove 15 minutes to get to this meeting, so I would venture to guess the list included a good portion of the district's forty elementary schools.
I won't lie, initially I was intending this post to be a bitch session about how we have these serious issues in our community and yet the parent attendance at events which are held to both inform us and give us a chance to communicate are so poorly attended. Then I realized (a) no one likes to be griped at and (b) shaming parents is not going to achieve the desired outcome.
So, after some reflection on my part, I am taking a different approach.
I am making a plea:
Whether you want to believe it or not, our children are exposed to drug use, to children that will not treat them with kindness, and to children whose lives are [for myriad of reasons] so unhappy they will intentionally cause themselves physical pain in order to remember what it feels like to feel anything at all, or in order to release the level of pain they are holding inside.
Maybe it isn't your child right now, but as they enter into middle school they will be exposed to many more kids, life circumstances and personalities. As a parent it is important to know what your child may face at school, in your neighborhood, and online.
One of the things I think parents today are greatly lacking is the time and ability to actually talk with one another about what they are experiencing with their children. Parenting is a tough, tough job. It requires a great deal of patience, sacrifice and dedication. We can all use some support and information about how to do our most important job better.
Being honest and open, taking a risk and sharing your story is so valuable to others. Please strongly consider attending the next organized meeting about serious issues such as those stated above. Education is power and if we want to raise children who are compassionate, empathetic, and who openly communicate with us about what is going on in their world we have to be aware of what their world is really like today.
If you choose to bury your head in the sand, it does not mean these things won't happen under your roof. We are all vulnerable.