Kevin Hart and Charlamagne tha God both wrote about their junior high years in their recently released memoirs. These men spoke about the hard times they experienced during their adolescent years and how the decisions they made, driven by peer pressure, spiraled them into tailspins with somewhat disastrous results. Much to Chalamagne’s English teacher mom’s dismay, his bad decisions landed him in jail. No one is jumping on the “my son’s incarcerated” bandwagon, so the question remains: how can we best prepare our boys for junior high? I feel a bit of angst sharing my thoughts knowing that people like Dr. Kwanza Kunjuffu have spent their lives dedicated to this topic. However, I’m going to rely on my classroom and mom experience to share my two pennies with you.
Let’s admit it. Schools themselves are a bit dysfunctional with the attempt to educate a child without the presence of his parents. Nowadays, the old school discipline we received for not completing assignments, turning in late work, and goofing off is considered corporal punishment and not allowed. Discipline control is so extreme that a child who shows up late for physical education class cannot be forced to run extra laps and do push ups. You have to mark the child down as tardy and move on with class.
If you know that the school and its teachers cannot and will not provide the type of discipline you require for your child at home, then there is a way around this problem. Basically, junior high is not the time to let your child have some “responsibility.” Junior high is the time to get more involved, but not as a helicopter parent. Please remember there are big payoffs for any boy who can provide entertainment for the class. He’s well aware that he can do almost whatever he wants with little to no consequences. How do you make your presence known to him throughout the day? Especially when the more you push, the more he pulls as far away from you as he can. Make yourself be present. If you are in college, take online courses. It’s important to be present in the evening as close to the time he gets home as possible. The number one way to combat academic problems in school is organization. You have to be organized and in turn, organize him.
Before school starts, make sure he can successfully open his locker with ease
If he’s going to get to class on time, he has to maneuver this complicated task. While some kids have mastered the left-right-left pattern, there are countless others who have shed tears over the process. Purchase a lock similar to the ones used at a school and give your child the opportunity to practice. Also, teach them locker etiquette such as bringing home stinky clothes and cleaning out trash (this may be an activity that has to happen once a week with your supervision). It’s hard to quantify the number of items that get lost in a locker, including missing homework assignments. However, they usually end up going into the dumpster at end of the year locker cleanout.
Meet his teachers and administrators
Taking time to introduce yourself and your student to his teachers and principals before the school year starts is crucial. Please let the staff know you are partnering with them for success and want to see everyone happy at the end of the term. Offer them your contact information and hope they never have to use it.
Email teachers to check on classroom progress
There are teachers who won’t like this particular suggestion. When you have a hundred students it’s hard to reply to every parent. Especially the one who emails you weekly. But at the end of ten months, your son is your son. They don’t go home with you and they don’t have to raise him. You do. Send a message that says, “I’m “blanks” parent. I’m checking to see how he’s doing in class. Not just grades, but is he behaving?” A student can act a butt and make all A’s. But you’d never know without opening the doors of communication. I don’t know about you, but my goal is to raise respectful and grateful children who understand the opportunity education provides them. Send the email.
Ask about assignments nightly
If you are going to be in contact with the teachers, make sure you are communicating with your son as well. Check his planner, the school calendar, and any newsletters from the school. Organization happens when there is full disclosure. The worst way to end a rough day is to come home to, “mom, I forgot to tell you I have a band concert tonight.” You’ll have to put those heels back on and march out the door, without dinner, and smile during an event that had you known about, you would have prepared for. Discuss with your son the importance of keeping track of assignments. It will help for college and life beyond.
Check online portals regularly
Technology can be your friend. I’ve spoken with numerous parents who refuse to obtain an email address. Schools are going green. They are cutting back on paper to save money. To stay informed, you almost always have to have a way for the schools to reach you electronically. Also, in my school teachers are required to regularly update grades in the computer. Years ago, we walked around with gradebooks marking our grade codes in pencil copiously and no one knew how they were doing until grades were due to be turned into the office. Times have changed. We sit at the computer weekly and add our numbers so all parties involved are aware.
Connect after school activities with school performance
Participating in activities such as a sports is a privilege. Yes, we want to have well-rounded children. But there is this fine line of balance between seeing your future child in the NBA or Olympics and seeing your child progress academically. If you want high performance on the court or field, demand it in the classroom. They can do the work. If they can’t, they can get a tutor. School success is connected to scholarship and free college money. Trust me, they are going to want those good grades when it’s time to search for a university to attend.
Monitor cell phone usage
The SRO officer at school once said, “when you give your child a cell phone, you are giving them the entire world right in their hands.” You would be surprised at the number of children who have pornography on their phones. It’s astonishing. Often, they are connected to social media accounts of strippers and their timelines are flooded with inappropriate images. It’s the children who you would not expect. I know because sometimes kids tell on each other. But what if it’s only you and your child? Who’s going to tell on him? You have to be the snoop. Collect his phone at night, no matter how old he is.
Create something together that he can carry around with him, secretly
Lastly, there needs to be some sort of secret item he can wear around his neck or carry in his pocket that reminds him of you and your love. There are numerous discouraging experienes and thoughts that circle an adolescent boy. They need reminders throughout the day of how important they are to you. They need to know how much you care. Let them hold something that gives them courage to make the right decisions.
As Boyz II Men wrote in their well known hit, “A Song For Mama,” continue to be the queen of his heart even when you are far apart.