While parental focus on a particular issue usually comes up early and then gradually decreases as your child gets older, getting along with older children and adults at school is a somewhat different proposition. Your children who have had continuingly good relationships and successful experiences with teachers and other children at school for several years may suddenly develop difficulty with a particular teacher or with a particular school-related situation. This is occasionally seen in juniors or seniors in high school. New and somewhat novel difficulties, however, can come up at any age.
Problems with teachers and other children at school are your children’s problems. Social relationships and adjustments at school are primarily the responsibility of your child.
It is not unusual to see parents get into arguments with teachers and school administrators over the social relationship difficulties of their children. From their point of view, the difficulties are the school’s fault. In situations where parents and school personnel disagree over the social behavior of children, the children are frequently left out of the discussions. If this happens with your child, he no longer has the responsibility for working things out. Occasionally, this same kind of difficulty arises with neighbors. Whether the problem comes up at school or in the neighborhood, it is clear your child has continuing responsibility for handling the situation. You, neighbors, school administrators, and teachers may help, but ultimately your child must deal with things himself.
When problems come up at school, regardless of your child’s age or grade, first talk with him about the problem and encourage him to deal with it. Usually, this works out fairly nicely and the problems are resolved. But what if they are not? You can then either intervene more directly or let your child know it probably is better if he simply tolerates the situation and does nothing. your initial intervention should be mild; talk with the teacher or administrator about the problem, listen to their point of view, get their impressions, and be sure not to threaten or accuse. Problems may develop which need more affirmative intervention. Then you may need to go to the highest school official, the school board, or in some way appeal to the community or courts for assistance. Such extremes do not develop very often, though. The principle is to start out gradually, first talking with your child about the problem and encouraging him to deal with it and then moving, step by step, through the system until the problem is resolved.
There are times when teachers and school administrators are really being unreasonable or unprofessional, and you should not intervene, but just encourage your child to tolerate the situation; for example, if the problem develops with only five weeks of school left. The criteria for deciding to do nothing about a problem are not totally clear. If the problem is not interfering with your child’s overall adjustment or learning, and if it is fairly temporary, he probably is better off to just tolerate it. Dealing directly with the problem may only make matters worse.
An anecdote may be helpful here. An adolescent was on a field trip and some of the teenagers on the bus were smoking marijuana. The school officials summarily accused everyone on the bus of smoking marijuana and imposed disciplinary action. Some of the teenagers had it coming and others did not. Under most circumstances, her parents might have simply encouraged her to go along with the disciplinary action knowing it was unfair and probably unreasonable. Fighting it would not have been worth the hassle. In this situation, though, the youngster was an honor student and was anticipating two scholarships to college. The marijuana situation was included in her permanent record and could jeopardize her chances of receiving the scholarships. This is a situation well worth fighting. Her parents first talked with the school officials and found them inflexible. Then they hired an attorney who contacted the school officials, indicating the parents were ready to take the situation to court if necessary. Immediately, all reference to the marijuana situation was removed from the girl’s records and no further mention was made of it by the schools. Had the parents been in the habit of threatening to sue or threatening to take the school to court over a lot of issues, the school probably would not have capitulated so easily or quickly. These parents had shown the good judgment to save their action for something that really mattered.
Teachers and school officials tend to respond positively to suggestions from members of the professional community. If your child is having some difficulty at school and if neither he nor you have been able to effectively resolve the problem, it is well to talk with your family doctor, someone from the local mental health service, your minister, or someone from the family service agency. If they agree the situation needs attention, they may be willing to contact the school.