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Saturday, July 24, 2010

If You Think Middle School Kids Aren't Drinking - Think Again

Is your child headed to middle school this fall. Welcome to the Brave New World.

Fitting in and finding friends are the middle school child’s whole
world. What their friends tell them to do guides much of their thinking.

Friendships also start to shift, and as children become more of the
people they will be in high school, they choose the kind of children
they’ll hang out with for years to come. If that crowd has changed
or is one you don’t trust, now is the time to talk
with your child and pay attention to where he goes
and with whom.

Don’t expect to hear about drinking problems from school
Administrators, unless information leaks out or your
child is involved.

In 2008, some eighth graders brought alcohol into the lunchroom
of my son’s middle school and I never heard a word from the
school about it. How did I find out kids poured vodka and grain
alcohol into soda bottles and passed it around at lunch? My son
told me. The principal explained the facts of the incident when
I called her – how many kids, where it happened, and how she
found out.

But her answer to additional questions was, “It’s being
addressed, and I cannot say any more because of privacy issues.”
Here are a just a few incidents across the nation that we found researching this book.

At Gulf Breeze Middle School in Santa Rosa, CA, the 2008-2009
school year ended with four students expelled for possessing and
distributing alcohol on school grounds. Eleven students from other
middle and high schools in Santa Rosa were expelled that same week
for alcohol or drug possession.

At Ponus Ridge Middle School in Norwalk, CT, 22 middle school
students were caught consuming alcohol on school grounds. Principal
Linda Sumpter said the students included boys and girls from
sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. Allegedly, three of the students
were selling alcohol they brought from home disguised in iced tea
and Gatorade bottles.

At Timberland Middle School in Plaistow, NH, principal Michael
Hogan sent a note home to parents telling them only clear bottles
could be brought to school. Students were caught with alcohol on
school grounds, and because the bottles were colored, they could
not immediately tell the kids were drinking alcohol. The police
were not called.

At Redland Middle School in Rockville, MD, nine sixth and seventh
grade students were disciplined after alcohol was brought into
the bleachers before the start of school. Former principal Carol Weiss
suggested they be suspended or expelled. She is no longer there.

Know that your child will see drugs and alcohol in middle school and start talking them about it now. Persist - even if they push you off.

Monday, July 5, 2010

End of School Year Madness - How Can We Moms Cope?

This blog was originally written for the Partnership for Drug Free America's Decoder Blog.

I am sitting at my 10-year-old daughter’s fifth grade “promotion” ceremony (that’s what we call graduation at Piney Branch Elementary School in Takoma Park, MD) and the school band is playing the “Star Spangled Banner”. They have vastly improved from “Hot Cross Buns” a year before – but they still have a long way to go. One of the teachers has a fabulous baritone which is managing to drown out most of the squeaking. But still, my head is beginning to ache.

The hot and humid gymnasium is making us all question why we are not wearing shorts and flip flops. The woman next to me has freed her toddler from the stroller and is trying to keep her from running right into the middle of the ceremony, with limited success. Parents are standing up and cheering wildly for their children.

My 14-year-old son has come along only because of a girl on whom he has a massive crush is there. He points her out to me and instructs me not to act weird.

I always forget to bring a camera but this time I didn’t. And just as luck would have it, the only shots I can get are the backs of other parents’ heads. At one point, as the entire fifth grade belted out “Lean on Me”, I simply walked to the front, kneeled down amidst a small group of the more aggressive parents, and took photos of the side of my daughter’s head singing to the boy next to her.

The next day there is an hour long “clap out” ceremony – where the parents and the entire elementary school claps and cheers as the fifth graders proudly walk through the halls. Then there is a school picnic, a party in a local park, a pool party, and three birthday parties for good friends which require thoughtful presents.

And all of this is only for one of my two children.

I also have to return school books to the high school my son transferred from and retrieve a trumpet, get the pediatrician to fill out camp health forms, search frantically to find a last-minute camp for a week that isn’t filled and buy a teacher’s gift.

Professionally, I have multiple deadlines, a couple of lunch meetings and several conference calls.

Welcome to the end of school and the beginning of summer, probably the hardest time of the year for working and stay-at-home moms. While the dads come to most events, and some help more than others, for the most part we moms are the drivers, schedulers, organizers, finders of missing items one second before walking out the door, and huggers of children who at some point will realize they will not see their friends every day for the next two and a half months. I’d compare it to a roller coaster ride but it’s really more like a full-blown tornado.

I have screamed twice – once alone at the house and once at my kids who are incapable of not dumping everything they walk in the house with onto the living room floor. Yoga helps – if I can find the time to do it.

When I finished fifth grade, I got on the bus with my friends, went to someone’s house and we rode our bikes around the neighborhood and squirted each other with a hose.

When did the end of the school year become so complicated?

We’ve all read about overscheduled children but what about overscheduled parents? What about overscheduled end-of-the-year activities? Why does everything your child does have to be celebrated in a way that requires parental attendance? Don’t get me wrong, I adore my children and would do anything for them. But enough is enough.

Even if we try to keep after school activities to a minimum — to one or two activities per child — they still have to get there and get home. Throw an entire other layer of obligations on top of that and a corporate executive would crack under pressure.

I should be able to give some salient advice to other parents about this end of school time, since my kids are a bit older and I have plenty of practice. But whatever I say is going to end up sounding like every parenting article you’ve ever read.

So instead, I will tell you what a parent whose kids are in college said to me the other day about coping with the end-of-the-school-year madness.

She said, “You don’t have to always say yes.” And that, although we may feel guilty about following it, is great advice.