Each fall, millions of parents purchase new clothes and supplies to prepare their children for the new school year. We often forget to prepare a strategy for our child’s growth during the year. It’s important to remember that God has given parents, not schools, the primary responsibility for shaping and guiding their children’s development. Furthermore, God has hardwired children to respond to their parents’ leadership, no matter how much they appear to resist.
Children will spend the overwhelming majority of their waking hours in the company of their fellow students and under the authority of their teachers, unless they are homeschooled. This presents a formidable challenge to parents nonetheless with diligent preparation; parents can still be the primary influence in their children’s lives. Let me give you a biblically based five-step strategy to help your children survive and thrive in school.
5 Steps to Back-to-School Preparation
The best preparation for school parents can give their children is a strong sense of family identity. Children must know who they are in Christ and in the family where their heavenly Father has placed them. They should feel absolutely secure in their parents’ and siblings’ unconditional love and acceptance. They should feel a sense of intimacy and belonging that is not easily damaged. If these things are lacking at home, children will seek to have their God-given need for affection and care met by friends. This leads to peer dependency and makes them much more vulnerable to negative peer pressure.
Building family intimacy can include simple activities like ensuring the family shares a meal together whenever possible, to taking special time to bond with and grow close to each child. Hopefully, your family made the most of the summer, taking the opportunity to make memories together and strengthen your relationships with one another.
Second, as parents and grandparents, we should pay attention to their children’s friends. Outside of school, elementary school-aged children should only socialize with the friends their parents select. But older children soon begin to choose their own companions. Are they eager to follow after children who do not share their parents’ values? Or do they exert a positive influence on their peers?
Third, as parents we must closely monitor our children’s academic development to ensure their courses are appropriate for their ability levels and goals. A child who struggled in a general chemistry course should probably not take AP Chemistry without engaging extra help. Despite this simple rule of thumb, a child with the goal of attending a competitive college will be expected to complete several AP or IB courses with success.
How do you monitor your child’s academic progress? Pay attention to your children’s grades and standardized test scores, but also have them demonstrate their abilities at home, whether it’s by reading aloud to you from their favorite novels, showing you how to work a math problem or discussing the content of their history and science courses. Even straight-A report cards mean little if students are not taking the most rigorous courses available to them.
Fourth, parents should anticipate the challenges their children are likely to face. Are your children going to encounter anti-Christian arguments from their teachers in any of their subjects?
In middle school and high school, the challenges become much more complex. Temptations may range from cheating on school work to the availability of sex, alcohol and drugs. Even parents with children in Christian schools should not assume that their kids will be completely protected. Recent studies have confirmed that evangelical young adults are nearly as likely as their non-Christian peers to engage in premarital sex. Fortunately, students with a strong sense of self-respect and family identity are far less vulnerable.
Fifth, parents should do their best to ensure their children are able to pursue interests and hobbies that allow them to challenge themselves, build character and express themselves creatively. Multiple studies have demonstrated that children who study a musical instrument exhibit better cognitive skills and superior academic performance when compared with children who don’t. Organized sports are another good outlet for youthful energy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that children get at least 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity five days a week, but a growing number of American children are inactive and obese. Girls who participate in organized sports in high school are less likely to be sexually active, use drugs or become depressed.
These five steps may sound overwhelming to parents who are struggling to balance demanding jobs and family responsibilities. The good news is that if you set some clear parental goals and monitor your child’s progress, both of you will grow this year. God will give you grace to take strategic action.