DennisBeaverSeptember 14, 2013 • By Dennis Beaver

Ask School Resource Officer Per Westlund of the Hanford Police Department who — not what, but who — in his experience is the greatest risk to a child’s success in school, often creating a path to behavioral problems and even trouble with the law, and he’ll give you a simple answer:

“It’s ‘helicopter parents,’ who instead of allowing the teacher and school staff to enrich their child with the tools to deal with life’s problems, step in, thinking they are protecting them. It’s having the bad luck of being raised by parents who are involved in every aspect of a child’s life, terrified of letting their children experience hardship.

“And it begins when the kids are in elementary school,” he told You and the Law when we had the pleasure of once again interviewing him for this column.

Originally from Sweden, Westlund has the unique experience of having gone through a school system where parents “let the teachers do what they do best, and that’s to educate, and parents do not interfere.”

Unwarranted class or teacher changes

“Our job as parents is to prepare our children to be well-adjusted members of society, and if we are constantly ‘protecting’ them from things like ‘bad teachers,’ or certain students who are in that class, how do they learn to adapt to different people, personalities, all these things?” Westlund asks.

“But schools are getting more and more parent requests to change classes, not for actual, well-defined reasons, but because the parent feels it is their right, even before the child has had opportunity to experience that class.

“This is sending the wrong message to their kids, showing a lack of trust in the school and developing a sense of entitlement in the child that mom and dad will protect them from all hardship, real or imagined. And so just when does sheltering stop?

“You are interfering with a child’s ability to learn about the world by dealing with problems and solving them. As we all know, the real world is not always fair. You need to grow thick skin, to learn how to deal with various personality types.

“I just hope that before parents ask for a classroom change they consider the burden this creates. Adding one child to a class means that some other must be relocated so that student/teacher ratios are maintained. For the administration, it is a huge headache.

“Therefore, parents should resolve to not ask for a class or teacher change unless they have a very strong justification, but not just because, ‘My son does not get along well with little Joey in that class,’” Officer Westlund firmly maintains.

Resolve to provide structure

As a police officer working in Hanford junior high schools, Westlund has been in a position to see “how much better kids function in a structured environment — the trouble that they do not get into. Kids need and want structure — when am I supposed to do this or that? But they usually do not know that they want it,” he notes.

“Surprisingly, many parents don’t understand the absolutely critical importance of a positive routine — structure — to a child’s school performance and behavior.

“Children do not raise themselves and lack the ability to establish or enforce their own play-rest-snack-study-sleep schedule. It’s the parents who have the critically important job of establishing a daily time framework, which includes:

* Time after school to unwind and have a healthy snack

* A specific study time;

* A set bed time.

“It is well established that children need a great deal of sleep. Teachers are finding more and more kids coming to school exhausted and falling asleep in class. This is a serious challenge to learning at any grade level, but especially dangerous in the early years when reading and math skills are being acquired. But it goes far beyond learning — tired children have greatly increased behavioral problems.

Resolve to know what’s in the backpack

“I am amazed by parents who think that it is an invasion of privacy to check their child’s backpack before they go to school and then are surprised when I tell them that little Johnny brought a toy gun or real knife to school.”

“Aside from forbidden, dangerous or disturbing objects, that backpack could easily have forms to be filled out, or other things which need to be dealt with by parents. Just like knowing what is in your child desk, in the closet or under the bed, that backpack can be a window into some very bad things. Parents need to know what’s inside,” Westlund concluded.

And just how do we deal with Facebook, Twitter and kids wanting to be connected 24/7? We’ll have the answer next week with more school-year resolutions.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.