September 21, 2013 • By Dennis Beaver
“I have never met a parent who planned on raising a child who would be a behavioral nightmare at school, and then go on to become an irresponsible adult, unable to hold a job, and often getting in trouble with the law.
“But every school year, I meet parents who are sending their children down Failure Street. Teachers see it, school administrators see it, and sadly, I do, far too often, and it is getting worse.”
If you thought these were the observations of a school psychologist, you’d be close, for in a real way, Per Westlund’s job requires those skills. But his real title is Officer Westlund, school resource officer with the Hanford Police Department.
A police officer for 17 years and a school resource officer for the past five, he has seen how “well-intentioned, but deeply flawed parenting can have a damaging, lifelong impact on children, beginning in elementary and junior high with a lack of accountability, where children are not allowed to face the consequences of their own behavior.”
You can’t be both friend and parent
“The job of being a parent is much more difficult today than when I was a kid, growing up in Sweden,” he said. And there are two main reasons: Parents wanting to be their child’s friend, and the impact of multimedia.
“Somewhere along the line, it became fashionable for parents to consider themselves as their children’s friend. But you cannot be both friend and parent, for to do so results in a loss of the respect and authority parents must have, which, in turn, makes establishing limits, routines and structure all but impossible.
“The other enormous challenge to family life is our connected world. Not only our children but parents seem to live in fear of missing out on something when the cellphone or computer is turned off.”
Resolve to have productive family time together
“We cannot have the right conditions for productive, family time together — even if everyone is seated at the dinner table — unless we actually look and listen to each other.
“Family time is for sharing, and kids will happily pour out tons of information when parents ask questions which cannot be answered with a yes or no. Our children have to know that we care about them, that we love them, and that we want them to tell us about their day and experiences at school.
“But none of that essential dialogue can happen with the TV on, or each person at the dinner table staring into a smartphone.”
Resolve not to tempt your kids with distractions
More often than most readers would imagine, this column is contacted by parents who have little understanding of the reason for “homework,” complaining about reading or math assignments resulting in “no time to watch TV, to play computer games or to have a life.”
Westlund hears these comments, “dangerously often,” as he tells You and the Law, “and worse yet, even where parents don’t speak out against homework, they make it difficult for assignments to be completed by allowing too many temptations to exist at home.
“Homework, just like daily attendance, is an essential part of the learning process, a continuation of the child’s day at school, reinforcing what was taught in class and going beyond, such as writing an essay or learning new vocabulary.
“But with too many outside temptations, kids just cannot devote the attention or time that is required. So, to lessen distractions, have the laptop in a common area. Do not let your kids close the door! This allows the parent to monitor homework.
“Remove their cellphone during homework time, and especially at bedtime. Kids want to be connected 24/7. A cellphone in your kid’s room at bedtime is an invitation to arrive exhausted at school in the morning,” Westlund cautions.
“And do not fall for the excuse, ‘I need the cellphone to wake me up.’ Buy them a $5 alarm clock and do not give in!”
Westlund concluded our interview on an optimistic note:
“If we take the job of parenting with as much seriousness as we do any other, if we help our kids to face life’s realities and create a positive learning environment at home, we may still face years of pulling out our own hair, but one day they will surprise us.
“They will make us proud.”
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.