Boorish Parents, Boorish Children

AFTER nearly 30 years as a teacher and administrator in suburban public schools, I have witnessed few trends as disturbing as the disrespectful and confrontational attitude displayed by a small but growing number of parents when their children misbehave in school. I know from colleagues across the country that what I am seeing is not an isolated phenomenon. Four incidents this past year convince me that parental respect for the office of the principal can no longer be taken for granted, even in ''good'' school districts. While supervising in the cafeteria one day after making a reminder announcement about our rule against running inside the school, I saw a number of children chasing one another around the tables. I ran after a few who did not stop when I blew my whistle and, instead of allowing them outside for 10 minutes of recess, had each child sit at a table near me. That afternoon, a parent of one of those children screamed at me over the phone for causing her child to miss recess, insisting that her child was not running but only ''fast walking.'' When one child came to see me about being called a ''bad name'' by a second child, I naturally met with the other child to follow up. The second child admitted to using bad language, but only after being called a bad name first by the child who reported him. I met with the first child again the next day. The child denied calling anyone a bad name and said I should speak to her friend as a witness, which I did. Unfortunately, the friend did not support the first child's story, but did totally corroborate the second child's version! After discussion, the first child admitted to starting the name-calling. The next day, that child's parents came to me saying their child denied ever saying what she told me, and that they knew their child couldn't say such words, because they didn't use such language in their home and because their child said she didn't say them. There was a clear implication that I had made up their daughter's ''confession.'' Two children got into a fight on a bus while on a school trip. The teacher didn't see it, and neither child reported the fight to the teacher. Several hours later, however, the teacher learned about the fight and both boys lost their recess as a punishment. It seems that the first boy made a comment about the second boy's mother, and the second boy reacted by punching the first boy. Although the boy who punched received an additional punishment, the name-calling also violated a school rule. The first boy's parents were outraged, accusing me of ''punishing the victim.'' When I explained that had their son not made the initial comment there would have been no fight, and that his comment violated a school rule, they got increasingly hostile and demanded to know how to report my behavior to a higher authority. At our annual fall and spring concerts, parent behavior continues to decline. The students are fine ... but the parents continue to talk while children play or sing, and let their young children run unsupervised in the audience. I could cite many more examples. The point is simply that parents no longer listen to the principal as they used to. When I ask parents not to bring very young children to certain evening functions, increasing numbers do so anyway. When I ask that parents not park under the ''No Parking'' signs (!) to allow safe traffic flow after heavily attended events, increasing numbers of parents don't listen. And the beat goes on. This is my 15th year as a public school administrator, so I'm used to some parents not following school rules or supporting discipline policies. What I find disturbing is how this once small number grows larger each year. I sometimes wonder if the rise in confrontational parents is related to a rise in confrontational children. That's another disturbing trend I and my colleagues across the country see - more children hitting first and asking questions later ... but that's for another article!

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