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A Note to All Parents

Tricia Halsey

I’m a working mom of two boys in third and fifth grade who I adore (most days). If I’m being honest, being a parent is the toughest job there is. I want to take a moment to speak to you if you’re a parent too.

Are you really paying attention to what’s going on in our kids’ schools?

Our sons and daughters are facing challenges many of us never faced when we were their age. If you were to walk the hallways and watch closely, you’d notice that the sorrow, anxiety, hopelessness and loneliness is palpable.

Maybe you’re quick to say, “That’s not my kid.” Are you sure? What you see as laziness might really be hopelessness. His/her disengagement may really be defeat. What seems like over-achievement really might be a cry to prove worthiness.

The mental well-being of students is rapidly declining. I work with schools, with teachers and with students. Every time I hear word of another suicide in Colorado’s schools, it takes me to my knees. Every time. I’m not exaggerating when I say that news of a teen suicide is now a monthly occurrence. And there’s no pattern. It’s happening to every type of kid in all types of schools.

I too want my boys to succeed at life. I want them to learn and grow in responsibility. But there is so much more to learning and life than what we parents are focused on.

When your kids walk through the door or sit down for dinner with you, are the first words out of your mouth, “How much homework do you have tonight?” “How did you do on your test?” “How can you get that B to an A?”

What if instead of these words your child hears, “Who did you sit with at lunch?” “Do you feel like you really connected with someone today?” “Tell me something fascinating that you learned.”

From my work with high school students, I’ve learned that nearly every student (that means likely your teen too) is seeking the answers to four questions:

“Who am I?”
“Do I matter?”
“Does my schoolwork matter?”
“Will I be successful?”

Our kids spend 7-10 hours at school most days, including extracurricular activities and sports. In their most formative years, school is a student’s primary context, just like the workplace is our primary context. And frankly, students are not finding the right answers to these questions at school. Schools aren’t places for human flourishing (yet).

But instead of pointing fingers at teachers, let’s be honest with ourselves. Are our kids learning the right answers to these questions they ask from us at home?

Their identity is not what the negative voices say about them. Their worth is not linked to their test scores and grades. Their success in life is not defined by the college they will attend.

Today after my boys come home from school, I plan to sit with them and share with them the truth of who they really are and why they matter.

“You are kind. You are brave. You are the best friend anyone could have. You are essential to our family because of who you are. Your joy and fulfillment in life is linked to how big and well you love people. I am delighted in you and I enjoy you. Just as you are.”

Written by Tricia Halsey, Executive Director