Why rules (even the annoying ones) matter
How to not scoff at silly school laws
Of all the parenting mistakes I made — and there are many — one in particular stands out as an example of indulging myself, trying to look cool to one of my (then) adolescent kids and acting against my fundamental parenting goals. It had to do with school rules.
Dumb and dumber. Me. The thing about parenting mistakes is that we all make them and we all feel guilty afterwards. Which is not so helpful. My experience of parental guilt is that it’s both toxic and stupid. But more on that in a later column, for we know that parental guilt can fill an encyclopedia. Back to rules. All schools have rules. Some of them, like no bullying, drugs or alcohol, make sense. Some of them often seem opaque especially to us liberal parents. When the snazzy private school my son went to put a letter in his file for “bad attitude,” I was pissed. (Like mother, like son?) The kid had good grades, was never truant, had no blots on his copy book other than attitude.
I decided the school was being authoritarian and that my understanding of my son was better than theirs. This was the core of my mistake. Of course I know my son better than they do. Nobody was contesting that. But the part I failed to comprehend was that pretty much everything about a good school has been carefully thought out to foster safety, learning and development for the students.
Even the dumb rules that my kid and I resented have a purpose. And the deeper purpose of rules in general is to acculturate children to be respectful. The problem with me and other parents like me is that, when we encourage our kids to blow off the trivial or silly rules of their school, we telegraph a clear message to our kids: “You can ignore school’s rules. We don’t respect them, so you don’t have to.” And then they don’t. But they don’t just disrespect school’s silly rules.
Being kids, they specialize in driving a truck through any and all loopholes that grown-ups offer them. Adolescents especially have great radar for sniffing out rules not upheld, and this allows them to disrespect boundaries in general. Which has two negative repercussions. One, thanks to their not-yet-fully developed frontal lobe, they suck at making good decisions about risk. They’re