The first week of middle school a few years back, I learned that two cherished rituals were soon to be stripped from our lives: bringing cupcakes to our children's class for birthdays and traveling to school together with them.
"Your kids are going to be taking the subway alone to school soon, deal with it,'' the principal told an auditorium full of parents on day one, as some cowered in fear and uncertainty.
Soon enough, parents got used to the subway ritual, after following close behind for a few days – just never close enough to be seen. The principal just laughed at the parent (me) who asked about bringing cupcakes, and it never came up again.
By the time your child starts high school, you are deep into what I call "The Age of Embarrassment" and long past cupcakes and drop-off worries. Still, you may be filled with uncertainty about what your role should be during these four critical years.
One thing you can likely count on: you'll immediately be hit by the school's Parent Association for money, and learn about the long list of items the school is in need of but can't afford. You may be asked to go on field trips from time to time, but your child won't necessarily appreciate your presence.
In fact, you may have to count on being asked by your high schooler to stay away entirely, something that doesn't feel natural, especially if you have survived the exhausting high school admissions processand are concerned about what the next four years will bring.
For parents, managing to both back off and stay vigilant and involved is among the biggest challenges of the high school years. It all begins the first day when you see your kid's schedule, which may include the wrong foreign language or none at all. You might discover placement into a too-advanced or too easy math or science class. Perhaps they won't have gym or a lunch period.
I spent the first week of my older son's freshman year on the phone with guidance counselors, assistant principals, department heads -- anyone who could help me untangle his screwed-up schedule and get him into the right classes.
I spent the next three years afterwards writing emails, making calls, showing up and pushing back against a bureaucracy that would eventually yield – quite possibly if only to make me go away.
This can be an exhausting ritual for parents, and it would be nice to think our children could fight their own battles. But that's probably a bit optimistic.
So as the school year approaches, Insideschools.org would love suggestions from veteran high school parents and educators. What's the best approach to helping your child through everything from the adjustment to getting the classes he or she needs? How can parents stay involved, without being in their kid's faces? Do parents teach teens to fight their own battles, or do we need to fight hard for themin high school?