Adapted from a recent live Q&A.
Q: My son is 11, and I think he is amazing, brilliant and kind. He is loving to a select few people, and to many others he is polite but distant. He has female teachers who nitpick at him and seem to be watching him constantly to find a fault with him. He currently has eight minor infractions (staring off into space instead of doing an assignment) and one major infraction, which is total over-policing of him (he was singled out for punishment when almost all the kids in the class were in a group chat instead of doing their computer work). It's really hard for me to go into the school and hear these criticisms of my child. They want me to agree to some disciplinary plan, but I don't want to agree to any of it or sign anything against my child. I feel like I am betraying my flesh and blood by agreeing with these things. Am I wrong? He's really well liked by all the other kids, scores in the 95th to 99th percentile in the MAP testing, and he is athletic, funny and loves to learn. I am afraid that they want me to participate in crushing his spirit and I don't want to be a part of it.
A: There is something about this note that is making my spidey sense detect that you think your son is without fault or blame in all situations across the board, and so I am unsure how to guide you.
On one hand, of course most parents don’t want to hear their child is subpar in any way, shape or form. It hurts, it is embarrassing, and it can feel like an attack on you and the child. It is hard to listen to mistakes your child has made. I get it.
On the other hand, for almost every child on earth, mistakes are made, and some of these mistakes are in school. It doesn’t mean your child is out of control or “bad” or anything; it’s just life.
And then we have the matter of the female teachers who nitpick him. Either we have a problem with the school and how teachers treat the boys (which is actually quite common) or you are overly sensitive to any critique. Or a mix of both.
We also need to parse out that being well liked, being athletic, scoring high on tests, etc., have little to do with his behavior in the classroom. Some of the most well-liked children in school can be some of the most out of control (for a variety of reasons).
I also don’t know about the discipline plans. Are they spirit-crushing? Do they use shame, blame, embarrassment, unrealistic behavioral expectations, etc? Or are they reasonable, positive and attainable?
Finally, life is not fair. Not now, not ever. Your child will be blamed for things he didn’t do. He will be caught for actions that others get away with. These lessons are important for children to learn early, so I don’t think that you should strive to make sure that everything is equal all of the time.
On the other hand, if you genuinely you feel that your son is targeted and being treated as badly as you feel he is, I cannot believe you haven’t called serious meetings with the teachers and admin. If I felt that my children’s spirits were being crushed, I would be in there, STAT.
Find the line between your feelings and reality. I cannot see it. So you have to sit down and take a hard look.