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Are Your Kids Safe in School?

As you send your child off to school, remember God is present in every class, activity and relationship.

Each day we send our kids to school with the expectation that they will be safe and cared for by people we trust. We send them with a lot of prayer, hope and probably some fears.

One of the Happiest Places on Earth

Have you walked into an elementary school recently? If you haven't, you should.

Healthy, safe, elementary schools are one of the happiest places on earth. They are filled with color, light, smiling adults and amazing children. Good teachers, secretaries, custodians and principals communicate verbally and non-verbally that school is a safe place to take risks, fail, succeed and learn.

I have taught students who are homeless, come from abusive backgrounds and are refugees from other countries. As a teacher, it's always my job to make every student feel safe. Sometimes this is extremely challenging because as teachers, we don't know what challenges our students are facing, or how to meet needs that only a parent, or our Savior, truly can meet.

All we can do is model Christ's love, compassion and kindness to each child.

The Most Traumatic Event in My First-Grade Life

My first grade teacher, Mrs. Thayer, is still my exemplar of making school emotionally safe for me. Thirty-four years after the most traumatic experience of my first-grade life, I still remember her role.

One day, we were cutting out our art project. The art teacher, Mrs. Frischy, passed out the scissors. I knew I was left-handed and needed the green-handled scissors. However, I got confused and tried to use them with my right hand. My art teacher proceeded to tell me that I was not left-handed and gave me the "regular" scissors. I began to cry when I couldn't cut out the project with those scissors. She told me, "Jon, go into the hall because you are disrupting the class."

I was humiliated.

I was sobbing in the hallway when Mrs. Thayer walked by. She knelt down, took my hand, led me back to our classroom, and asked me what had happened. I choked out what had transpired. She wrapped her arms around me and told me, "Mrs. Frischy was wrong. She shouldn't have sent you out of class."

I was safe. After that, I would have run through a wall for Mrs. Thayer.

Now, my kids benefit from other similar teachers. In fact, all three of them have had the same first grade teacher at our local public school. She is a believer and is sometimes more attuned to their emotional well-being than we are as parents. She is a tremendous blessing to our children, and to us.

Social Growing Pains

As our children get older, their social safety becomes a greater concern.

We move from making play dates to texting, tweeting and peers exerting greater influence. As our children transition to middle school, our desire to protect our children doesn't diminish, but our ability to protect them—in the social realm—does.

We can remain actively engaged in church; facilitate time with Christian friends; coach, teach and interact with our kids' friends, but we can't and shouldn't attempt to micro-manage their lives. We can keep in touch with teachers to get their perspectives on our children and talk to other parents, but this will not eliminate all of the social growing pains associated with middle school maturation.

When the World Has 24-Hour Access to Our Children

Our kids are bombarded with messages from the media and peers that we can't fully control. When I see fifth grade girls wearing t-shirts quoting models announcing, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels," I am disturbed.

This is exacerbated by the fact that many parents have given the world and bullies access to their children 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Obviously, parents don't do this intentionally, but their children have smartphones without parameters; they have access to the world, and the world has access to them. Escaping negative peer and media influences is increasingly difficult.

One place where my wife and I have decided to attempt to protect our middle school son is by not giving him a phone. This is highly unpopular with him. So, when he says, "Everyone else has a phone," he may be fairly accurate. We may not be doing the right thing, but we don't feel he has the maturity to handle the social pressure of this constant accessibility.

We will reevaluate each year, but this certainly has alleviated other issues like cyber-bullying, one-click access to pornography and just all-around obliviousness to appropriate social interaction with actual human beings. Many adults can't focus on people when email, Twitter, Instagram and the Internet are in their pocket or purse.

How can we expect middle school students to be more mature and socially aware?

The Bottom Line: They Are Safe, God Is in Control

As a parent, I am hopeful for our children. They have the Creator of the universe in their corner. And He is victorious, despite what the world says or does. 

At times I do worry, but I have to quickly remind myself: God is in control.

We must help our children understand that they are made in the image of God, and that their identity is rooted in what Jesus did for all of us on the cross. Just writing this reminds me of how pointless it is to worry about my children. Christ has done all the work on the cross. We just have to accept this free gift.

Our children will be more likely to do this when we model what it means to live in God's grace. If we aren't starting our day in the Word and in prayer for our children, then we are missing the mark. We need to love our children, their friends, their teachers and our communities well.

Most importantly, we need to tell our children about Christ and what He has done in our lives. We do this through family worship, Bible reading, prayer and church. If we do this, we can join Paul in his confidence from Philippians 1:6 and apply it to raising our children: "I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

Article courtesy of HomeLife magazine.

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Jon Eckert, Ed.D., is an associate professor at Wheaton College, former elementary and middle school teacher, and a parent. He enjoys playing basketball and spending as much time as possible with his wife and children.