Preview performance of the Huntington Theatre Company's James Joyce's The Dead, September 7, 8, and 9, at the BU Theatre

Vol. V No. 3   ·   31 August 2001 


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Back-to-school safety: discussing your concerns

It's back-to-school season, and my oldest will be entering high school, while my two younger children are moving from elementary to middle school. What can I do to make sure they have a safe and healthy school year?

Heading back to school can mean many changes for parents and kids alike, whether it involves a new school or taking a public bus. Making sure that your children are safe is a very important part of a happy and productive school experience.

According to Steven Parker, M.D., director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Boston Medical Center and an associate professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, a child's emotional well-being hinges on feeling safe and protected. "It's very important for children to feel a strong sense of security in the world," says Parker. "When that feeling doesn't exist, many components of a child's life can be affected."

One of the most important ways to address safety concerns is by talking with your children after you've identified and assessed your own concerns. According to Parker, it is important to make sure yours are valid before you cause your child to worry needlessly. For example, if your child is taking a bus for the first time and both you and your child are apprehensive, locate a map that has all of the stops clearly marked. After reviewing the map, talk with your child, explaining what to expect. "After dealing with an issue yourself, you can then talk to your child about it," says Parker. "Raising your concerns before you have assessed them often does more harm than good."

The most important way to address concerns about school safety is by making a list of those you have and separating them from those of your child. Then you can address your child's worries without adding to them. "It's natural for parents to have jitters about everything from transportation to school violence," says Parker. "But often, that's not what worries kids. They may be focusing on peer pressure, increased amounts of homework, or navigating around a new building."

It's also important to approach such matters in an age-appropriate way. "Nine- or ten-year-olds are going to have different concerns than high school seniors will," says Parker. By keeping the age of your kids in mind when discussing these things, you are more likely to reassure them. "If a 16-year-old comes to you with concerns about drug use or violence, be open and listen," he says. Many schools have resource programs to address these issues, and you can investigate those together. However, it isn't necessary to address a 16-year-old's concerns with a younger sibling. Conversely, he adds, most 16-year-olds are probably not worried about the bus trip to and from school.

Working through issues before the school year starts is something Parker also recommends. By touring a new school, or going over a route home from the bus stop before the first day back, you can head off some anxiety. "Kids feel more prepared to cope if they know what to expect," he says. Parker also recommends using the school's personnel -- teachers, counselors -- who are there to help. "Parents have a great resource in teachers and school counselors," he says. "Make the most of that resource and work together. It benefits everyone."

"Health Matters" is written in cooperation with staff members of Boston Medical Center. For more information on back to school safety or other health matters, call 617-638-6767.


31 August 2001
Boston University
Office of University Relations