The phone rings, and caller ID is showing you the school’s number. You know this could be about one of a few things….
….. praise about how well your teen has done on a recent assignment, or
….. a quick, come and get them as they’re in sickbay request, or
even more dreaded, the behaviour management call to inform you of an incident, your teen’s involvement and the number of days they’re being suspended from school. And, ouch, that’s a call which bites!
School suspension is not an issue all parents will need to deal with, but hey it’s wise to never say never. 30 years’ experience in high schools has meant I’ve worked with kids and families through suspension issues on many (yep, m…a…n…y) occasions and have some thoughts on what’s helpful – and what’s not – if you find yourself dealing with this.
If your teen is suspended from school, here are some ideas that could help you manage the situation… followed by some things to best avoid.
DO get the facts, and this involves looking at all sides of the story. By all means, listen to your teen to determine exactly what happened… from their point of view. You can request the school’s records documenting the incident that led to suspension and it’s wise to familiarise yourself with the school’s Behaviour Management Plan and procedures. Most schools have this outlined on their website or will readily email you a copy upon request. Once you’ve gathered all the information, see if you can understand what happened to result in your teen being suspended.
DO make an appointment to talk with someone from the school to discuss the incident. This could be the Head of Year, Deputy Principal or in more serious cases the Principal and this meeting should ideally be held as soon as possible after the event. Advocate for your teen when necessary, but be prepared to listen to the school’s facts. Far too often, parents only hear the version of events brought home by their child and will go into this type of meeting fired with just part of the story.
DO focus on the behaviour and not make this about your teen as a person. Support them to find ways they can repair any damage and/or rebuild relationships. A mistake – even if it leads to being suspended – does not need to define the rest of their time at school. Ensuring they take responsibility for his/her actions is what’s important and a big part of the learning process. I’ve written previously here about how crucial it is for teens to deal with consequences and you can read about that here.
DO ask about any services or support that may be available to help your teen to prevent repeat problems.
DO ensure your child’s not going to be educationally disadvantaged. Your teen has the right to learn and is also obligated to catch up on any work or assignments missed during the suspension. Ask the school to send work home and expect your teen to complete it. A suspension is not a holiday.
DO know your rights if you are certain there’s been an error of judgement and the suspension was unwarranted. Advice is to tread carefully here, you don’t want to become known to the school as that parent BUT your teen does need you to advocate on their behalf if they’ve been suspended without due cause or process. Suspensions longer than 10 days can usually be appealed and your local school authority can advise on the steps needed to do so.
DON’T badmouth the school to your teen. The best results from schooling come when families and school are on the same page and working together. A teen who hears you whinge and bitch about the school and it’s rules or expectations will quickly lose respect and is more likely to disengage.
DON’T take the issue to social media. Facebook and Twitter are not the forums to vent about a school suspension.
DON’T impose an excessively harsh punishment that’s not related to the behaviour. Yes, of course it’s ok to impose a consequence BUT an over-the-top punishment will make them resentful and can interfere with them being able to move on from the incident.
Undoubtedly you’ll be disappointed if your teen ever gets suspended, and that’s ok. The real magic comes from treating the situation as a valuable learning experience. The incident is a moment in time and if they learn from it… and don’t get themselves into trouble again…. there’s not a lot of harm done.
Do you have questions or concerns about school behaviour management? Have you got a suspension incident you’d like to talk through? Hop onto Facebook and join the closed and confidential Talking Teens – Not Alone group for some chat around the issue.