Opinion Shaper

OPINION SHAPER: Parents rules for back to school

As teachers set up their classrooms for a positive new academic year, they carefully post the “Rules” for classroom behavior. But research suggests that it is parents who actually have the greatest impact on a child’s school success. Perhaps parents need rules too !

There are seven strategies or rules that parents might consider before school begins, to assure a strong start and good finish to the academic year. Here they are, with a brief research correlation to boost credibility and persuade dissident youngsters.

No. 1. Students need a consistent, early bedtime.

This is the first item on the list, because it is so essential. Research is mounting to suggest that students who are diagnosed as ADD or ADHD almost always have a sleep disorder. Scientists do not know which comes first, the sleep problem or the learning/behavioral problems. Don’t take chances. Choose sleep. Moreover, we know know that it takes at least 6 hours of deep cycle sleep for information to be processed by the hippocampus, which helps in memory! Learning cannot occur without memory, and by definition then, without sleep.

No. 2. Students need fuel for learning and the brain is a picky eater.

Research suggests that hydrogenated fat, the preferred cooking material for most fast food eateries, acts as a corrosive agent in the brain. Moreover, it makes kids fat, which slows them down and keeps them from getting enough exercise, which would send oxygen and blood flow through the brain and promote learning. Feed the brains of scholars with oxygen and blood flow and with brain-friendly foods. Top choices for brain activity include:

  • Omega-3 fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines
  • fruits such as strawberries, blueberries*, cranberries
  • nuts, peanut butter, and olive oil
  • spinach, kale, broccoli
  • small doses of dark chocolate
  • In Italy, one medical doctor write about “curing” her son’s attention deficit problem by changing his diet to tuna sandwiches on a daily basis and making other brain-healthy food choices!

Keep in mind too that the brain is more than 75% water! Information jumps from neural synapse to neural synapse via small electrical kicks and hydration helps to speed movement of ideas and creativity. Water, not soda or even milk provide the proper hydration for active brains.

No. 3. Pare down the student’s schedule.

Parents and kids balk at this one, but it is best to limit your child to one favorite extra-curricular activity per season. If it is band, then enjoy that. If it is cross country running…then go for it. But don’t over-schedule kids with lessons and sports. There is not enough time for study and even less time to relax and connect with family. In one experiment in New Jersey, an entire town decided to declare one night per week a “No Activity” night. It took them months to agree on the date. Yet, when folks made the effort, they were amazed at how stress dissipated and families bonded.

No. 4. Clean up the clutter.

Studies show that kids who live in a neat, clean home environment have significantly higher test scores and grades. Organization and cleanliness give a sense of order, calm, and structure to a child and transfer this to the thinking processes. On a practical level, there is probably a place for study and homework in an organized home and this promotes the likelihood of scholarly effort. This goes for dorm rooms as well as family rooms!

No. 5. Monitor television and internet time.

Run the numbers. Let’s say your child sleeps for 9 hours per night. He or she is in school for 8 hours. That is 17 hours. Subtract from 24 possible hours and you have 7 hours to play with. That is doable unless television and internet play time siphon off the creative, study, and family time. Some studies suggest that students spend up to 6 hours per day on television alone! Others say that online “instant messaging” goes on for 2-3 hours per day. If those numbers are even close to accurate, your child could easily have a deficit of time in which to study, exercise, or be with family.

How can parents monitor this activity. Here is a checklist:

  • No TV, computer, smartphone, nor iPad in the child’s bedroom.
  • Do use internet filters.
  • Set rules or block certain cable channels that contain messages that conflict with your family values.
  • “Pop in” to check on your child while he or she is online.
  • Enforce the “NO TV or Computer” until I check your homework rule.
  • Follow up with teachers about homework and projects to make sure that your child is playing fair.
  • Consider “disabling” the beloved IM ( instant messenger) feature Monday-Thursday!

No. 6. Start out right with teachers.

Go over your child’s schedule carefully to make sure that he or she is placed in the right level for mathematics and reading courses. Check out the teacher’s reputation. If he or she is harsh and abrasive, no matter how skilled, a shy child will wilt, not blossom. Here are some other strategies that work:

  • Send a friendly card or email to the teacher or professor and introduce yourself. Give your email and work number. Tell him or her that you want to be involved.
  • Get involved. Volunteer to do something, even if it means baking a pan of brownies for the teacher’s lounge. They will love you for it.
  • Make an effort to make it to Open House, whether your child is a first grader or a college freshman.
  • Don’t wait for an academic disaster. If your child brings home 2 “bad grades” in a row, begin an intervention. A quality tutor is worth every dime, every time!
  • Ask your child’s teacher to consider using a web-based feature called “my gradebook.com” which sends parents automatic messages once grades are posted and if assignments are missing.
  • Find out if your school has a “Homework Hotline” phone or email feature and check it daily.

No. 7. Feed the Spirit as Well as the Brain.

Studies show that adolescents who are involved in a church or synagogue are less likely to engage in all risky behaviors, including smoking, alcohol, drugs, or pre-marital sex. Moreover, these kids gain a sense of purpose, direction, and protection that extends into all parts of their lives. At the college level, corporate gatherings such as FCA or BSU enable kids to connect with others who share their values or to acquire values that may have been in scarce supply in a troubled family. For parents who are feeling stressed or who worry about their children’s challenges in school, sports, or relationships, a spiritual connection is, as the biblical writer described, a “balm in Gilead”. (Jeremiah 8) Now, doesn’t that sound refreshing?

Back to school is a time for fresh starts. Think holistically. How can your family connect spiritually? Make the best use of time and resource? Care for physical health? Good grades and impressive test scores do not appear magically. It is not all attributed to a genetic fortune cookie either. Remember,

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration.”

-Thomas Alva Edison

It takes a concentrated effort to make the school year a success.

*Brain-Berry Morning Tonic

Blend 1 container ( small) of fat-free vanilla or plain Greek Yogurt, 1 cup frozen blueberries, and 1 cup coconut water. Sip with a straw and top with granola for a crunch. Blueberries speed neural transmission by 55 percent.

Dr. Linda Karges-Bone is Distinguished Professor in the College of Education at Charleston Southern University and host of the radio program “Prayerful Parenting,” heard on 91.5 FM. Find more at www.educationinsite.com.