Headmaster’s Thoughts – July 2007

“So,” said the parent, “what do I do?”

The problem was not that unusual but it was the type of issue that parents agonize over solving, hesitant to make a decision for fear of offending their child. Most of us have been there at some time.

The problem is usually a communication issue. The inability to understand the parental point of view is one of the perils of adolescence. And communication sometimes cannot be achieved in a narrow time frame. This truth may be painful for a parent trying to express his deeply felt and unremitting love for a rebellious child, who rejects everything that parent stands for. My experience, however, is that when the narrowness of the time frame is removed, then communication is always eventually established and the joy of reuniting with the child is realized.

To give this thought to a parent in the middle of an adolescent’s time of turmoil is to attempt to give hope when hopelessness is the emotion of the moment. At such times, an educator may wonder if his role transcends the traditionally viewed parameters of schoolmaster/parent. Do we, as schoolmasters, and I choose the masculine for convenience only, have the right to give advice on such personal issues? Here is an instance where the independent school differs from the public school. For in choosing an independent school, a parent exercises choice as to the philosophy of the school. No such choice is implicit in sending one’s child to the public school system. Therefore, I find that choice provides the permission to express an individual point of view based on the philosophy of the institution and the experience of the schoolmaster.

In practical terms, advice is always potentially inadequate since the advisor is never fully aware of all the background facts. As such, parents should never accept advice in family issues if it disagrees with their own concept of what makes sense. Advice also comes with no warrantee. For the schoolmaster, the question is whether it should be given; for the parent the question is whether it should be accepted. Neither response is automatically in the affirmative. Advice should be given tentatively and honestly, and accepted only if the cautious parent considers it appropriate.

In the contemporary era of litigation, advice has the added burden of potentially causing a lawsuit. It can be viewed as an interference. Young schoolmasters, therefore, are wisely apprehensive of entering into such an arena. I have done this job long enough to feel less concerned. Pragmatically, I think advice helps calm emotions when things get rough, and I believe there is a moral commitment to help the parent who may feel overwhelmed and isolated by the energetic rebelliousness of their child. And the prime advice to a parent is to keep on showing the child how deep-seated their parental love is, and to continue to do that until the child accepts and acknowledges that love.

In other words: hang in there.

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org

“Headmaster’s Thoughts” for previous months are archived in the section In the News. You may access additional months by clicking Headmaster’s Thoughts Archives on the same page.