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Piles of homework, late night cram sessions, student-teacher sex scandals, bullies (both real and cyber), and a lengthening list of necessary, and expensive, supplies. Aaauughhh… school’s back in. No wonder everybody’s asking if now’s the time to go the home school route.

At The Source for Youth Ministry, we routinely field questions via email and at our seminars about the “public/private school vs. home school” debate. Parents and youth leaders want to know what’s best, so we’ve compiled a short list of issues that have many parents scratching their heads this fall.

(Teenage) Anatomy 101
We’ve all read too many headlines about teachers having sex with students. Entire websites have been developed exposing these predators. But with the advent and increased use of online social networks like MySpace and Facebook, some are wondering if there should be boundaries between teachers and students online, as well as in the classroom.

Many teachers like taking advantage of online opportunities to connect with their students to offer tutoring and support with homework. However, this practice has some parents worried about the nature of online relationships between teachers and students.

“I see where they are coming from,” says Randy Turner, a dedicated 52 year old teacher from Missouri. “You can’t argue with people whose intentions are trying to protect children. But, in defending his own “friends list” on MySpace which includes several of his students, he says, “When it’s so hard to reach these kids, why would you remove any of the weapons at your disposal to make a difference?” (CNN.com, 8/12/2008)

Good point. I know a lot of youth pastors who have “friended” their teens in hopes of making a difference.

Some states are introducing legislation that would ban teachers from “friending” students in online environments. Together, MySpace and Facebook boast of 100+ million members, many of whom are teenagers. But they’re not the only group using those sites. A 2006 ComScore study found that half of those registered on MySpace were 35 and older, while a similar study found that almost 40% of Facebook users were over 35.

Unfortunately for American families, teacher-student sex scandals will not be the only problem to face this school year.

Intro to Survival Tactics
More schools are installing metal detectors at the doors, and employing more resource officers than ever before to combat school shootings, bullying, and everything in between. Research by The National Crime Prevention Council found that 60% of students witness some form of bullying everyday at school. The same report found that more teenagers fear an act of violence in their school than an act of terrorism in America!

The Center for Disease Control has stated that approximately 10,000 students stay home from school at least one day each month due to some type of bullying. The problem of bullying has escalated to the point that sociologists have coined two new terms, “cyberbullying,” bullying that happens online, and “bullycide,” bullying that goes so far that victims either consider or attempt suicide as a result of the harassment. Yale University reports that students who are bullied are two to nine times more likely to attempt suicide than their peaceful peers.

Violence in the lives of teenagers is not limited to just school, though. This article goes into more detail about the commonplace existence that violence has in today’s youth culture.

But there are still more issues that families will have to navigate before the bell rings.

Other Challenges
This year’s back-to-school shopping list is not necessarily longer than last year’s, but it will be a little more expensive. And given the current economic trends, those small increases will feel much bigger. 38% of families expect to spend more money for back-to-school items this year than they did last year. Almost half of American families (46%) plan to start shopping several weeks earlier than usual to find deals…and to spread out the cost of the annual expense over a couple of paychecks. 20% of families admit to spending a portion of their Economic Stimulus check on school supplies.

School time not only cuts into a family’s wallet; it also cuts into their quality time with one another. The Center for Public Education found that the average amount of homework for students hovers around one hour each night. Some students spend less time than this, but many students invest far more.

None of these concerns are unimportant. And when the growing size of classrooms and the ongoing debate over tests and grades are factored in, it’s easy to see why today’s families have much to think about in preparing for the first day of school.

Saved By The Bell
Obviously, not all of these problems are equal in severity, nor can they all be solved via home schooling. We as youth leaders need to be aware of them so we can be truly empathetic in our relationships with students. Here are a few ideas that can help us continue to impact our teenagers in a godly way on such a self-consuming subject.

  1. Constantly encourage parents to take a proactive role in their children’s education. This doesn’t mean persuading Billy’s mom to argue with the teacher over the grade he received on his science fair project. Focus your efforts on getting parents and children to talk about the day-to-day life at school. Teach parents how to ask better questions than, “So, what did you do at school today?” Get them talking about their relationships with friends and teachers, likes and dislikes, as well as extracurricular activities like sports and clubs. Help parents understand exactly how important they are in every area of their kids’ academic lives.
  2. Get on campus as often as you can. Nothing will help you forge an understanding of today’s youth and culture better than actually experiencing it. One way of doing this is to join your students for lunch on campus. This gives you the opportunity to be with your kids outside of youth group time, as well as meet new students. Check out the two Special Episode Podcasts (High Impact Outreach Ministry Part 1 and Part 2) from TheSource4YM.com for some phenomenal ideas from the campus outreach guru, Rob Maxey.
  3. Intentionally merge the church’s faith with the school’s education. I’m not talking about jumping up on top of a school cafeteria table and preaching from Deuteronomy… but, you can do all the praying you want to on behalf of your students, their families, and their teachers. You might even want to consider hosting a “Teacher Appreciation Worship Service.” There are several ways you can integrate your faith into their education; take advantage of as many as possible.

School is a huge part of teens’ lives. From the relationships they develop there, to the self-identity they forge there, and everything in between, we can show them how much we care for them and love them, by taking it seriously, as well.

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