Who Will Define Our Children?

When I first became a parent some years ago a friend of mine offered these cautionary words: “kids are powerful.” Truer words were never spoken to me. Our sons and daughters have the power to inspire us to be responsible, caring, and tireless providers in what becomes a 24/7, decades-long commitment.

One of the most important ways we care about our kids is ensuring that they have the very best educational opportunities available to them. That is why we take such an interest in the schools our children may attend. We want them to be places where our sons and daughters will learn to read, to understand numerical relationships, to communicate effectively and to grow their talents. So it is good that we investigate the curricular and extra-curricular programs of the schools we are considering.

Our children no doubt think about such things too, although their scale of priorities seems to begin and end with who their friends are likely to be, what kind of social life they may enjoy, and how hard—or easy—school will be for them. Fortunately we who are parents have a longer and more life-informed view of what our children need when making decisions of such significance for their lives.

One of the least asked, but perhaps the most important questions parents should ask about school is this one: “who will be defining who my son, who my daughter is in this school?” Will it be the jocks, the social trend-setters, the intellects, the rich kids, the artsy crowd, the nerds or the disengaged? What will my child look like after being shaped in that mixing bowl of teenage conformity driven by peers who set the tone for teenage coolness, toughness or popularity? Who will define my child may seem to be a strange question to ask in looking for the right school, but it is a question that hits adolescents where they live in these formative years of their development.

It is here that schools can serve to either keep our children connected to the values of family, home and faith or give them license to define themselves in the image and values of the prevailing social culture. As I think about the impact a smaller, faith and family-affirming school like Ascension has on adolescents I realize more and more how much our school culture helps students define themselves differently. Where the world tells them that appearance, popularity and self-promotion are the keys to success, we tell them it is ok to be bright, talented, and humble. When the world confirms for them that cheating is ok as long as you don’t get caught, we hold them to standards of integrity and accountability. And as much as our culture idolizes behaviors that are rude, self-serving and violent, we demand of them civility, service and self-control.

If it is true that adolescence is the time when we define who we are and what we will become, and if it is also true that young people take most of their cues from the people with whom they identify and associate, then the school they attend will make all the difference in charting their course into adulthood. We who are preparing young people for success in college and in life at Ascension Academy take seriously the larger role we play in helping them define themselves by providing them with a school culture where truthfulness and virtue, decency and faith, service and leadership is accepted and expected.

Kids are indeed “powerful.” And we who enjoy the blessings of their love and the care for their development hold the key in helping them mature and define themselves in ways that enhance the power of their minds, bodies and spirits. School choice may be the last and most far-reaching decision we will ever make for our kids. When you put it that way, parents are “powerful” too.