By Michael Woodroof
Cyber Safety Cop
I was dressed in my full law enforcement uniform and ready for duty. It was usually about 7:15 a.m. I stood on the curb of the high school’s parking lot where many parents dropped off their children prior to starting their day. If you have a school-age child, you know the routine. I’m sure many thought I was there for traffic control, but to be candid, that was the least of my concerns.
One of the greatest benefits I quickly caught onto was the opportunity to interact with the students and greet them. It wasn’t hard to read their emotions based on their facial expressions and body language. If emotions were like paint colors, then a high school campus — or any campus for that matter — is a palette of paints waiting for the artist’s brush. I made the most of the opportunity and learned many faces and names, all the while, trying to soften the edge between a law enforcement officer and a teen.
I saw a lot: laughter, happiness, sadness, boredom, seriousness, excitement, apathy, and several other emotions. However, the most concerning to me was the broken spirit.
My initial purpose for standing in the parking lot was to send a message to the wolves within our society that this campus had a sheepdog. As important and effective as this was, I was opened up to a different type of education I hadn’t expected. I call it “The Exchanges.”
The exchanges occurred when the parent and child separated from each other as the child exited the car and headed into the school campus. This simple moment, yet so apparently complicated based on what I saw, carried a double-edged sword. On the positive, it gave the child a huge boost in their confidence, self-esteem and overall demeanor. However, the other edge cut deep.
“Good times come and go, but memories last forever … ” — Unknown
The saddest exchanges I witnessed were those that left both the parent and the child emotionally broken. Doors were slammed, steering wheels were hit and pain was painted on both the parent’s and child’s faces.
Some kids cried. Some parents yelled and some parents cried while their kids yelled. Emotions were hot, hurt, out of control and destroying the day before it had even begun. These moments weren’t the norm, but when they did occur, it was tough for both family members.
A close second to this were those cold exchanges, where the sulking silence ruled the atmosphere within the car. Disdain scorned the faces of the passengers and no words were said as they exited the car, but the painful messages on how they felt toward each other were delivered and carried on into the rest of their day.
The most common exchanges were the standard “goodbyes.” It was a simple pull up to the curb, “See you later,” and the child was out of the car. I understand this. I have three sons and the routine is the routine. However, after witnessing thousands of these exchanges, I realized for my family’s own emotion health, I had to make this time, this opportunity count and it had to feel special every day, every time.
By far, the best exchanges I witnessed were those of laughter, love and a sense of playfulness. Hearing a parent shout out their passenger side window, “I love you kiddo!” Watching them both laugh not only impacted the parent and child, it had a ripple effect on those who heard it. The love exchange had a surge that put a smile on others’ faces too. Seeing them hug, kiss each other on the cheeks, head butt or simple fist bump each other were the bonuses. Not surprisingly, both the parent and child parted ways with a sense of joy, confidence and hope.
Being a school resource officer taught me a lot about parenting, simply because I was a student of the other parents and their relationships with their children. So, here is my advice about the “The Exchanges,” a small detail in one’s morning that has a huge impact on their entire day.
1. Own the moment: You — mom, dad, guardian — must learn to be the artist of a loving and respectful exchange. You are the one who must own it, lead it and make it happen! Regardless of your situation, your child needs to feel your love, your security and your hope for them as they depart your home or car.
Why? There are more than enough pressures on a campus that will challenge their emotions and a resentful exchange only compound their feelings negatively when faced with daunting situations. I firmly believe the greatest sense of security a person has begins with how they feel about their family. Departing on a positive or negative note is the framework for their day. Make it positive!
2. Create joy: Play that music DJ mom/dad. Your ride to the school doesn’t always have to be boring, full of advice or lectures. Rather, it needs to be uplifting and a good time. Play their music on your car’s system and enjoy it so long as its lyrics align themselves with your home’s morals and values. If they don’t, then you’ve got an opportunity to discuss it and reinforce your home’s rules … lovingly.
Playing comedy bits off of YouTube© is another fun way to start the day too … just make sure you’ve screened it for cleanliness and content. I recommend Tim Hawkins. The list here is endless. For example, if they have a test, be the game show host and test their knowledge on the subject. Whatever you choose to do, cognitively construct a positive time.
3. Be the captain: Family times are not always pleasant. Emotions get heated, arguments follow and bitterness works its way in. Anyone can steer the ship on a calm day but it’s the captain who takes the helm in the storms. In other words, be in control of your emotions during life’s storms and use this fortitude to strengthen the hope and feeling of security within your children.
You must believe you will survive the storm, find calmer seas and impress upon your children that — “This too shall pass.” Do not exasperate the situation with your uncontrolled emotions. Rather, be a captain of confidence, patience and kindness, even when it hurts.
These exchanges add up and some leave everlasting memories of joy while others wound and lead to possible lifelong scars. You only get about 12 years of these exchanges until there are only memories left. Make them fun, joyful and paint those departures with huge smiling landscapes to where they enthusiastically anticipate the afternoon pickup. Remember, you’re the artist.
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About the author
Michael Woodroof is a Cyber Safety Cop instructor and teaches all of the classes offered by Cyber Safety Cop. He began his law enforcement career in 2003 as a deputy sheriff for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. He has served as a school resource officer, community drug education instructor, GRIP (Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership) deputy, school threat assessment team member and as a sergeant in the custody operations command.
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