Tag Archives: safety

High School Dances–It’s not 1984 Anymore

With apologies to the immortal Wang Chung, a few things have changed since those Dance Hall Days.  Not that I’m naive enough to confuse the 1980s with the days of Jane Austen, but the world of teens has changed–both for better and for worse.

Let’s Dance.  In my high school daughters’ world, homecoming dances are no longer primarily “date” activities.  Even upperclassmen often go to the annual dance with a group of friends.  These groups, usually including more girls than boys, gather beforehand for a pot-luck dinner at someone’s house (skipping the expense of the traditional dinner out) and for pictures as a herd instead of for portraits as pairs, and it seems the kids who are heading to the dance with dates are almost the exception rather than the rule.

Maybe that is a healthy change.  Once upon a time, a couple breaking up probably meant at least one of the two stayed home from the dance.  But my daughters and most of their friends are rejecting the two-by-two conditioning that used to be the norm in schools, opting instead for more independence–and, more importantly, for more efficacy.  No need to put on their red shoes and dance the blues.  They are already learning that their options in life are not dependent upon whether they have (or even want to have) a date, boyfriend, husband, etc.  I also choose to believe that girls arriving and leaving as a group are likely to look out for one another.  Anything that helps kids stay safe is an upgrade.  Feel free to insert your own Safety Dance joke here–no hats required.

As I do from time to time, I questioned my 16 year old daughter’s choice in shoes:  5 inch heels.  I reminded her that manufacturers would make more comfortable shoes for women if women refused to buy into the style of high-heels and pointed toes and insisted on comfortable designs.  She agreed, but style outweighs comfort in her world.  She also explained that as soon as they arrive at the dance the girls check their shoes anyway.  They may be voluntary victims of style, but these girls understand that dancing in heels is crazy.  When it’s time to get Footloose, they get shoe-loose.

Dress code is another issue.  After her first two months as a Catholic school student, my younger daughter came in from her freshman homecoming with word that the nuns had “shawled” girls whose dresses were too revealing.  An overly self-revealing young lady would have two choices:  add coverage with the shawl, or exit the event.  As a dad and as an educator I thought this was a terrific idea.  Being Pretty in Pink is a fine goal, but–regardless of whether the student or her parents share the school’s standards of decency–a dance is a school event and should not be confused with a club or bar.  Dresses that are loose enough and that cover enough are a reasonable expectation in order for a young lady to have the privilege of attending the dance; and similar criteria must apply to young men.  Dress codes are about R-E-S-P-E-C-T:  for self, for others, and for setting.  My older daughter’s public high school has a somewhat looser dress code, but she knows she still needs to meet her parents’ higher expectations.  We give her free reign to buy whatever dress she wants–usually online–but with the caveat that we hold the final say on whether she gets to leave the house wearing it once we see her in it; so far she has shown consistently good judgment, if anything leaning slightly more conservatively than we would have accepted.  I want all of my kids to have clean, safe fun, as well as to understand that how someone dresses often affects how others treat him or her.

Dirty Dancing.  Peer groups, shoes, and clothing are not nearly so contraversial, however, as the actual conduct at a dance.  Much has been written over the last few years about the physical types of dancing teens are engaging in at school events.  A quick search of Youtube or Google will reveal troubling videos of girls–someone’s daughters-bent forward, and boys–even a series of boys taking turns–grinding against them from behind.  Many schools have instituted explicit “face to face and leave some space” policies to deter this.

Regardless of school policy, my guiding wisdom (or fascist directive, depending upon your point of view) for my kids remains the same as always:  Don’t You Forget About Me.  Assume I’m walking in.  If you’re comfortable with me seeing what you and your friends are doing at the moment if I happen to walk in–and I just might–then all is well.  Now, if only more parents would take a similar stance….As Corey Hart once told my generation, we can Never Surrender.


Filed under Activities & Sports, Safety, School

September 11, 2001–Explaining Terrorism To A 5 Year Old

In September 2001 our older daughter was 5, a brand-new kindergartener, and her sister was a 3 year old pre-schooler.  For us, like most families, the 11th was a normal Tuesday that became a day we would always remember when hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field near Pittsburgh.

At the time I was an English teacher in a high school.  When I learned during my planning period about the breaking news from the Twin Towers, I called my wife to make sure she knew what was happening and to ask whether a family friend still worked in the WTC.  (He did not.)  We decided our kindergartener was safe and happy in school, so she should stay there–at least for the time being.

At my own school, each teacher’s role became to support teenagers in carrying on with their day until we could get them home safely.  I reminded my students that people often make insensitive remarks and jokes when they are uncomfortable with what is happening, but that I expected them to remember that when (s)he left home that morning EVERY innocent passenger on those airliners had expected to come home to his or her family.  To their credit, every one of those teens handled what was happening that day with exceptional maturity and respect.

Once the high school closed early, I was able to go home to my family.  My wife and I tried to watch TV coverage as we could while shielding the girls from the surreal reports and images.  We decided 3 was too young to face what had happened, but that–unfortunately–5 had no choice.  So after dinner that night, my wife kept our younger daughter inside while I took our 5 year old outside to talk about the terror attacks. We were worried that she would hear other kids talking on the bus or at school the next day and that she would get scared, and we wanted to prepare her so she would feel safe.

Our home is a 45 minute drive from a major international airport, so from early morning through late at night there are always planes in the sky.  As we sat on the front porch, I explained that some bad people who do not like America and the way we live had crashed planes into buildings and hurt a lot of people.  But I asked her to look up, and pointed out that there were not any planes in the sky.  I told her the president had ordered all of the planes to land, but that when she did see a plane in the sky over the next few days it would be one of the president’s planes and that it would be up there making sure we were all safe.  She asked a few questions, accepted my answers, and we went back inside.

Schools were closed the next day.  The kids and I went back to school on Thursday, and our family met with relatives on Saturday night for a candlelight vigil to honor those who had been lost on the 11th.  Eleven years later that week may be a fuzzy memory for our now high school junior; but it is one of my clearest memories out of 16+ years as a dad.



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Filed under Safety, Tragedy