An Open Letter to Parents

Do you want to know why there’s a teacher shortage? Why, this year, in Nebraska alone, there are approximately a thousand open positions in education, why the number of post-secondary education majors is plummeting? I think any teacher, para, bus driver, administrator, lunch lady, or secretary would give you the same answer: a lack of parenting. We have so many students in our school systems who come from broken homes, from absentee parents, from hostile environments, from neglect, and on the opposite side of that coin, from coddling, from “yes” parents, from ipad houses, from parents who want to be their child’s “best friend” or live vicariously through them. And when parents don’t parent, they raise children who are an entirely new breed of difficult, who are entitled, who don’t understand the concept of respect, who have never been held to rules or standards before and rebel against them in classrooms, kids who have never been told “no,” kids who have been constantly handed a screen to keep them quiet. This generation of parents is failing, and it only takes a step into our school systems to see the evidence. 

I understand that this is a hard concept. This is a topic of conversation that raises a lot of defenses and makes people angry. But as a teacher, as someone who spends literally all day, every day, with your kids, it makes me angry - to see kids, who are not at fault for the mistakes of their parents, come to school without structure, discipline, and guidelines for what respect looks like. This generation of kids does not have those things. This lack of parenting is creating a mess that will take generations to repair. And, of course, this is a generalization; there are kids who have responsible parents. The majority, however, unfortunately, do not. 

As teachers, we see kids every day who do not know what it is to show respect. And let me tell you a truth: it is so much more difficult to teach the concept of respect to a teenager than it is to a two-year-old, even harder when you are not their parent. It is vital that children come to school with an understanding of how to show respect, with established structure at home - because while they crave structure, all kids do - they thrash against it when they have never had it before.

Showing respect for adults in authority is not a flooring concept. It's life. There will be days, no matter your age or your position, when you have to show respect to someone you don't particularly care for. You will have to show respect to your superiors, whether you agree with their choices or not. If I flung myself on the floor every time my boss asked something of me that I didn't care for, if I threw a chair across the room, cursed, used a derogatory term, or made a threat, I wouldn't have a job for very long. But your teenagers, your middle schoolers, and your third graders? They do those things. Because you taught them it was acceptable.

And this is how you did that: you allow them to use derogatory, racist, and vicious language; you use it in their presence. You let them sit and listen while you talk poorly about their teachers, their coaches, their principals, their classmates’ parents, and when they heard you call Mr. X or Coach Y an idiot, your child packed that into their school bag and took it to class, to practice, put it on with his jacket, his jersey, and then when Mr. X gave him an assignment, or Coach Y gave a direction, he rolled his eyes, he argued, he fought: he showed his teacher or his coach a public disrespect. You’ve seen it; we’ve all seen it. And that’s why it happens - because you taught him to think that, to say it. 

And these issues start so much earlier than you think they do. When your child threw a fit at the dinner table, over a toy he wanted, about having to be patient or cleaning his room, and you handed him a screen? Watch a video. Play a game. It keeps him quiet. It keeps him occupied. You just taught that child that when he can’t control his emotions, he needs a piece of technology to do it for him. You taught his brain that it can’t regulate emotions without something constantly stimulating it. And just like that, just like pausing a tantrum with an ipad, you develop an addiction that will grow until they’re teenagers who beg and cry to keep their cell phones in their hands when their teacher’s classroom rule is to put it away. And yes, almost all of them beg or argue, and yes, some of them cry. Teenagers - cry to keep their phones in their hands - because this new generation of ipad kids don’t know how to regulate their emotions without them. I have to teach that skill now - a skill they should develop as toddlers, I have to teach to teenagers.

When you disagreed with a decision that their volleyball coach made, instead of telling your athlete to show up and do the work, to push through and prove themselves, you called, not their coach, but their school administrators, to complain that because the coach made a choice you didn’t agree with - they should be removed from their position. You didn’t tell your athlete to do the responsible thing - to have a conversation with their coach and air their grievances. You didn’t teach your child how to solve a problem. You taught them that they don’t ever do anything wrong, that the adult in authority will bow to their whims if they complain. Tell me how that prepares them for an adult reality? It doesn’t.

And when they carry those things into their adult lives, this is what it looks like: an inability to maintain healthy relationships, to communicate without the security blanket of technology (or without you). It looks like a lack of credibility in the workplace, looks like a lack of responsibility for paying their bills on time, like not maintaining their households, like not raising their children - because there have never been real consequences for not doing what they’re supposed to do, and because you didn’t raise them to be responsible adults - they don’t know how.

I know this sounds dramatic. I get it. But believe me when I tell you that this is our reality. These children who are being raised not to listen, not to respect, to expect whatever they want, to receive instant gratification, they are the majority of children in our school systems, and they will become the adults who run our governments, operate our businesses, and raise our future generations. Good people are raised by parents who hold them accountable, who set boundaries and provide structure. Now will some of these poorly raised kids flourish without good parenting? Sure - a few will slip through those cracks and become good people on their own. But is that a risk we want to take with an entire generation? Not in my opinion.

Parenting is not an accident. It’s not something that just happens on its own - it’s a job. One you signed up for when you took responsibility for raising a person. You are not your child’s best friend, not until you’re finished raising them into the person who can be responsible for themselves, who is capable of that relationship with you. You are not your child’s vending machine. You are not their bank, their punching bag, their excuse. You are their parent. It is your responsibility to give your child the foundation that will make them a good person.  

Your children listen to you. They believe you - trust you. They assume what comes out of your mouth is gospel - because they’re your children, and they’re supposed to. They’re supposed to believe that the things you teach them are true, because as their parent, that’s your job. So when you teach them that they can throw things and scream when they don’t get their way, they believe you. When you teach them that they can’t regulate their emotions without a screen in their face, their brains lose that ability. When you teach them that they can say whatever they want to whomever they like, they believe you. 

This is why we have a teacher shortage. This is why the quality of education is slipping all over our nation - because teachers now have to teach and manage a myriad of basic life skills that should not be their job: they have to teach emotional regulation to teenagers whose brains have been trained for technology addiction. They have to teach the concept of respecting authority to children who have been conditioned to get whatever they demand. They have to teach responsibility to kids who have never been made to take ownership of anything. Because their parents refuse to parent.

If we want this tide to turn, to pull teachers into classrooms instead of driving them out - raising our children is where it starts. This lack of parenting is an epidemic, and your children deserve better than that. They deserve every opportunity to learn how to be good people, and while we can absolutely reinforce that concept in schools, it starts at home. 

I have seen this all around us. My family members and friends who are teachers experience it every day in their own schools. I see it at sporting events, community gatherings, restaurants, grocery stores. This refusal to parent is so harmful, and it is everywhere. I hope it disappoints you. I hope it makes you angry. I hope it makes you think twice about the way that the children in your lives are being raised. Because this problem will not fix itself. And if you don’t think we’re already seeing the repercussions, you aren’t paying close enough attention. Open your eyes. Parent your children. They deserve better than this.


  1. You are so right about today's teens. For the most part they've not only lost (or never had) the disciplines of respect and study but also the willingness to work! Even ten years ago I could still find happy, honest teens to help a disabled old lady in her home; today there is no one. And everyone I talk to about it -- even at the Catholic high school -- mentions "the change." They tell me we've lost a generation. And what will that mean to our banks, our police and our military? We who need help now already know: we can only find women in their fifties who will help! Or immigrants. Please keep sounding the alarm. And thank you.

  2. Well put! As an educator for 23 years, I have witness the change. Now we feed them breakfast, snack, lunch, snacks basic table manners, basic "pick up after yourself" skills.

    In addition, we are hounded by administration to "get them ready" for state testing. We test fall, winter and spring for MAPtesting. Our students don't even care about their scores anymore - enough! It would be different if something would come of these. If a student misses 87 days of 186 day school year (teacher contact days) in say....3rd grade, 50 days in 4th, 65 days in 5th, 42 days in you really think that child has the foundation skills to be successful? No, no they do not.

    Do we hold children back so they can aquire those skills? No - that is detrimental to their self worth. What do you think it does for their self worth to "not have a clue" in Junior or Senior High? Children would rather be naughty than "dumb".

    Now admin are down our throats with PBiS, or the behavior "miracle" of the day. Make a connection, make parent calls, etc. First, IF we have a good phone number, IF we get a return phone call.... I have been verbally assaulted by parents for requiring a student put their phone away. Parent yelling/poking my chest while enunciating...student behind the parent smiling like the Cheshire cat.

    Parents, school boards, concerned stakeholders need to decide if they want their students/community educated or graduated. Not every student can suceed at both in four years.

    School administration, suits at the state and Federal level require teachers to move the world....and absolutely nothing from our students.

  3. I am also an elementary teacher, dealing with all of these issues on a daily basis. It has gotten much worse in the past couple years for certain.
    I would like to also add the responsibility of our "higher education" establishments, failed academies, that allow their graduates to enter the work force as educators, who also allow and encourage the acceptance of these behaviors. I am not the most senior educator, but I also grew up knowing, it is not ok to let a student talk to me in a disrespectful manner. They are not going to kick me, hit me, or any of the other actions that these disrespectful "students" get by with. When did it become ok to tolerate this? To give them a reward for not cussing or hitting an adult or peer. As the "higher education" establishments, they need to be DEMANDING that policies and laws are set in place to allow their graduates, their customers, who paid a bunch of money, to haave the chance to be successful. Give them the tools they need.
    Parents and society in general are at a crazy state. Somehow, someone needs to say this is too far. Force the issue to be handled. I recently heard a great quote "if you permit it, you promote it". Even we as teachers hold some responsibility. I don't have a magic answer, it is going to be ugly, but it must be done for our futures sake. It is the reason we got into education, to make our students lives better. Hang tough!!

  4. When a student assaults a teacher charges MUST be filed. Full stop!! Tell administration that it is a deal breaker for contract renewal. When administration steps up and defends EMPLOYEES it becomes a win for everyone. For the first time in half a century teachers hold negotiating power. Even if your union won't support you? Be a leader. Because I guarantee there is a better job out there that pays a whole lot more!!!


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