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Turning Teen Mischief into Teachable Moments: A DSST Parent's Perspective

This post was written by a DSST parent who requested to remain anonymous.

By all accounts, yesterday was a very difficult day for my 8th grader. At 3:30pm my cell phone rang and on the other end was the 8th grade Dean of Students at DSST.  My son had made an extremely unwise scientific choice in a classroom that resulted in short-circuiting an entire classroom, including the Smart Board.  This caused rippling problems throughout the day, and interfered with some teacher observations and coaching that required electronics. It’s one of the calls you hope you never get. Not just because there was a possibility of over $4000 in damages, but because as a parent it reflects on you.

I intercepted my student after school and waited for him to independently tell me what had happened. I waited. I indirectly asked.  I offered several opportunities for him to take ownership before I let him know we had to re-enter the building and meet with the Dean.  Before we got out of the car, he finally admitted to his part in the incident... but it took a lot. A lot of time, and a lot of yelling. It’s a good thing my car was parked around the corner as I’m pretty sure the other kids would have heard me. Certainly not my best parenting moment.

However, the Dean handled it much better than I did.  I had failed to keep my cool and on top of that really let my teenager have a dose of my verbal reality.  The Dean, knowing my son and his strengths and weaknesses well, very calmly asked him to share his side of the story and asked him some very simple, but thoughtful questions about decisions, motivations and missed opportunities.  While I sat and observed in the corner, the Dean and my 14 year old son had a reflective and restorative conversation about how to resolve the situation. The Dean shared a personal experience of a poor decision he had recently made, and how taking ownership of it helped create a path towards fixing the problem. Plans were made between my son and the Dean on how to fix the problem, who needed to be involved in those conversations, and how he was personally feeling about the entire experience. It was absolutely not lost on me that DSST was able to love him gracefully through a tough situation and help him grow through that experience in a way I was not capable of doing at that moment. 

I often hear that other parents think that DSST can be too regimented, militaristic or an over-structured environment that doesn’t allow kids to be kids.  That kids cannot be themselves and that DSST is too prescriptive academically, with social limitations. What I witnessed yesterday is exactly the opposite. My son was emotionally wrapped in support, while learning to deal with the very real consequences of his actions at school.  At DSST, he is treated like a young adult learning to navigate life. He is taught that mistakes happen, and it is how you respond to them that defines you as a person. Plus, he sees this practice daily in his role models at DSST. That is very reassuring when emotions take over and you sometimes personally fail to be the role model as a parent. 


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