Jason Davis: Can parents be too hands on?

May. 18, 2014 @ 03:01 PM

Because I was raised about five miles off the main road in the rural community of Pinecrest, Tenn., I tend to get my dander up when I see my home county mentioned negatively on the Knoxville news — it’s only natural.

So this past week when I heard a tease for a story in which the mother of a child from my old middle school was complaining that there was to be no eighth grade graduation, I put my head into my hands.

Sure enough, there it was for the whole world to see: A bunch of foolishness on parade.

I’d never even heard of an eighth grade graduation when I left Campbell County back in 1996. We certainly didn’t have them when I was in school. 

I don’t mean to make light of someone’s situation or the importance of middle school, but when did it become an accomplishment to finish eighth grade? In the words of comedian Chris Rock, “What you want? A cookie?” In other words, it’s something you’re supposed to do.

Why one parent’s outrage over something the school hasn’t done for years would be broadcast for all of East Tennessee to see is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it was a part of the bigger storyline of entitlement and vicarious living through our children.

Watch the news in the coming weeks. You’ll see stories of high schools across the state with dozens of valedictorians, I’m sure. I’d also wager that it was parents, not students, that first demanded the move from one valedictorian to multiple honorees at most of the schools.

Initially it may have been in an effort to promote fairness, but now it’s gotten way out of hand. In an effort to make everyone feel special, the meaning of the honor is softened, if not lost.

My own son, Rogan, graduated from preschool last week.

It was a cute, emotionally touching ceremony. But guess what? If they hadn’t had the half-hour event, it would not have offended me — it’s not like he can take his preschool diploma and go get a job.

If another kid merited a special honor while Rogan had received none, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. It’s only preschool, after all, and I would have figured he hadn’t made the progress to deserve it.

But the day was, as they say, what it was: an opportunity to see a bunch of 4-year-olds dressed up in caps and gowns, reciting Bible verses and singing songs. It’s a nice memory that will one day fade into the back corners of the mind. And, while it seems like the center of your universe at the time, high school graduation, too, will one day be similar. 

I remember nothing that was said — not a single word — from my high school graduation. I’m certain I was more interested in the beach trip that was to begin the next morning, or the chance I had of scoring a date for later that night after the ceremony. 

Ultimately, many of these events are for parents, and its typically the parents whose feelings are hurt when things don’t go just right. You often see it in other aspects of parental involvement too, including youth sports and extracurriculars. One kid starts over another? The coach should be fired. Someone doesn’t get a solo in the school musical? The choir director must be a lunatic.

I’m sure the middle school girl back in Jacksboro, whose mother was upset about the lack of a middle school graduation, was petrified to see it all playing out on TV.

I know at that age I certainly would have been.

Fortunately for me, it was never a real concern. My father almost always took the high road and trusted my teachers and school administrators to do the right thing.

Miraculously, I think I turned out OK.