Should Parents Know When Teachers Address Sensitive Topics?

Be it the death of a classmates’ parent or the details of a school shooting, should parents be given a heads up when these sensitive issues are going to be talked about at school?


Moms Talk is a weekly feature on all Lehigh Valley Patches in which local parents, caregivers and other members of the community are invited to share opinions and advice on parenting topics.

This week’s Moms Talk question relates to whether parents and caregivers should be given a heads up when sensitive issues are going to be brought up at school.

When my older child was in kindergarten, the parent of one of his classmates died unexpectedly. We found out about this sad occurrence as we were sitting around the dinner table. He informed us that we needed to “bake a cake or something” for the child’s family. When we asked why, he told us it was because the little boy’s mother had died and his teacher had explained that that’s the kind of thing you do when somebody dies. Yikes! Really?!? That’s what you talked about at school today?

Now, with the 2012-2013 school year only barely started, I am hearing of elementary school kids turning the dinner conversation to the Columbine massacre. With September 11 about a week away, some parents – including me -- are wondering if schools will address this national tragedy with the little ones. Sensitive topics come up at school often – perhaps more than many parents realize -- which is actually kind of the point.

Now we want to hear your thoughts:

Should parents be informed when sensitive topics are being talked about at school? 

Our Moms Council members include: 

  • Lisa Amey of Upper Milford Township is a stay-at-home mom to an 8-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl. A past president of the MOMS Club of Emmaus and longtime member of MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers), Lisa is an Independent Consultant for Arbonne International. 
  • Lisa Drew of Emmaus is a certified nutritionist and personal trainer, wellness and fitness coach with more than 17 years of experience. She is the mother of a 13-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy.
  • Jennifer Elston of Emmaus has almost two decades of professional experience in child development and counseling. She is currently a stay-at-home mom to two beautiful girls. Together with her husband, Chris, she owns Christopher Elston Photography.
  • Jeanne Lombardo of Nazareth is the mother of a 10-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl. She’s new to the Lehigh Valley, having moved to Nazareth from Bergen County, NJ in January.
  • Lisa Merk of Lower Macungie is a stay-at-home mother of four boys – a 12-year-old and 6-year-old triplets. Lisa is a past president of the MOMS Club of Lower Macungie East. In her “spare” time, Lisa teaches piano to school-age children.
  • Zoila Bonilla Paul of Bethlehem is a stay-at-home mom to two girls – a 5-year-old and a 14-month-old. Zoila is a member of her local “moms’ club” and says she is “well-versed in the fun that children can bring.”
  • Beth Sharpless of Emmaus works part time in a local emergency department as a nurse and part time from home as a customer support specialist. She has two children -- a boy who is almost 2 and a 5-year-old girl. She says they love spending time outdoors and dancing.

If you would like to become a part of the Moms Council and/or have ideas for future Moms Talk questions, please email jennifer.marangos@patch.com.

Beth September 02, 2012 at 12:32 PM
Absolutely, the parents should be involved and made aware. In order for children to understand these situations better and handle them better, it is important for the family at home to discuss in addition to at school.
Lisa Amey September 02, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Yes, I think it's important for the parents to be aware. Not all kids share or volunteer information they hear at school, so a heads up to the parents may be necessary to prompt discussion. We may not always agree with what sensitive topics are presented, but they should not be total surprises.
Marty Milne September 02, 2012 at 05:05 PM
With the advent of email, I think it is reasonable for the teacher to inform the families of the classroom; if in fact the student and family has made it known. Privacy is always warranted but if it is public, there should be a certain intention on behalf of the teacher to inform the classroom's families. It is easy enough to do.
GrowUpSaucon September 02, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Absolutely. Communication is key for all involved in any sensitive topics we discuss with children. Some children may be more sensitive than others and require extra love and more discussion at home. If parents are made aware of these topics discussed in school prior to them happening, they can help their child if any confusion arises.
Ken White September 03, 2012 at 04:47 AM
I'm not a member of the Mom's Council because, as I noticed in the shower one day, I'm a guy. Still, in between thinking about sex every seven seconds and about cars, sports and hamburgers the rest of the time, we guys occasionally let other thoughts into the rotation. Like this topic, for instance. I think a little heads-up the day before something sensitive is to be discussed is good because it can sensitize us to notice slight changes in our kids' behavior or demeanor when they get home. Changes we might not have noticed so readily were it not for the tip-off. Plus it would allow us to talk to them before they go to school if we think it would help them. Jennifer Aniston just came to mind. And she's wearing nothing but her insatiable desire for me. She wants to wrestle a bit before we take the Porsche out for some burgers. I tell her I only wrestle with my wife. Disappointed, she says, "That's cool" before throwing me the keys anyway. "Take your wife for a burger and bring two more back, plus a vanilla shake, please. Do that and the car's yours." With that, she winks and is gone.
Lisa Merk September 03, 2012 at 11:47 AM
Absolutely! There are kids that tell you everything and kids that tell you nothing about their day. I am a mother to both those types of kids. One kid will give me the play by play of the day, while the other will just give one word answers. So if there was something that was discussed or happened at school, he may need a little coaxing to figure out if he needs to talk about it....so we need to know!
Mom of DnNnD September 03, 2012 at 05:25 PM
You had me laughing out loud. Thanks!!
Mom of DnNnD September 03, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Absolutely we should be informed. I remember when September 11 happened and my son's teacher told them about the terrorist attacks and how many people died and at 7 years old he was not ready for all that gore. He came home terrified and crying. I wanted to go punch that lady in her face. I know my child best and how to best explain the situation to him. Nobody else should be doing that for me.
K Adams September 03, 2012 at 09:58 PM
What should teachers do when asked a question about something like 9/11? Not discuss it at all till they contact every parent? Sometimes things just come up during discussions that need to be addressed and explained to students. I would just hope that the teacher does it with compassion, and a strong knowledge of how much to share based on a child's age. Unfortunately for the mom of DnNnD it doesn't sound like the teacher was using her best judgement.
Sarah C September 05, 2012 at 11:07 AM
I agree with K Adams. If the teacher approaches a sensitive issue in an insensitive way, then that should be addressed, but otherwise, trust that they know how to talk to kids! Besides, do you parents realize how much work teachers have to do in a short prep period?
Barbara Bickle September 05, 2012 at 12:49 PM
I believe the parents should absolutely be told. For starters not all teachers are good teachers, as hard as the schools may try they are not perfect. Second, as a parent on a lot of these sensitive subjects I may have a view point that stems out of faith or religion that they are not allowed to discuss at school. I am talking about a long conversation a simple note would do, but I do believe parents should be informed.
Lisa Amey September 05, 2012 at 12:59 PM
To clarify my comment above, it is in the context of the elementary level, which is the stage I am in right now, and also planned discussions to the whole class like the death of a teacher or the subject of 9/11. And I completely understand that things come up unexpectedly; I would trust the teacher's discretion if it warranted a quick e-mail to the parent or not.
Heather Depew September 05, 2012 at 01:32 PM
As a former teacher, I would NEVER address such sensitive topics with elementary or middle school students. If the school wanted them addressed, I would have said that we needed to issue a letter to be mailed home to every parent and saying the date when we will be discussing this. I taught high school, and I still sent out a letter reminding parents that the anniversary of September 11th is coming up, and we will be playing a piece of music this year that was written in memory for the survivors and ones who lost their lives. There is also a piece of music that was written for the Columbine tragedy, to commemorate the brave ones who survived and passed away. I performed that piece twice, once in two different high schools. In order for my students to perform it with the utmost respect, the students needed to know the meaning behind it. The second time I performed this piece with my students, the Virginia Tech shooting happened that April. I remember the next day, all of my students came to band and said, "wow, we now know that we can play this piece with all of the feeling behind it and give it the respect it deserves." It was a terrible thing that had to happen to give my students that "aha" moment, but my students are all better individuals for learning empathy that year.
Melissa Moyer-Schneck September 05, 2012 at 01:33 PM
I think parents need to know when sensitive subjects are being discussed. Our families beliefs, whether that be religious, heritage or anything else should not be put aside to only focus on what that teacher suggests or that teachers opinion. If there is going to be a moment of silence for something, I want to know what it's for, if it means I want to talk to my child about the event that is happening or that I just want to be prepared for my child when they come home and might have questions, it's my responsability to be emotionally supportive of my child, it's not the teachers, BUT, I do appreciate the teachers input as long as I know the input was given. My kids are pretty talkative, they will tell us what was discussed in school, that being said they also will give their opinion of what was discussed in school, so I just think as a parent we need to know what's going on when it comes to sensitive issues.
Melissa Moyer-Schneck September 05, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Loved it!
Heather Depew September 05, 2012 at 01:50 PM
Right....I agree with you whole-heartedly. Communication is the key!!
Mom of DnNnD September 05, 2012 at 04:47 PM
Since 9/11 happened years ago, I would hope that parents have already discussed this by now. But back then it was discussed on the day it was happening. Since the children had no knowledge of what was going on (since there is no tv or news in the classrooms) the teacher should have stayed silent. There goes best judgement and trust me, not every one has good judgement or common sense. Also, let's say that Jane Doe's mother died on Sunday and didn't come to school on Monday. There is no reason for the teacher to tell the children anything about Jane's mother until a note is sent home explaining the situation.


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