The grade-school lunchroom has long acted as a microcosm of social life. It’s where kids choose whom to sit with, develop friendships, and resolve conflicts. And lunch is one of the few less-supervised periods in most kids’ school days. Over the past several years, however, some school cafeterias have become invaded by a new group: parents.
Twenty years ago, when I was in elementary school, having a parent join you at the lunch table was unthinkable. Parents or caretakers dropped everyone off in the morning for school, leaving us to grow, play, and learn until we were collected. But lately, parents are playing a much more active role in their children’s educational lives. According to a September report from Child Trends, a nonprofit research organization focused on children and their family, parental involvement in school is rising. “In 2016, the percentages of students whose parents reported attending a general meeting at their child’s school, a parent-teacher conference, or a school or class event reached their highest recorded levels,” the report states.
At some schools, swarms of parents wait in line to be escorted into the lunchrooms and sit with their children, some as old as 10, for a meal. One school district in Darien, Connecticut, found its cafeterias so inundated with parents that this week it announced an outright ban on parent-student lunches. “It feels like a punch in the gut,” Jessica Xu, a parent whose oldest child is in first grade, told the Associated Press after learning of the decision. “I chose the town for the schools. I’m so frustrated the schools don’t want me there.”