It’s almost a daily occurrence; I hear “My child will not do his homework! I have to sit on him to get it done!” Another variation of this is, “She is great at school, but when she’s home…that’s a different story!” These days, parents are on high alert. The school emails them. The teachers email them. Grades are posted online. Numbers and statuses are constantly available to us. Instead of creating a sense of security, it has backfired…majorly. Parents are getting more involved in their children’s lives and although that sounds good on the surface, in many ways it is not.
From the day junior is born he is set forth on a learning journey. It’s a parent’s job to foster a learning environment. From day one he is being prepared for the day that he will be a self-supporting adult. I think our culture has lost sight of this. We have gotten caught up in the minutiae of status, grades and extra-curricular activities and have shirked the importance of learning the basics of life. Essentially kids are growing into adults who do not know how to “adult”, but they can take a test.
I do not want to parent-shame. That will get us nowhere fast. Instead, I’d like to offer some alternatives to some common issues that have developed recently in our culture.
Eleven Ways to Encourage Independence and Self-Sufficiency in Children:
1.) Do not do your child’s homework or projects. You can be a helpful presence if questions arise, but your child is going to school to learn, not to get an A. If your child chooses not to do his homework, let him see what the consequences are, rather than enabling him to never fail. Failure is one of life’s greatest teachers.
2.) Do not excuse your child from chores. Being in a family means being a part of a team. Excusing a child from helping out sends the message that that child is set apart from others, more special than the rest. This can lead to a sense of entitlement. Having them help around the house should be a weekly expectation and if need be, chores should be posted where the child can be reminded. Just because you have a project at work does not mean that you get a free pass from your other responsibilities, the same is true for your child. He needs to learn this now; his boss will not be his parent.
3.) Let’s Not Make Academics Priority One. With the onslaught of charter schools, IB schools and other accelerated programs, I’m finding parents are pushing academics over life skills and kids are sorely losing out. Some parents are making striving in academics more important than other responsibilities—this is not reality. When your child becomes an adult he does not get a free pass from all other responsibilities at home because he has a project due at work.
4.) Teens Need Jobs. Thirty years ago it would be almost unheard of for a parent to show up for a teen’s job interview. These days employers are shocked when parents are doing the talking for the teen. A job interview is an important life lesson, so is working with the public. It’s not a parent’s job to “protect” a child from difficult people. Nothing teaches conflict resolution skills like having to serve someone who is having a bad day. Make it clear that a summer job is expected, along with the possibility of a job during the school year.
5.) Allow Your Child to Order For Himself. Kids need to learn that they can interact with authorities. One of the best and easiest learning environments for this is at a restaurant. Your child knows what he wants, so why isn’t he saying it to the person who will actually serve him? Have him say it, or no burger.
6.) Teenagers Should Drive. Being able to drive is a milestone in development. It creates a sense of freedom and responsibility that is necessary to prepare for living on one’s own. Unless you live in an urban area where public transportation is the primary means for transportation, your fifteen year old needs to be driving.
7.) Kids Need to Handle Their Own Conflicts. There are a few caveats for this one. Sometimes kids are thrust into situations that are not age appropriate and need parental guidance, but for the most part this is not the case. Use discretion before jumping onto every little scuffle or disagreement. See how your child handles it first. Your child may very well be learning conflict resolution without you being the teacher every time, and such is life. (Of course, the greatest teaching is modeling it yourself. Read more about “Five Things Your Kids Need To See You Do.”)
8.) Do Away With Micromanagement. A child should be the most creative, wistful being on the planet. With the advent of smartphones, tablets, and incessant extra-curricular opportunities kids are becoming slaves to technology and time. It’s almost like kids are not allowed to be kids any more. There is no freedom for “free play.” Play is a major way kids learn. Denying them this freedom prevents them from learning in the best way they know how. This means giving them the time to play as they wish without the stipulation of a particular activity that you have chosen for them. Let them use their imaginations. They NEED to be creative. (Not sure if you are micromanaging? Read “The Greatest Lessons That You Cannot Teach Your Children: Overcoming Helicopter Parenting.”)
9.) Family Time is a Must. We live in a demanding world, but kids need to know that home is their foundation and the soft place to fall. This means protecting family time. Kids should learn to have more mature conversations from sitting around the dinner table with everyone discussing their day. Let kids learn how to be mature from you, rather than denying them this opportunity and letting them learn how to be “mature” from other kids and the media. (Have a no technology at the table policy to ensure interaction.)
10.) Teach Your Child to Accept Responsibility for Failure. Do not blame teachers or others for your child’s shortcomings. As much as your child is the light of your life, he’s human. He makes mistakes. He will be a more humble and agreeable human being if he is taught to own up to his failings. This means taking a look at how you handle your own foibles. It means having to watch how you talk about situations in your own life where you may have easily blamed another, but deep down the problem resulted from your own shortcoming.
11.) Speak Positively. Your kids are watching you. It is incredibly easy to complain. Oftentimes complaining is a result of blaming someone else for the way you feel. Model a more positive attitude by catching yourself in the midst of a complaint. Say out-loud, “How could I look at this differently?” Watching mom correct herself says a lot to a child! (Concerned about your child’s future? Read “Five Things Your Child Needs More Than College.”)
The culture of “low self-esteem” is rooted in a low sense of mastery. Young adults in massive numbers are feeling insecure and dissatisfied with life. Many are feeling empty and powerless. Starting a child out early with the intention of helping him develop a sense of mastery over life skills will be one of the greatest experiences you can give him. Remember: Sometimes teaching means getting out of the way.