Rumor has it that there’s a perfect kid running around in your school. This kid is the smartest, best-looking, most talented, well-behaved, and socially competent individual who walks the planet. Mary Poppins may be practically perfect in every way, but she doesn’t hold a candle (or an umbrella) to this flawless youngster. “Who is this model citizen?” you might ask. Though I do not know, I can guarantee that just about every parent of your future students can tell you exactly who it is…or who they think it is. Say hello to their child!
Setting rumor aside, the reality is that too many parents are using detrimental parenting techniques in an effort to raise a perfect child. They expect him or her to be the best at everything, and they will do whatever it takes to ensure the dominance of their little angel. They make it their goal to eliminate any obstacle, challenge, or difficulty in their child’s life that threatens his or her success. This kind of parenting is commonly referred to as “helicopter parenting,”  which portrays an image of parents who endlessly hover over their children. They scrupulously examine every decision their child makes and meticulously craft the solution to every problem their child encounters. Rather than allowing their child to make mistakes and thereby learn from the struggles and challenges of life, these parents are overanxious to rush to his or her immediate aid. What these well-meaning parents don’t realize is that in their efforts to rear a strong, successful, and independent child they are instead creating a weak and fragile dependent.
I recently read an article entitled “A Nation of Wimps,” and I found it particularly insightful. The author presents a plethora of studies and statistics to show that many parents today are rearing fragile and pathetically dependent offspring. I believe that the parenting techniques described previously are motivated by love and a sincere desire for the success and happiness of children. However, they can often have debilitating effects on children’s growth and development and can even weaken their performance in the classroom. I want to share some of my thoughts about what I feel parents can do to avoid overinvesting in their children while still helping them achieve success and reach their potential, particularly as it pertains to their education. While I certainly do not claim to know everything (or even very much, for that matter) about parenting, I do have many personal experiences that validate the thoughts I want to share. And of course, I am deeply invested in the success of all of my future students and therefore feel a deep concern for the quality of support they receive at home. I also want to address how I feel teachers can apply these same principles in the classroom.
My first thought is that parents are too quick to solve their children’s problems for them. It is perfectly appropriate to help children with problems they are struggling to solve, but parents should be patient and allow children the opportunity to create their own solutions before offering one themselves. I sense that some parents are afraid of their children making mistakes, thinking that this might somehow reflect poor-quality parenting. Rather than allow their child to “mess up,” they feel compelled to intervene before a mistake is made. Parents need to understand that making mistakes is an important part of life. If children make mistakes, that’s wonderful! Failure is perfectly acceptable because children can learn from it, and it brings them one step closer to success. Thomas Edison understood this principle very well. He experienced countless “failed” attempts while inventing the lightbulb, but of these experiences he stated, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Such is the case with all of our so called “failures. Experiences that challenge and stretch an individual are essential for the proper growth and development of every child.
I once heard a story about a little farm girl who one day came upon some hatching chicks. She observed them as they struggled to break free from their fragile prisons before helping the little creatures in their task by breaking off enough of their shells to provide an easy escape. Before long, the yard was filled with baby chicks chirping cheerfully. The next day, however, the girl discovered that all but a few of the little chicks had died. She learned that when chicks are hatching, the struggle to break through their shells makes them strong and better able to withstand the challenges of their new world. By rushing to their aid, she had robbed them of a life-essential challenge, and because they came out weak and fragile they were not able to survive the difficulties of their environment. This principle rings true about children, as well. Before “helping their children hatch,” so to speak, by offering immediate solutions, parents need to encourage their children’s thought processes and give them opportunities to solve problems themselves.
Similarly, teachers need to establish a learning environment in their classroom that fosters independent learning. I’ve often observed in teaching situations the teacher asking a question and giving only a few moments for students to respond before giving away the answer. It seems to me that some teachers are afraid of silence. I can relate to this feeling, because I’ve experienced it on numerous occasions. I’ve taught many Sunday School, Priesthood, and home teaching lessons over the years, not to mention the thousands I taught during my two years as a missionary. I would ask a question to the individual or group I was teaching, and there would be several moments of silence. I’ll admit that several fears entered my mind during these moments. Maybe the class didn’t understand my question. Perhaps they didn’t know how to answer it. I didn’t want anyone to feel embarrassed or pressured to give a specific answer, so I quickly provided the answer for them. This is not effective teaching. If children don’t respond to a question right away, teachers shouldn’t worry! They must give students time to work out solutions on their own. If silence persists, teachers can try asking clarifying questions or ones that will guide students to make conclusions for themselves.
The purpose of teaching is not to give away free answers! Rather teachers are facilitators who lead students to their own solutions. This holds true in all teaching situations, including one-on-one instruction. This intimate setting provides the perfect opportunity to foster guided independent learning. When helping individual students with material they struggle to understand, teachers should provide appropriate promptings while encouraging the student to be confident in their thought processes. If the child makes a mistake or solves a problem incorrectly, that’s okay! Teachers should praise their effort and encourage them to keep trying until they understand the material. It may take time and patience, but the end result is rewarding for both teacher and student. Just as with parenting, teachers helping struggling students is perfectly acceptable, but ultimately students will only succeed as they learn to think for and make decisions by themselves.
I believe that every proud parent’s (and teacher’s) deepest desire is to prepare their children to be successful and happy. However, this does not mean that they should expect perfection. Helicopter parenting is often founded upon good intentions, but there are important things to consider in the effort of rearing successful children. They need to be challenged. They need to learn how to think for themselves and solve their own problems. Support and guidance are essential, but they must not come at the expense of individual learning. There is only one perfect Child, and I promise you that His path to perfection was paved with challenges, tests, and trials. His loving Parents spared no pains in allowing Their Beloved Son (and each of us, I might add) to experience all the bitterness that mortality has to offer. They certainly provide much needed support and guidance, but they understand that only as we learn the lessons of life for ourselves can we ultimately become strong, successful, and independent children.
I’m very interested in your thoughts/experiences regarding this topic, so please take some time to comment below! Thanks so much for reading!
 The following are links to some great articles I read about helicopter parenting:
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