Posted in Miscellaneous

For the Good of the Children

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!

Image

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,” [1] 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.

Image

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.

ImageI 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.

ImageSimilarly, 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.

ImageI 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!


[1] The following are links to some great articles I read about helicopter parenting:

http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/05/26/18469581-helping-or-hovering-when-helicopter-parenting-backfires?lite

http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2013/05/28/expert-offers-tips-to-avoid-becoming-helicopter-parents/

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1940697,00.html

http://healthland.time.com/2013/02/22/hover-no-more-helicopter-parents-may-breed-depression-and-incompetence-in-their-children/

Photo courtesy of:

1) http://utahstatealumni.blogspot.com/2013/01/you-might-be-helicopter-parent-if.html

2) http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1940697,00.html

3) http://www.almanac.com/sites/new.almanac.com/files/images/chicks.jpg

4) http://www.easyartpro.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/confused-Richard-Allport-238×300.jpg

5) http://wellbeingchiropractic.nl/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Strong-child.jpg

Advertisements

Author:

Born and raised in Georgia. Sixth of ten chidren. LDS/Mormon. Attending BYU. Studying elementary education. Participate on the track and field team.

10 thoughts on “For the Good of the Children

  1. Seth! I agree with this. And giving the right amount of wait time is hard for me too! I tend to not give enough, but when I notice that and try to fix it I overstretch it. And what you said about kids not being as strong when their parents make all of their decisions for them? I think that is true. When faced with difficult decisions the children of “helicoptor” parents tend to just break down. Thanks for the insight!

    1. Thanks for your comments, Meagan! There certainly is a difficult balance to find when giving time for our students to come up with their own answers to our questions. I’m sure that your experiences as an intern will help you learn what this balance is. I feel that it will change with every new group of kids, but I’m sure that over time our ability to adjust will increase immensely. Keep me posted on how your internship is going!

  2. You have a gift of expression, Seth. Well put. It is so hard to find equilibrium when there seem to be two extremes: said helicopter parents and parents who are completely uninvolved in their children’s lives! I am so grateful that there are people like you out there that are willing to step up to the difficult task of helping to raise the children who are the future of our nation and world. Too many people take teachers for granted, and too many parents are unwilling to claim their vital role in their own children’s growth and learning.

    1. Jessica, thank you so much for your thoughts! It’s very difficult for parents and teachers to understand how involved they need to be in educating children, but I’m grateful that you see the importance of finding a balance. It’s a sad thing when parents are not invested in their children’s growth and development, but it can also be just as detrimental when too much is invested. The same is true of teachers. Guided learning is the most effective way to teach, providing opportunities for children to learn for themselves while still being there to help when help is needed.

  3. Excellent thoughts. I completely agree with your ideas. As parents, we are too anxious to help our children when really we should just sit back and let our children work it out themselves. You had great parents who did that for you and your siblings.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! You are so right about my parents. I feel so blessed to have been guided throughout my life in the decisions that I’ve made. My parents were so great at teaching me correct principles and then allowing me to learn by myself how to apply those principles in my own life. They are great examples for us all!

  4. Great article, Seth. At the MTC we also focus on being “learner enabling”–being a facilitator/guide in helping the missionaries make inspired decisions and choices on their own. I’m amazed at how much they can really grow as they become more aware of their own needs and how they can improve themselves as the Spirit teaches them. I like what you’re saying. This is really God’s way to teach us.

  5. Seth,

    I completely agree with your article. I was a helicopter mom and my oldest son paid the price for it. I did everything in my power to protect him from any type of discomfort. I found that when he went to college that he was not prepared to deal with life’s challenges. He did learn and adapt, because colleges do not deal with parents. Thank goodness! This was the best experience for my son.
    If I had any advice for parents it would be to lighten up and let your children make mistakes. They will learn from their mistakes and come out stronger in the end. You are not a bad parent if you let your children learn from their mistakes.

  6. I liked this very much, I was reminded of an article I read a few years ago in Asthma. It found that more kids were deveopling severe asthma because parents over sanitized. Seems silly to think a house could be too clean, but never allowing children exposure to “normal” germs prevented them from developing necessary antibodies. Just as you mentioned, the overprotective parents actually limited their children in the long run. I think most people know the harms of neglectful parenting and think little of helicopter parenting. I really appreciated the connection you made to education. I liked your comments regarding a teachers role to guide learning, not just give answers. I think that we have all forgotten the process and mistakes that come with real learning. Instead we get hung up on the grade. We forget that with struggle comes a deeper, knowlege. So much more than the superficial understanding that comes with just being handed the answers and forgetting them a second later. A principle that I have learned when it comes to spiritual matters, so why would I think it any different with secular matters? Anyway, thanks for your thoughts.

  7. Thanks for sharing, Seth. This is particularly a challenge when it comes to a child with special needs. I frequently question myself regarding Clara’s Asperger’s and ADHD–am I expecting too much? Not enough? Do I treat her too softly because she has challenges or are my expectations too high too soon and unrealistic? Another wrinkle comes into play with many children–Clara included–on the autism spectrum having a low “frustration tolerance.” It is a fine line between pushing to grow and sending her over the edge into a refusal to even try any more. Continual encouragement and small bite-size lessons are very helpful, but it can be pretty draining trying to teach new skills. This summer we have a list of daily–Mon thru Fri–tasks to work on (tying shoes, balancing on her bicycle (pedals are off, just working on balancing and gliding first)), writing, etc. I have confidence that she will learn to tie her shoes by the end of the summer, but I may have some gray hairs to show for it. 🙂 Still though, I want to remember that helicopter-parenting even a special needs child does them a disservice. Thanks for your thoughts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s