My children’s principal recently described the direction of modern parenting philosophy to me this way, “We’re trying to help prepare these children for the path of life. We have a great number of parents who’d rather prepare the path for their child.” On the surface, it’s a perfectly loving and noble idea—removing obstacles in life, smoothing out the rough places and generally making life a seamless upward climb for our kids. But what happens when your child enters an arena of life where no one cares what his mommy thinks? For a new generation of teens and young adults, it’s a genuine problem.
Here are 3 problems with preparing the path for your child and the solution.
Problem 1: Kids don’t learn to overcome.
By focusing so much about what’s wrong with the system (and admittedly, there are times when it is significantly flawed), parents often overlook what they can do to help their child cope with or overcome an imperfect set of circumstances. Was the teacher somewhat unfair? They’ll likely run into a boss who’s the same way one day. Is the kid on the playground a bully? They may have a neighbor just like him in adulthood. Our kids are better served if we put the bulk of our energy into teaching them to survive—and even thrive—despite living in an unfair world. Save your interventions for the most extreme cases. (And no, lobbying for an ‘A’ when he got a ‘B’ is not an extreme case.)
Problem 2: Kids becoming adults gets delayed.
Recent research indicates that our children are emerging into the adult world—and the workforce—with the mindset of adolescents. Employers complain of twenty-something employees who don’t possess the maturity or personal responsibility to handle what previous generations could. Sure, they have brains packed full of facts and degrees to spare, but they don’t know how to use all of the education they’ve received in productive ways. In some cases (and we thought this was a joke when we first heard it, but, unfortunately…it’s not) the helicopter parents who produced these underwhelming employees are still intervening on their behalf—with their bosses. If your child isn’t prepared to handle professional relationships and negotiations on her own by the time she’s out of college, someone has failed.
Problem 3: Kids become entitled.
We talk a lot about preventing an entitlement mindset in our children, particularly as it relates to material things and money. But by hovering and intervening in such a way as to prevent your child from ever having to experience failure or defeat, you’re likely creating an even more toxic type of entitlement thinking. He or she may grow up thinking success is a right, rather than something that must be earned.
By denying your child the opportunity to fail (to miss the Honor Roll by a couple of points, to not make the team, etc.), you’re denying him the chance to learn the things that they’ll need later on to recover from other failures and eventually to succeed. A child who’s always gotten the blue ribbon (deservedly or not) may think he is producing first-rate work, whether or not it’s true. What a shock to the system it will be one day to learn that he doesn’t really know what blue ribbon work looks like or requires of him.
You can’t always prepare the path for your child—so invest in preparing the child for the path!
Solution: Parenting is about preparing.
We know it’s hard to stand back and watch your child be disappointed or to try something and fail. But parenting is about teaching our kids to cope, to do their personal best, and to overcome the obstacles in their way. Do your kids a favor by letting them experience some small-scale failures in childhood, when the stakes aren’t so high and there are lots of opportunities to try again. If their first experience with personal defeat comes later in life, the costs and heartache may be far greater, and he’ll be less equipped to bounce back on his own. You can’t always prepare the path for your child—so invest in preparing the child for the path!
Tell us! How do you prepare your children for life rather than preparing the path?