By George Glass

 

In an era of catastrophic news stories and warnings about how difficult it will be to succeed and live the American dream, is it any wonder that today’s parents are more concerned and involved in their children’s lives? But, where is the line between being a reasonable if not “free range” parent and a “helicopter” parent?

When most of us were growing up, we rode our bikes to friends’ houses and school, would often let homework and reports sit until the last minute, and would go out on the weekends to play, frequently showing up late for lunch or dinner. Police or friends parents were not called, there were no electronic leashes like cellphones, and if you went to any college that was great because magazines did not rate what was supposed to be the best colleges and graduate schools. We somehow survived, thrived, made mistakes, and then figured out a way to move on, learned from our mishaps, and despite them, or often because of them, succeeded. Were our parents just negligent, and uncaring, or did they realize that being a kid is its own learning experience, and that their role was often to provide guidance and information when asked, but not to be our managers, schedulers, coaches, chauffeurs, tutors, or negotiators?

Today, it seems very different for many parents. If you haven’t registered your child for the right preschool before birth, does that mean they will not get into Harvard? If your child is a finicky eater at home, do you have to make them their favorite lunch rather than have them eat what the school provides, or will they starve to death? If your child has a problem with a teacher or another child, do you need to call up the principal and intervene, or can you teach them how they might go in and negotiate for themselves? Can your child write their own high school and college application essays or do they need you to do that to insure that they will get in? Can they survive a bad test score or interaction at school without texting you immediately about what happened with the implicit understanding that you will jump in to “rescue” them? If they just have some free time at home, or with the friends they choose, will they survive, or do they need an almost daily schedule of play dates, music lessons, team activities, and tutoring to “enrich” their very short childhood experience? If you don’t manage their life, and cram in everything you think they should get, will they have the skills to survive as an adult?

The reality is that all of us, but particularly children, need to have down time to just think, to try different things to see what they like, to make their own mistakes and to learn from them. Children need to experiment, learn what they like and don’t like, and develop their own skills, interests, friends, and abilities. When they do that they also develop self-confidence and self-esteem. The issue is not that you are helping them get into the college of your choice, but that they need to feel good about themselves and what they do, now and for the rest of their lives.

When they have a problem or a disappointment, which everyone will have, beginning in preschool, listen to their view of what happened. Then help them work out strategies to deal with it, rather than jumping in to intervene and fix it. This is as true for the child who feels like the teacher doesn’t like them as it is for the child who feels that the coach does not play them enough. When they make a mistake, which they will do, the first question should be how did it happen, what was their part in it, what did they learn from it, and what can they do so that if a situation like that happens again, which it will, they won’t do the same thing again.

Children don’t suddenly become independent and self-sufficient at 18 or 21. It is a process that starts in early childhood, by helping them with that as your goal, rather that if they build a good enough resume to get into the right school, everything else will fall into place. To do this you have to start early, listen to them, spend time with them, and value their view of the world, even if you don’t agree with it. Then help them by providing options and choices, and even pointing what you might do, if they ask. And be there when they fall, which will happen.

Everyone can’t and shouldn’t go to the Ivy Leagues, but that doesn’t mean they all have settled or are “less than.” Even some people who go to the Ivy Leagues don’t do well afterward. Preparing for and attending college is a process, not a final destination.

Being a parent is fun! Enjoy it, but don’t totally give up the rest of your life and your self-worth to do it. Being a child is a fun time, let the kids enjoy it. They will be scheduled, managed, and over supervised soon enough. The line between what is age appropriate and safe for your child versus overprotective, and sheltering can be fuzzy, but sometimes erring on the side of listening to your child will suffice.

 


 

George Glass’s book with David Tabatsky, “The Over Parenting Epidemic,” reviews many of these type of well-meaning, but misguided efforts to protect, guide, and manage our children, the types of parents who do them, and strategies about how to break a pattern that you may have gotten into. For more information, visit www.georgesglassmdpa.com.

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