I am not a parent, but I have a front-row seat to the parenting rollercoaster through a combination of friends and clients who have hired me to guide their families through the college search process.
Over a decade of these interactions, as well as a degree in education, have given me a lot of thoughts on parenting, including a recent call with my best buddy that I would like to share.
“It worked!” he says. “Junior (Jimmy) just got a 1,210 on the SAT. What do you think now? That score good enough for UF?”
“Yup, probably, congrats,” I respond.
Now here’s the problem; 1,210 was not Jimmy’s first try. In fact, it was not his second, third, fourth or even fifth try; it was his sixth try and only done after three rounds of tutoring and hours of mandated practice. So Jimmy may be going to UF, but at what cost?
The root of our differences is how we define good parenting. For my friend and most parents, good parenting is defined as “do anything and everything to prevent your kid from failing.”
This happens everywhere; it’s an epidemic. In sports, I know 3-year old golfers’ whose parents employ $250-plus-per-hour coaches. In social settings, I know parents of high school girls who buy them designer clothing, all so they can impress their high school friends.
However, contrary to popular belief, failure in childhood is a good thing. It’s your child’s long-term superpower; it gives them opportunities to learn how to cope when there are no consequences.
Contrary to popular thought, failure will not destroy kids. Instead it will make them more resilient and flexible, which will be advantageous as they transition from the world of youth (where success is mostly linear) to adulthood (where success is nonlinear).
Parents need to understand that adolescence offers young people their only opportunity to make low-consequence mistakes, to fail, to miss out and then (most importantly) learn from it.
So, what advice do I have? Stop taking ownership of your kids’ lives. Stop planning each moment for them and start putting real demands on them.
For example, another friend has a young person who has high spending habits and low social skills. During a conversation, he asked what I thought.
I told my friend to tell his kid to find a job in customer service. I explained that the experience of working with people, being held accountable and learning the value of a dollar will all be invaluable to his child’s long-term development.
It will also give my friend opportunities to mentor his kid on issues that will come up, like not getting a call back after submitting a resume, dealing with a bad boss and balancing work with social life.
My friend was originally shocked by the suggestion but thought about it. Six months later, the job has molded his daughter in ways other activities never could.
By taking this approach of guiding and not owning their kids’ lives, all parents can use adolescence to do its job: mold kids to become resilient, self-assured adolescents who are ready to take on the challenges as they transition to adulthood. These are the first steps toward your child becoming a well-adjusted, happy adult.
The key in implementing this strategy is patience and consistency. Kids need to know that you buy in and value them developing these skills.
While it may be a difficult transition in the short term, I would encourage you to commit. In the long term, you’re doing a great service to your child.
I get it, this is not going to be easy. You’re going to feel uncomfortable and have pushback. There is going to be fighting. It’s going to be tough. But aren’t all things that are worth it?
Brendan Ryan is a freelance writer in Lakewood who enjoys reading, traveling and golf.
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