Friday, February 17, 2012

A Generation of Helpless Kids?

Article: Are We Raising a Generation of Helpless Kids?

by: Mickey Goodman

on: 2/13/12

in: Huffington Post

My short answer: the helicopter parents are the ones raising helpless kids. Not every parent is a helicopter parent. I'm not a helicopter parent.

There is a fine line between helping your child navigate in the world and stepping in to take over in place of your child. Instead of letting things go that happened between a child and teacher or child and coach or child and Scout leader, some parents insert themselves in the middle when they are dissatisfied with what happened and try to manipulate a change of events. Or, some parents do the work for their child so that they will not experience failure.

There is a difference between these situations:

1. A schooled child getting bullied for years and the parent complaining to the school.

News story from 1/22/12: 6th grader with Autism beaten at the bus stop, has been bulled since 1st grade with the school allegedly not taking action after the parents allegedly complained time after time. This time a student bystander video recorded the beating and put it on YouTube for "entertainment" viewing.

2. A fifth grade child on a community sports team who boasts a goal of building good sportsmanship and safe sporting conditions is getting bullied and physically injured, including being hit on the helmeted head with a lacrosse stick intentionally, while standing around, not during game play. The coaches son is the one who did it. There is also verbal taunting and teasing including profanity, which is against the team's rules.

The parent emails the coach to inquire what the bullying policy is, without mentioning names of the bullies and telling what happened and when. The coach investigages and takes action. The bullying stops.

(That one is from our family, last year.)

3. A Cub Scout came to meetings but refuses to work with the group to work on the tasks needed for rank advancement. The Scout puts his head down on the desk and refuses to participate, at multiple meetings. The Scout leader tells the father what is happening and that he is falling further and further behind but he could work on the tasks at home. The father says the boy has been acting out at school also and that the family is "picking their battles" and that Scouts comes second after schoolwork. The Scout does not do the Scout work at home either. Multiple times the leader tells the boy and the parent that the boy won't make rank if the work isn't done and it's said in an encouraging way not in a negative tone or with shaming language.

At the award ceremony the Scout expresses disappointment that he was the only one in the Den who didn't earn his rank and says he wants to quit. The Scout leader says there are three more months left to the rank year that he can easily finish up at home. Later the father tells the leader that the boy is embarrassed at not getting the award at the banquet and has chosen to not do the work. The boy does not earn the rank. At the last event of the year before summer break, the father says the boy is thinking of quitting Scouts altogether. The leader tells the boy and the father encouraging things to try to pursuade him to stay in the program. Over the summer, during the break from school and Scouting, the boy decides to return to Scouting and decides to work harder to earn the next level of rank in that year.

(That leader was me.)

4. A middle school student misses school days to go skiing with her family for a fun vacation. The student was given the work to do before she left but when she comes back she tells the teacher the work was not finished. The test make-up was already scheduled. The mother calls the teacher and begs for special permission to put the test off longer and to not give lower marks on the now-late work. The teacher was not happy with that request. (I can't blame the teacher.)

(Someone I know was that mother. I don't recall how it panned out.)

It seems that teachers get a reputation for which you can manipulate and which refuse to be manipulated. If I were a teacher I would dread dealing with the parents. I already deal with the parents in volunteer organizations I help with and am grateful that my income stream for work is not intermingled with those politics. I can't imagine worrying that my job would be in jeopardy by a Helicopter Mom Gone Wild.

5. Students in the fourth grade classroom were being rude and using profanity to the substitute teacher who happens to be the parent of one of the classmates. The mother had volunteered in the school and the principal felt she worked well with the students so she talked her into doing substitute teaching.

In her role the substitute was now teaching her children's friends including kids she knew who had been visitors at her house for parties and playdates. The sub couldn't believe how rude and disrespectful the kids were being to her and to each other, as if they were two different people when they're at school versus with their parents outside of school.

One day during a spelling test the students were cheating and talking and breaking multiple rules. The sub was firm and made them be quiet and stopped the cheating. The students went home and complained of the "mean rude sub". The parents talked amongst themselves at a Christmas party and momentum was building up. One mother told me, "We think she is mentally unstable and maybe insane based on how she speaks to our children." Finally a small group of mothers confronted the principal and demanded that the sub stop being used at that school due to her "abusive" behavior.

(Happened in my Connecticut town's public school. I don't know how it panned out.)


I think kids, especially middle school and high school aged are more resilient than parents give them credit for.

What I see happening is parents reacting to an upset kid and trying to fix it or change things. The parents want revenge or the situation fixed or rules adapted so that their child doesn't have to deal with the consequences of their action. But the parent's diligence and unyielding perseverance to deal with one situation often goes much longer than the kid's. Soon thereafter the kid is over it and has moved on and wants to forget that thing happened, but the parent won't let go. The parent may choost to put in days or weeks or months asking for a demand to be met by the outside party (teacher, organization, school or whatever). Sometimes the parent's over-involvement has negative ramifications on other kids in that group or sometimes the kid winds up burned in the end.

My son's former rowing club in Connecticut has a rule that athletes can talk to their coaches any time they want but parents are not allowed to speak to a coach unless a special meeting is called and a third party representing the club is present. I wonder why they had to put that rule in place? I'll tell you why: I bet it's due to parents behaving badly.

At the heart of this is the fact that things are never perfect and that sometimes a less than favorable outcome happens, if that does, we have to learn to cope with it and move on. Parents shouldn't and can't go back and rewrite history to try to have every participant, athlete, or student have an optimal perfect experience. No matter how hard a person in charge of a group of kids works, they can never, ever create a perfect optimal experience for every kid.

Aside from the big issue of bullying and children who are victims without the supervising adults taking care of it, the best thing parents can do is teach our kids how to cope and deal with the situation themselves. Kids need to see that their actions have consequences. If they don't like the consequence they can choose to change their future actions.

Kids need to learn, starting when they are young, how to process the emotions that come from disappointment, anger, and frustration. If kids don't learn those coping techniques they are headed for danger and possible mental illness!

You can't haul off and punch your boss if you are told the budget was cut and there won't be a raise this year, despite good job performance. You shouldn't verbally abuse your future wife because she didn't do something to your satisfaction. You don't always get the promotion you want. Not everyone gets into the college they dreamed to attend! Not everyone is on the winning sports team! Not every skilled child athlete gets to be a millionaire professional athlete as an adult.

It's very hard to keep top grades in every class (without cheating). It's hard to focus to study when not under the influence of a stimulant prescription drug, it really does take effort to sustain one's focus and ignore distractors like Facebook, YouTube and text messaging.

"We need to become velvet bricks," Elmore says, "soft on the outside and hard on the inside and allow children to fail while they are young in order to succeed when they are adults."
-from the article "Are We Raising a Generation of Helpless Kids?"

So, to whoever saw me hauling my screaming five year son out of the store tucked under my arm like a football: I was not abusing him, he was screaming and demanding I buy him (yet another) toy he didn't need and that we couldn't afford anyway. I removed him from the situation as his tantrum was disrupting the peace in the store. All those little things add up over time and what you do starting in the toddler and preschool years does count. The older they get, the harder and more serious the situations seem but they must learn to cope with them: not being invited to a friend's party, not making first string on the sport team, not getting as much time on the field as you hoped for, and not getting a high grade on a test when you didn't even study.

1 comment:

Deb said...

That article made me think, too, Christine! So much so that I used it as the subject for my publishers note in my e-newsletter this week:

It's about how I've been doing my best to help my kids collect small, manageable failures along with their successes. Mistakes are much better teachers than parents, I firmly believe.