In today’s culture of snowplow parenting where all obstacles are pushed out of the way of kids, I would like to talk about a radically different concept that is so old it is new. In fact, my paradigm demands the opposite. I believe in intentionally putting obstacles smack dab in the middle of the way so our kids learn to deal with them. At the very least, we should be putting students in situations where success is not at all a guaranteed outcome. Many parents would gasp in horror at this seeming cruelty but, in in reality, it is cruel not to take this approach.
To help our kids develop in this tough love sort of way, we need to invite them to take risks, big risks. If they get nervous before a big event, we don’t let them back out. We encourage them to tackle better-quality projects. We create a vision of doing things other kids don’t do. If they have an idea that seems too lofty, we join their excitement and show them how to break it up into smaller segments so they can accomplish it. Basically, we are training our teens to be fully adult, ready to take their place in a very tough world.
Why would you want to go to all this trouble? There are many reasons, but let me give you just four:
- Experience – All of us do better when we are skilled at dealing with what is in front of us. Handling hard things is no different. When faced with something daunting, students will realize they’ve met this type of problem before and surmounted it. Their trained skill set kicks into gear and gets them over the hump.
- Self-confidence – It is a beautiful thing to see a student who is comfortable in their skin and has the confidence to know they can handle whatever comes their way. This comfort level is there because of their past experiences.
- Resiliency – When kids have survived hard things and even failure, they understand that it is not lethal and that they even learned something from it. It trains them to bounce back more easily, to not be as terrified next time they face the monster of fear.
- Self-knowledge – Students need to know what their own abilities are and the level of stress they can handle. We need to know that as parents. I wanted to see what my kids were made of before we even considered rigorous colleges. Kids who can’t handle stress and failure have no business at tough colleges where depression runs rampant and suicide happens.
I admit to being a tough love parent. When my kids were at home, I pushed their limits long before we took the critical step to college. When they were under my roof, I wanted to see how they handled life. I wanted to be there to help them debrief after tough times. I showed them how to handle things differently, to work smarter, to protect themselves. Our family knew that if there was no failure, we weren’t trying hard enough.
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