To raise children ready for the challenges of the 21st century, we must let go of what was right for us and trust that what is right for our children is quite different. Our job is to trust, thus encourage, our children’s capabilities, competence, and resiliency so they grow strong and flexible in a world we know little about. They have to find their own way, manage their own struggles, hurdle their own obstacles and reach their own goals. We have to let go of the strings.
When we watch over vigilantly, tell them what to do and say and feel, fix their problems so they won’t be disappointed, anxious, or defeated, we are raising our children to live in bunkers. What they require to flourish in their new world is the self-confidence, resilience, courage, patience, and creativity to take risks and be original. The new world demands it.
We have been raising children do what they’re told to gain approval from adults. But that will no longer lead to excellence in their world. In fact they should argue with their parents, question their teachers, and be given opportunities to create what they want. This is not convenient or neat and tidy for adults. This means allowing messiness, chaos, reinventing the way families work — but always being there to connect and support their developing ability to fly.
What is needed to raise children who will excel in the 21st century?
- More unsupervised play with other children. Lack of adult supervision means kids make the rules, fight their fights, and come up with agreed upon standards.
- More play, less work in school.
- Learning to make amends for transgressions within a circle of those involved so the transgressors hear how their behavior impacts others. No more typical punishments and arbitrary consequences.
- School projects requiring ingenuity, teamwork, and inventive ways of solving a problem.
- Giving children choices, asking for their opinions, including them in decisions about their lives, allowing them to experience the natural consequences of their behavior – to actually fail.
- Engaging them in problem solving to work out solutions that work for everyone rather controlling them with rewards and punishments.
- Giving them opportunities to invent toys, musical instruments, ways of accomplishing tasks.
- Allowing their desires and dreams. The reality of not buying what they want does not have to deter their desires.
Instead our children live under microscopes in the pressure-cooker of societal expectations and are forced into appropriate behaviors by coercive and controlling tactics because we know what’s best for them.
Once kids reach the tween years, they desperately want to feel independent and yet still know how dependent they are on Mom and Dad. We need to find ways to give them the feel of independence within the safety of our parameters. We need to start letting our children call some of the shots even though it may make our lives less convenient and predictable.
Kids need to have some wins and to feel in control of their own lives. They need to be included in decisions that affect their lives. For example, “I get it that certain clothes feel awful on your skin so I want you to be able to pick out what clothes feel good to you.” Or “Dad and I will make the final decision about whether or not you switch schools, but your opinion and point of view is important to us, and we will take it strongly into consideration.”
Helicopter, snowplow, carpenter and tiger parents raise children who depend on others to make their decisions and solve their problems — “learned helplessness” as Robert Brooks has called it — and in some cases, children who believe they should have no problems. With all best intentions, these parents believe they know what will make their children happy and successful. They don’t. That is not a parent’s job.
We need to be involved and interested in their lives. But not dictate and control what they do because we fear for their futures. When we control, we push them down the path we most fear. We cannot presume to know what is in their best interest. Ask any parent of a successful and fulfilled adult how much control they used to push their children in the direction they wanted.
Children need to have the opportunity to develop, learn, create, and imagine at their own pace — a pace we need to trust. They must learn how to handle themselves among obstacles, negotiate with siblings and peers, get hurt, fall down or fail at a task, and discover how to get back up on their own two feet to move forward. That is resilience. That is what promotes self-esteem and self-confidence. And that is what is needed in this new age that none of us adults can presume to understand.