Sam: Mom, are you home?
1 minute passes
Sam: MOM?? MOM??
Mom: Yes, I’m home.
Sam: Whew. I need you to bring me the paper I left on the printer in Dad’s office.
Mom: You can just take it tomorrow.
Sam: It is due TODAY
Mom: OK, I’ll drop it by the office on my way to the gym.
Sam: No. You have to bring it so I can get it by 3rd period and turn it in. And you can’t take it to the office because that isn’t allowed. Leave it in an envelope by the bushes by the tennis courts and I’ll come grab it.
Mom: Just turn it in late.
Sam: But this is 30% of my grade. It affects my college apps. PLEEEEASE?
How can we not save our kids from seemingly life-derailing mistakes? College admission seems to hinge on every grade. Any mark on a high-schooler’s disciplinary record feels like the anvil above Wil E. Coyote’s head just waiting to drop and ruin everything. As parents, we react to these circumstances with urgency and resolve, with love and our child’s best interest at heart. But what really is in their best interest?
If our goal is to transition our students into responsible adulthood, we may have to stop doing things that enable irresponsibility. If we were to look back at our parents’ generation, we would be hard-pressed to find a parent heading to school mid-day for anything other than to take a student to the emergency room.
I don’t remember my mom or dad ever coming to school except for a play or performance. Today it seems commonplace for parents to pop by the school for all sorts of things, including “saving” their student from having forgotten something at home. A project, lunch, notebook, gym or sports uniform, the list is exhausting. In The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, author Wendy Mogel makes a point of listing things that kids learn when they forget their lunch at school. Not only does that child learn a meaningful lesson about responsibility, their classmates have the opportunity to learn to share and feel compassion for a friend. We unintentionally steal these opportunities when we “save” our students from the natural consequences of their mistakes.
In order for us to stop rescuing our teens from their “I forgot” habits, we first have to decide that we are going to turn responsibility over to them. Sounds simple, but we have to commit to it wholeheartedly.
Second, we need to inform them of this in a kind but firm way. Whether that is a discussion in the car, a family meeting, or in a written contract that both parent and student sign, we need to be sure our intentions are clear. Even if the intentions are clear, there is a strong chance your teen will claim, “You didn’t tell me you weren’t going to ever bring me anything I forgot.” Or “I know you said that you weren’t going to save me from forgetting anymore, but I didn’t think you were serious.”
Third, we have to just not do it. When a simple trip over to school would “fix everything,” it takes all our willpower not to jump in the car and go. It is akin to exercise, the first workout is the most painful. Keep going and the pain becomes less and less each time—for both you and your teen. Eventually you are not phased by the requests for rescue. They come less and less frequently until they disappear almost entirely, and in their place you find a teen who takes responsibility for their own actions. Goal achieved.