Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Helicopter parents, for the sake of your kids, your license is revoked

April 9, 2013

I originally wrote a version of this article for TakePart.com where I contributed a weekly education post from Sept. 2012-Feb. 2013. Check out the rest of my articles there.

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The late (truly) great Shel Silverstein made a truly brilliant point in his poem, Helping.

Some kind of help is the kind of help that helping’s all about

And some kind of help is the kind of help we all can do without!

He wasn’t talking about parents, but he could have been. Helping children is encoded in every parent’s DNA, so how could it be a bad thing?

As Shel pointed out, some help is not at all helpful, especially when the goal is to help kids become independent, fully functioning, young adults. (That is the goal, right?)

Imagine you’re the head teacher in your child’s Life Preparedness Training Course. Not far from the truth. So your long-term educational objective is to teach essential life skills, whatever you consider those to be. You’ve got 18 years to complete the curriculum before your child “graduates.” In terms of life-readiness, with which skills and character traits do you want your child to be equipped? Most parent include: independence, self-reliance, life-long learner, resilience, empathy, self-confidence, etc.

The long-term objectives may be clear, but the method…not always. In fact, sometimes our parental approach directly undermines our objectives. For example, suppose you prioritize “self-reliance,” but your 13 year old can’t for the life of him/her a) get ready for school in a timely fashion, and/or b) manage school challenges and after school obligations. Suppose also, that you have gotten into the habit of doing for your child what you say you want your child to learn to do for himself. Are you teaching your child self-reliance? Or something else?

Now before you head over to the comments section to remind me that not all children are capable of managing their time and responsibilities, let me agree with you. Not all children are 100 percent capable of balancing it all…yet. And some may never get close to managing their lives on their own. But all kids can learn to become more independent. When we require next to nothing of our kids until the time when they can do everything on their own, we are teaching them to be helpless.

Even a toddler can and should help put away her own books and toys. That’s not a “punishment” nor is it “mean.” Giving them responsibilities is a gift to them, part of our parenting legacy so that they can learn to do for themselves. Self-reliance is the objective. But when parents over-function (do much more than they ought to in relation to the child’s age and ability), then kids tend to under-function (do much less than they are capable of).

And what happens when those kids are at school and teachers expect them to take an active role in their own education? Sadly, it can create problems in individual classrooms and in the overall school climate. Teachers and administrators report that highly capable students (from highly educated parents) frequently lack motivation or initiative. Conversations with educators also indicate that kids whose parents tend to hover have more difficulty working and learning independently. (“They seem to need an awful lot of reassurance that they’re doing it ‘right.’ And even when you give it to them, they seem to be operating with a level of stress that makes it difficult for them to learn and apply what they’ve learned.”)

If you’d like to help your child on the journey toward independence (in school and in life), these tips offer a starting place:

1. Examine your assumptions about your parenting role in terms of helping vs. encouraging independence. If, for example, you believe that “A good parent always does everything for a child,” then you may be over-functioning to the detriment of your child’s development. Take some time to think about ways you can still be a good (even a great) parent without always doing everything for your child.

2. Talk to your child about your pride in his/her increasing maturity. Ask, “In what areas do you feel ready for more independence?” Listen with respect to what your child has to say. Tie together the concepts of added responsibility, added independence, and earned privileges.

3. Incorporate accountability into any discussion on independence and self-reliance. Hold your child accountable for keeping his agreements to family members, teachers, etc. Hold yourself accountable for keeping your agreements. (If that means you agree to not to interfere with homework, then take some deep breaths and stick to it.)

Our parenting journey is basically about teaching our kids to take care of themselves and providing them with age-appropriate opportunities to learn how to rely on their own judgment. If we parent well, eventually they won’t need us. But they’ll always need and use what’ve we taught them.

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What do you mean I can’t connect w/my kid 24/7?!

November 22, 2010

In a rare but not unprecedented move, we sent our intrepid Time Traveler back to the late 1980s to report on the historic role of  parents in their children’s education. What she uncovered may be hard for us 21st Century parents to believe, but we’ve verified her account by cross-referencing it with archival documents as well as first hand reports from today’s Elders and young adults who swear this is the way it was. Her report is excerpted here:

On weekdays during the 1980s, parents kissed their kids goodbye at the front door and sent them out into the world. The children either marched themselves to a bus stop, walked to school or rode a bike (yes they had helmets, though nowhere as cool as the ones we’ve got)  From the moment they turned the corner, parents could not directly communicate with their kids.

WARNING: If you find yourself feeling anxious reading the above, we recommend  putting your head between your knees and breathing in slowly through your nose and exhaling slowing through you mouth. If that doesn’t alleviate your symptoms, shut down your computer and take a warm bath, with or without bubbles.

All during morning classes, lunchtime, recess, afternoon classes and onsite after school programs, kids were incommunicado. You’re probably wondering, “What if the kid left a lunch, a book or assignment at home? How could Mom or Dad rush to school to help if they didn’t know there was a problem?” The teachers and school administrators of the ’80s had a simple answer for that one: If the kid doesn’t bring something (s)he needs to schoool, then the kid figures it out and deals with the consequences. Period.

Cruel and unusual punishment, granted, but that’s the way it was.

In case you’re shaking your head thinking, “That sounds like a lockdown!” 20th Century schools weren’t entirely lacking compassion. For example, if a kid complained of a headache, (s)he asked the teacher’s permission to go to the office where she’d plead her case to the school nurse and likely be given an opportunity to rest quietly. If the nurse felt the situation warranted it, the school placed a call home or to the parents’ office and the problem was solved. Are they for real?! Think of the precious moments lost using that antiquated system!

Today, thankfully, we can call and/or text our kids at any time, including 9-3 and we do…often! Yet, apparently, some schools are cracking down on in-class cellphone use. They say the constant ringing and buzzing is a distraction to teachers and any students interested in receiving an education.  (What kind of lame excuse is that?) In addition, schools limiting students’ cellphone access also justify it by saying the policy reduces in-class cheating and cyber-bullying. Hmm. Well, maybe we can see some logic there, but who cares?! Schools have no right to prioritize education over a parent’s access to their children. This is the 21st Century, Ms. Principal, and these are Anxious Times.

Your thoughts?

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