I remember this time of year fondly. Parents everywhere are leaping for joy, singing, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Well, stay-at-home parents, maybe. As a working mom, summer vacation was way easier.
When school begins, you have to dress your kids in a socially acceptable manner, pack healthy lunches and help with math homework that’s an exercise in irrelevance. (Shouldn’t the real question be why does Johnny have 17 apples and Suzy only 13? Come my child, let’s discuss the merits of equal pay for equal work, as well as corporate agriculture’s decimation of family farming and the perils of genetically modified food saturated with pesticide. These are important. All that adding and subtracting? That’s what calculators are for.)
For a working parent, summer is a vacation, too. The daycare provider offers nutritious lunches and snacks, and if your child wants to wear a pink tutu, cowboy boots and a soccer jersey that day, not a problem. As soon as mid-August rolls around, you have to start paying attention again.
Side note: What genius started this “Back to School in August” thing? Summer isn’t over until the day after Labor Day, which is when school starts. Two weeks have been snipped off summer vacation. You can run through a lot of sprinklers and suck on a lot of cherry Popsicles in two weeks. Remember when childhood was fun? Sheesh.
Besides worrying about clothes, lunchboxes, homework, and the morning time-juggle to get everyone to school and work on time, once school starts, so does worrying about grades. “Worry.” Poor choice of words. “Obsession” is more like it. And I don’t mean kids. I mean parents.
Of course good grades are important. Of course parents should care about their children’s progress and support them. But if your focus is solely on the grade and not how your child got it, you’re teaching him/her that getting the A is the only thing that matters, and anything less is failure. Ultimately, they’ll avoid challenging themselves because they’re terrified of failing. This is counter-productive to learning.
When I was in ski class, our teacher (yes, we could take ski class for PE in high school, and yes, we did have it better in the ’70s, as if Led Zeppelin didn’t categorically demonstrate that) told us that you have to fall to become a good skier. Those who avoid falling aren’t pushing their limits and sharpening their skills. Those who won’t risk falling never get past snowplowing down bunny slopes. They’ll never really be skiers.
To advance from snow bunny to skier, you need to wipe out, many times, and on a spectacular level. Skis popping off, poles going flying, sliding down the hill on your back and coming to rest akimbo on the slope with snow up your jacket and in your goggles, if they’re still even on your face. You stare skyward, gather yourself up, shake out the snow, strap on the skis and try again. As you face that hill again, you’ll remember where you lost control last time and make adjustments. And you may wipe out again, too. But eventually, as long as you don’t give up, you’ll master those moguls.
I challenge you to find a better metaphor for life than learning to ski.
It’s the same in school. Got a bad grade on the spelling test? Why? Did you play video games instead of study? Does that “i before e” thing always trip you up? Was it was easier to memorize words by spelling them out loud than by writing them? These are the things parents should focus on: Not the grade, but how that grade happened. And then help your child pick a different course next time. It’s not a failure, it’s just a fall. Get back up, dust yourself off and try again. It’s not a statement on you as a human being, it’s merely a reflection of a strategy that didn’t work. Find a different one.
Kids need to fail. It’s that simple. They need to skin knees, and get an F, and not get picked for the school play. Feeling failure, getting past it, and discovering it’s not the end of the world makes a child resilient. However, parents today are obsessed with raising their children without the experience of disappointment and failure. This makes a child fragile.
Worse yet, many parents raise their child to believe that s/he is the most unique, amazing, perfect being ever to inhale oxygen on this planet, and do everything in their power to ensure that s/he is treated that way at school. All 12 years. And then these kids hit college and blow apart when they discover that the real world doesn’t give a rat’s rear end about their wonderfulness.
A 2004 Psychology Today article, “A Nation of Wimps,” tumbled down my Facebook wall recently and I wanted to stand up in my chair and shout its brilliance to the universe. (I settled on writing this column.) If you have children, no matter what age, you must read it. For your children’s sake.
It talks about the parental “hothouse.” Are you raising a child that survives in nature or only under perfect, artificial conditions? Is there an “eternal umbilicus” preventing your child from becoming an adult because you always solve every problem and smooth every rough patch for him/her? Does your child choose her/his own playtime activities or do you schedule every free minute?
You really want your kid to succeed? Let him/her fail once in awhile, and learn that failure and mistakes are merely learning opportunities, nothing more. We must fall before we can walk.
Read the article. Do some soul-searching: Is your self-esteem pinned on your child’s success? As one youngster was quoted in the article (notably, to his psychotherapist), “I wish my parents had some hobby other than me.”
Want a hobby? Try skiing. You might learn a thing or two, all akimbo on the snow.
— Email Debra DeAngelo at firstname.lastname@example.org; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com