I’m going to change up the pace a bit. Over the last year I have written about topics such as renewable energy and climate change but today I am going to address a topic even closer to my heart: how we are raising our kids in the modern era.
As many of my readers know, I am the father of three children, a son (age 8) and two daughters (ages 6 and 4). As an involved parent, I have been coaching kids in various sports for a long time. Starting with my niece and nephew, in 1990, I have coached over 50 kid’s sports teams so far. My wife, meanwhile, has been a school teacher teaching children in classes ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 7 over the last 15 years. Since my wife is a teacher, I have also spent countless hours with teachers listening to their stories. All this information has caused me to recognize some things I would like to share with my fellow parents. We are doing our kids a huge disservice. We are raising a generation of kids who are incapable of succeeding in the modern era. They are being taught to be egocentric and to give up, often before even trying. In this post, I want to recount a number of lessons I have gleaned over these last years.
Parents, you are not your child’s best friend, you are their parent
If I only get one point across to my fellow parents it is that your first job is that of a parent. Too many parents I meet think that they are supposed to be their kid’s best friend first and parent second. That is a mistake. A best friend is a person who supports you in good times and bad but does not hold you accountable for your actions or discipline you. That is why we have parents.
Parents are there to instill good behaviours and morals and enforce the rules. That sometimes means being the bad guy who deprives them of dessert when they have misbehaved and shows them how to treat others. This also means not giving them what they want all the time. A parent should not need to bribe a child to follow instructions. That may make it easier once, but sets a precedent that is impossible to keep up. Moreover, other’s, like teachers, are not going to be willing to bribe them in the future. I can’t say it enough, you are not your child’s friend, you are their parent. You can love spending time with them, but at all times you are the parent and they are your child.
Parents, learned helplessness is your fault not your kid’s
If there is one true failing that we as parents have instilled in our kids it is learned helplessness. Now a lot of parents may not understand the term but what it means is a state where a child learns that if they say “I can’t do something” their parent will complete the task for them. Some have never even been given the chance to try. We have raised a generation of kids who either give up after one try or don’t even try in the first place.
Failure is part of growing up and kids need to learn to fail, then pick themselves up, brush themselves off and try again. They need to figure out how to follow instructions and they need to figure out what steps to take when they are not given instructions but simply a task to accomplish.
Show your kids how to do something (or give them the instructions), then step back and let them try themselves. Sure they will do it less efficiently than you might, but that is part of growing up. They will get better if given the chance, but if they are never given the chance they will never learn. There is nothing a teacher hates more than a child who won’t even try to complete a task, yet that is what they see every day because too many helicopter parents do all the hard things for their kids leaving the child incapable or unwilling to try and figure out how to accomplish tasks on their own.
Parents, you are your kid’s biggest influence and your bad behaviours will be reflected in your kids
I have coached more sports teams than I would care to admit. In the last 12 months I have coached 6 different kids’ sports teams and one common feature I see is the parent who behaves in a manner that they would never allow in their children. We have one dad, in boys baseball, who when asked to umpire was happily willing to cheat in favour of his child’s team. What sort of example do you set for your kid when he sees his dad make clearly incorrect calls to ensure his kid’s team wins? Does he expect his child will follow the rules the next time when his hero (his dad) is so cavalier with the rules?
Parents, sure you must advocate for your kids but you must also support your child’s teacher
A lot of parents have been taught that it is their job to advocate for their kids. That is absolutely true. No one cares more about the well-being of your kids than you do. But remember, advocating for your kids should not take away from your responsibility to support your child’s teacher. Certainly your child’s teacher is going to treat your child differently than you would. Academic discipline is different than parental discipline as so when your child’s teacher punishes your child stop and think to yourself about why they are doing it. Sure they may not do it the same way you do, but is what they are doing so wrong? Probably not.
Supporting your child’s teacher also means listening to them and acknowledging what they say about your child. Teachers are professionals, after all, and have gone to school for many years in order to be a teacher. When you contradict or question your child’s teacher in front of your child, you are telling your child that the teacher’s authority is not to be respected. Just because everyone has gone to school, doesn’t mean everyone is an expert in teaching. If that were true, everyone would be a teacher. Believe it or not, but your darling child may behave differently out of your presence than they do in it. So when a teacher tells you about something don’t turn to your child and ask “is what your teacher saying true?” You may think you are involving your child in the discussion, but what you have actually done is to inadvertently question your child’s teacher’s reliability to their face. Think of it from the teacher’s perspective, you have essentially said: “I won’t believe what your teacher just told me until you confirm it.”
Parent, teach your kids to look at someone’s face when you say “please, thank-you and sorry”.
Kids, especially young kids, do not always feel comfortable looking into an adult’s face, but looking at someone when you are asking for something is a big part of being a civilized human being. There appears to be a generation of kids who have been taught that it is okay to say thank-you while walking away and to say “sorry” while looking at the ground. If your child can’t quite look someone in the eyes teach them to look at the space between someone’s eyes or the center of their glasses. Eye contact means a lot in our society and if you teach them early to make eye contact you can really avoid a lot of problems later in life.
Parents, your child’s teacher cannot replace your role in your child’s education
A lot of parents have been incorrectly led to believe that teachers can teach their kids all the life lessons they need in school. The role of teacher is different from that of parent. A parent is responsible for instilling good behaviours and respectful behaviour out of your kids. The teacher is there to teach your kids about academic subjects. I know of one parent who wants the teacher to write down in their child’s agenda what was learned and what is needed every day? Consider that my wife’s class has 30 children. If my wife spent 5 minutes writing in each child’s agenda that would translate to 2.5 hours-a-day writing in agendas? Do you honestly think that a teacher can teach their students the curriculum if they spend half their day writing in kid’s agendas? It is the parent’s job to ensure their kids get their work done, not the teacher’s.
A lot of parents also say “I’ll leave that for my kid’s teacher to cover”. Well think of the numbers. Your child’s teacher is with them for about 7 hours a day, 5 days a week for about 30 weeks a year. Believe it or not that is not enough time to teach them how to behave as well as teaching them the curriculum. Your job as a parent is to set the example and teach your kids the important lessons of life. Your kid’s teachers can supplement your lessons, but you are the ones who your kids will imitate, so give them something good to imitate.
Parents, admit it when you are wrong and make sure your kids hear you apologize
Going back to being your kid’s best example, there are times when you are going to be wrong or make a mistake. That is a teachable moment. Make sure your kids hear you admit to being wrong and making amends. You will always be your kid’s biggest hero but even heroes are not perfect and how you respond to your own imperfections is just as important as how you do when you succeed. I, unfortunately, did not learn how to say “I was wrong” until far too late in my life. Happily a friend taught me the importance of saying “I was wrong” and “I don’t know” as a young adult and it has served me well ever since.
I was also taught an incredibly important other rule on the same subject. If you correct someone (say they are wrong) in front of a group of people then it is not sufficient to say “I’m sorry, I was wrong” later in private. If you correct someone in public you have to apologize in public, preferably in front of the same people who heard your first correction.
As well, remember you don’t know everything and it is healthy for kids to understand that their parents have limitations. So when you don’t know something simply say so. My typical response is to say “I don’t know, but why don’t we look it up together then we will both learn something”. I’ve found a variation of the theme works really well at work. Instead of bluffing or faking it I simply say, “I don’t know, but I will find out and get back to you”. My clients appreciate my candor and more importantly they won’t make important decisions based on bad information.
Parents, I have never seen a coach get angry when you take the time to control your child at a sports practice
As I noted previously, I have coached many, many sports teams in the last 25 years. For the last 5 years I have been coaching teams of younger children. These children are necessarily accompanied by their parents as they are too young to be left unaccompanied. What I can never understand is when a parent just sits back and watches as their child misbehaves in practice. The coach is there to teach skills not to be the parent. If your child is misbehaving in a practice, call them aside and get them under control. It will help the coach and be appreciated by all the other parents as well.
Now I realize that for many of you, this blog post only reinforces the things you already do at home. However, based on my experience and those of all the teachers I socialize with, there are a lot of parents out there who need to read these words and take them to heart.