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What are We Teaching Our Children?

I recently spoke with a school administrator who offered one more example of how parents today are choosing to lead their children. I’ve heard this example twice in the last month—and it’s illustrative of far too many parents.

Evidently, a high school student recently brought a note from her doctor to school. The note requested that this teen be moved to a different class because her ex-boyfriend was in her current class. This was emotionally difficult for her.

Now, on the surface, this might make sense to today’s parent. After all, we don’t want an emotional issue to cloud the focus of our beloved child. We want to remove all barriers that would prevent them from making their best grades. Hence, decisions like the one above. Apparently, the parents and their teenage daughter visited the doctor and actually got a note to excuse her from one class, and to position her in another class. Is this now considered normal?

You can already predict what I’m going to say, can’t you?

Why have we, as a generation of adults, chosen to solve our children’s problems for them by removing potential struggles? Since when did it make adolescents stronger to eliminate their hardships and the emotional pain that life brings them?

I can think of three different times in my K-12 education that I had to sit through a semester of classes with a former girlfriend sitting in the row next to me, after a breakup. Was it hard? Absolutely. Was it distracting? You bet it was. But I learned grit. I learned how to manage my emotions because the issue was right in front of me. I grew stronger because my mom and dad never dreamed of removing the situation. In fact, I think I remember my mother talking it over with me one evening and helping me see that I could make it through that rough patch.

Ponder these questions.

Would we ever teach our teenagers to drive a car, but then tell them they can never drive on a road that’s curvy or steep or wet? That would be silly.

Would we ever sign our kid up to play Little League baseball, but insist as they enter middle school that they continue to play T-ball, so they are sure to get a hit?

Would we ever join a family fitness center, and then tell our teens they can’t actually work out with the weights—for fear they’d get hurt. Would we ever tell them, “I will lift the bar bells for you, so you don’t get hurt?”

Most of the time, if our kids are fragile, it’s because we’ve made them fragile. And if we don’t build some emotional strength inside of them, they’ll become fragile adults as well.

Perhaps the student (in the story above) had a legitimate reason to be removed from her class. I’m simply offering a reminder that we must not neglect our duty to host tough conversations with students to help them navigate the tough situations they will face. As leaders, faculty and coaches, I fear we’ve surrendered our leadership role and taken the easy route. In essence, we move them to another classroom so they don’t have to face the music.

Steps We Can Take to Toughen Them Up

Let me suggest some common sense action-steps we can take to strengthen them emotionally and equip them for their future adult life:

1. Empathize with them. Feel their pain and hurt.

Insure they know you feel the hurt they feel, and it’s normal for people.

2. Tell your own story about a similar tough time you faced.

Share about when you went through painful times in your past.

3. Share Ben Franklin’s principle: “There is no gain without pain.”

Tell them that your biggest goal, apart from loving them, is preparing them.

4. Talk over a strategy they can use.

Converse about an action plan they could apply to get through tomorrow.

5. Role-play with them and equip them to respond in difficult situations.

Actually act out situations to prepare them for worst-case scenarios.

6. Practice and discuss the importance of emotional intelligence.

Place them in social contexts, parties or events, to learn to relate to others.

7. Don’t remove the struggles—but teach them to solve their own problems.

Whatever you do, don’t solve the problem by removing it. This harms them.

As our children face adversity, it’s time we ask ourselves: Is my solution going to aid them as adults in dealing with this on their own? Or does it make them more dependent upon me to solve their problems. I dare you.

4 Comments

  1. Karen Hendershott on April 28, 2016 at 10:07 pm

    My concern with this post is that we may be glossing over a more serious issue. Domestic violence and rape happen in high school. A physician writing a note suggests to me that this goes much deeper than “emotional distraction”. I’m all for building resiliency in children but this example may be off the mark.

    • Tim Elmore on April 29, 2016 at 2:15 pm

      You are correct, Karen. There might be more to this story that I don’t know. If the reasons for the removal are what you mentioned, then the response is definitely warranted.

      I hope this article is a simple reminder to have tough conversations with our kids when they face tough situations in life, rather than going straight to the rescue and solving their problems.

  2. LBC WIT on May 1, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Hi Tim,
    Thank you for creating sharing this article. I wholeheartedly agree that both we as parents and as community leaders are not preparing our iY’ers. My background is in law enforcement and I recall a situation several years ago when we were asked by a school principal to speak to a group of middle school boys who were “allegedly” inappropriately “groping” girls during passing period as they were getting to their next class. We pulled the group aside and had a talk with them, and at one point my partner took his handcuffs and “asked if any of them realized how heavy those handcuffs were”, and he slammed them on the table. We continued to speak to them about the possible consequences of their behavior and after the discussion the principal released them back to their classes. We later got called into our captains office because one of the parents of the teens filed a complaint because the “noise of the handcuffs on the table scared her son” and her teen “has a weak heart”. The captain asked me to call her as I was one of the responding officers. As soon as I introduced myself she proceeded to threaten that she had spoken to an attorney about the incident, however before she could say anything further. I congratulated her on obtaining an attorney because as I shared with her, this was still an ongoing investigation and we weren’t certain how many girls parents were going to file sexual assault charges against her son and I felt she most certainly might need legal representation.

  3. Mark J Cundiff on May 2, 2016 at 11:09 am

    Great post Tim! Great reminder to help them develop emotional intelligence as they grow into adults. Transitioning from care taking and protecting in all situations over to allowing our kids to fail, suffer consequences and grow can be challenging for us as parents. Thanks for the good prompts so we can be more intentional in this vital area!

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