Changing the Way We Advocate for Students

Do you know parents or teachers who are so tired of bickering with their teens that they:

  • Make a separate dinner for their children because they are a picky eater?
  • Offer the answers to the test because it’s easier than insisting they study?
  • Allow them to play video games all day, even when it becomes addictive?

While moms and dads have fallen into these traps for decades, these tendencies are on the rise today. We somehow feel it’s a better alternative than expecting those teens to keep a standard. These people feel they’re helping their children. It’s a new way to practice child advocacy.

But is it really advocacy?

Child Advocacy

Children have always needed adults to advocate for them. In 1938, child labor laws were put into place to ensure kids were not forced to work in conditions that jeopardized their health. In 1984, John Walsh’s work prompted the federal government to launch the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, after his son Adam was abducted. Child advocacy centers now exist in numerous states across the U.S., and UNICEF exists to protect kids worldwide. Child advocacy refers to a range of individuals, professionals, and organizations who speak out on behalf of children. An individual or organization engaging in advocacy typically seeks to protect children’s rights which may be abused in a variety of contexts.

I suggest that in some cases what we do in the name of advocacy may actually be unintentional abuse.

How Did This Become the Norm?

Norms have changed over the forty years since I became an adult. When I was a teen, parents and teachers who saw young people encounter a tough challenge would empathize with them, but they rarely removed it— at least in my experience. My parents and teachers were good and fair people, but as I faced difficulties, they encouraged me to be brave:

  • When I contracted juvenile diabetes.
  • When I was in a bad bicycle accident.
  • When I broke up with a girlfriend.
  • When I performed poorly on a test.
  • When I had a car accident.

I never once saw an adult act as if I had faced an inexcusable injustice. I was informed that sometimes life is not fair. And sometimes, it isn’t anyone’s fault. Bad weather. Broken bones. Long waits. Even viruses.

The way we lead students often determines the kind of adults and leaders they’ll become one day. Our paradigms become their paradigms. When we panic, they learn to panic. When we are brave, they learn courage. My question is if we see a growing number of students demanding the world change to make life easier for them, did they learn this mindset from us? Consider this: We will foster one of two paradigms in students when they face a challenge:

  • Change your situation. (Try to make your reality easier.)
  • Change your concentration. (Try to make the most of your reality.)

Millions of parents have shifted their approach to raising their kids today. In our commitment to being our children’s advocates, we do more than advocate. We try to control. When we see them encounter a tough situation, we often intrude, trying to make that situation easier. We want to relieve the tension and lower their stress. Our goal is to modify the externals instead of developing our children’s internal locus of control. Over time, they continue to need us to take care of their situations because we’ve failed to equip them to handle tough times. Instead of teaching them to own their problems, we taught them to demand externals change.

But this is seldom the best answer. It may be a new form of unintentional child abuse.

Changing the Way We Advocate for Them

I suggest we return to a focus on preparing our kids instead of merely protecting our kids. What if the next time they face a problem, our advocacy looked like this:

“I am so sorry you’re in a tough spot. I am here to support you as you solve this problem.  The good news is, I know you can do it. I’ve watched you and know you have what it takes to thrive. I believe in you and your abilities.”

What we choose to do will cultivate a predisposition in our kids. When in difficult circumstances, they’ll default to our mindset. Will they learn: “I can do this. The adults in my life believe I am capable.” Or will they learn: “Don’t adapt internally, try to adapt your environment to your liking.”

Over the last decade, college students have begun an outcry against guest speakers on campuses who disagree with their point of view. I was on two such campuses, and I felt embarrassed for these students. They came across like immature children who didn’t get their way. I had to ask myself: Did the leaders in these students’ lives give them the idea that this is the best solution?

In my opinion, it is unnecessary drama.

Changing the Way We Advocate for Students