The One Question You Never Want to Hear from Students

Parents tell me that their kids are asking them far fewer questions than they used to ask their parents when they were growing up. There’s nothing scientific about this observation, but I tend to believe them.


Because kids today have a portable device. They can Google. They can YouTube.

I loved the questions my kids asked me as they grew up. I’m a teacher at heart, so discussing their questions was a highlight for me, especially during their teen years.

There is one question, however, none of us want to hear our students ask.

The Latest in the Story of the College Admissions Scandal

Recently, actress Felicity Huffman made headlines as she appeared before a judge for sentencing. She was one of dozens of parents who were arrested for paying bribes so that their children could get into a notable university.

Ms. Huffman wrote a note to the judge prior to sentencing.

In it, she said, “Please let me be very clear. I know there is no justification for what I have done… I could have said ‘no’ to cheating on the S.A.T. scores…”

“I kept asking myself, why did I do this?” she added. “Why did I say yes to a scheme of breaking the law and compromising my integrity? What interior forces drove me to do it? How could I abandon my moral compass and common sense?”

Here’s the clincher.

“In my desperation to be a good mother, I talked myself into believing that all I was doing was giving my daughter a fair shot,” Huffman said. “I see the irony in that statement now because what I have done is the opposite of fair… as warped as it sounds now, I honestly began to feel that maybe I would be a bad mother if I didn’t do what Mr. Singer was suggesting.”

The Damage We Cause When We Snowplow

Wow. This illustrates the new “report card” too many parents feel they’re being evaluated by today. We feel we must give our children every advantage, even if it’s unethical or biased. We feel we must negotiate, even manipulate the system because our kids deserve it. This notion coerces us to be the proverbial “snowplow parent,” pushing every hindrance out of the way and paving the way for our children. It represents short-term thinking, not long-term thinking.

Then, Felicity Huffman went on.

“From the moment my children were born, I was worried that they got me as a mother. I so desperately wanted to do right and was so deathly afraid of doing it wrong. My own fears and lack of confidence… often made me feel insecure. When my daughter looked at me and asked with tears streaming down her face, ‘Why didn’t you believe in me? Why didn’t you think I could do it on my own?’ I had no adequate answer for her. I could only say, ‘I am sorry.’”

Did you catch the question her daughter asked?

Why didn’t you believe in me?

It’s the question none of us want a kid to ask us. Yet, it’s the question too many of them ponder. The way we supervise, mandate, remind and prescribe their daily lives, we can come across like we really don’t think they can do things on their own. When they make one mistake, we take over, further confirming they need us to survive. We feel the stakes are too high regarding their test scores, their game time, and even their discretionary time. Far too frequently, we’ve actually added to their stress, as they feel that they can’t measure up and that we don’t really believe they can get through young adulthood on their own.

Let’s make a resolution. Even when we believe we must intervene in our students’ lives, let’s commit ourselves to ensure that they will never, ever wonder if we believe in them.

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The One Question You Never Want to Hear from Students