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Time to Teach Children about the Real World

It has been argued in much research and media recently that our desire for our children to succeed has made us parents a tad Machiavellian in our approach to their lives.  For example, have you found yourself fighting their battles, trying to influence their lives, doing what you can to ease their way through their lives?? 

I bet the answer is YES. To be honest, of course we have, of course we do. What parents would we be if we didn’t??  Isn’t it our job to make sure our talented and gifted offspring achieve everything they were meant to? If we can grease the path, make life easier, hell, why not??

BUT, are we doing the right thing?

Its no news to anyone that the current obsession with celebrity is breeding a copycat culture where our children want to emulate the lives of the celebrities they see regularly.  A US based teen site has this subject up for discussion and it makes interesting reading.  They know they are adopting a ‘sheep’ mentality but they want to be like them.  They want hair like Paris Hilton, dress like Robert Pattinson, a house like Miley Cyrus. This is where they are getting their inspiration from. And the worst thing is, they know!  The thing is however, is that some of our children don’t seem to want to do anything to achieve these dreams.  And we are doing nothing to discourage them.  Obviously, this doesn’t apply to all children; those achieving perfect A’s in the Leaving Certificate are increasing in numbers year on year.  This is encouraging.  But, for those who sit back and will things to happen with no discernable effort made on their part, what on earth is the message they are getting that is making them think these dreams are achievable? Well, I think we may, unwittingly or not, have something to do with the perpetuation of these expectations.

As much as we want help them, I’m not so sure we are helping them by feeding them praise and affirmations constantly, even when they are underachieving.  We protect them from bad experiences; we cosset them in a world of positive feedback and protection.  We concentrate so much on how they feel, we turn a blind eye to their failings for fear of damaging their self esteem and confidence.  In the long run, I am not so sure we are doing the right thing in not exposing our children to the bad things in life.  We are undermining their resilience, we are not allowing them to deal with real life and the ups and many downs that come with it.  Is this enabling them to fail, or enabling them to disable them, or disabling them to make them fail. It’s hard to know what’s right and what’s not. 

Not so long ago, I got a call from a concerned mother whose daughter hadn’t done well in her leaving cert.  She asked me if I would see her and try to build up her confidence as she had taken the results badly and her self esteem was suffering. The daughter had always dreamed of being a Doctor but her results were not good enough.  Her mother thought if she did a psychometric assessment, surely it would show that she could actually be a Doctor.  I duly arranged to meet with the daughter for a career guidance session.  The daughter arrived with her mother in tow. I made the usual ‘thanks, see you in two hours’ noises, but, no! Mummy wasn’t going anywhere. She insisted on being present throughout the whole meeting and all the assertiveness skills in the world weren’t going to make her leave.  She interrupted constantly, she questioned my advice, offered her version of it and told her daughter over and over again that she could be a Doctor if only she listened to the nice lady (me) and completely ignored the results of the psychometric assessment which had thrown up other (good) careers that her skills, abilities and interests would suit.  Frankly, it was a waste of both mother and daughters time and money

It was the most draining two hours of my life. Sadly, this is not an isolated case.  But is this encouragement? Or is it over protection? Are we completely protecting our children from having any independence and autonomy by not telling them the truth about what they can and can’t achieve.  How can our children grow and develop as individuals when we don’t tell them the harsh realities – that they may have to lower their expectations to suit what their capabilities are. 

Children need to learn that if they are motivated and work hard, they can improve.  Not everyone is born with the same capabilities.  Intelligence is multiple.  We need to be asking in what ways children are intelligent, not necessarily whether they are intelligent.  We need to focus on what they can do, not what they can’t.  A friend of mine who has a special needs child made this decision when she was given the devastating diagnosis soon after his birth.  After the initial shock and disappointment, she decided to focus on his abilities and not his disabilities. She’s right.  And he’s a better child for it. 

Children in today’s culture seem to have a sense of entitlement. Where has this come from?  It is because we can’t say no to them? Is this a backlash against our own upbringing when things were definitely tougher and we were actually told ‘no’ (a lot!).  We certainly stood on our own two feet a lot more.  It would be easy to lament times gone by when we disappeared for hours with no mobile phone, when we lost at sports day and weren’t that bothered, but there is no point.  Those days are gone (sadly).  It could be argued that this is more about us and our own personal histories than them. We don’t want to hurt their feelings because we know how it feels. We don’t want them to be different because we were. We want them to fit in so we bend to the social pressures of popular culture. That is, the best of everything, constant praise, applauding mediocrity.  How are we going to develop confident, rounded human beings when they think the world owes them a living.  How are they going to face the real world when all they have ever known is the cosseted world of their childhood where everything is perfect and no-one ever says no. Well I think it is time to start telling our offspring the truth.  They need to know that life is hard.  We need to equip our children to cope with the reality that faces them out in the real world.  The biggest influence on children is their parents.  Yes we need to love them unconditionally but we need to prepare them for the real world and warn and prepare them for the challenges that are a part of life and encourage them to face them head on.  We have to stand back and let them make their own mistakes and, most importantly, accept the consequences of bad or lazy behaviour, learn the skills, deal with it intelligently and move on.

©Mandy Spencer Hunt 2010

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