Thursday, February 4, 2016
Too Good Intentions
In preparation for this first post, I first read a pair of articles written by Hanna Rosin: “The Overprotected Kid” and “The Silicon Valley Suicides.” Rosin examined how current forms of parenting may be doing more harm to children’s potential than good. It comes as no surprise that a neglectful parent will have a negative impact on how the child learns and grows. Without guidance and essential needs fulfilled, the child will be at a severe disadvantage. What we may not have considered is the opposite end of the spectrum. What happens when the parent becomes too protective? What happens when a parent’s good intentions of raising a child yield negative results?
Rosin studied a park in North Wales know as “the Land.” The Land has the appearance (and name) akin to something you might see in a Mad Max film. It is complete with an abundance of junk, tattered furniture, and basic tools scattered about the place all covered in mud or residing in puddles. Children build their forts from some wooden pallets and some tarps. They are even allowed to burn things at will. This is not something I could refer to as “familiar”.
While it sounds like the nightmare of the typical family, the Land is, on the contrary, a place of learning. It is a different kind of learning from math or history; the children are learning lessons of a much more practical and diverse nature. They are learning the consequences of their actions as well as self-responsibility and independence. They are building confidence and creativity. They are undertaking manageable risks and discovering the results. They conquer fears and learn new skills. The only adult supervision is by professionally trained “playworkers” who only intervene in serious safety matters.
Few parents would ever allow this type of risky freedom today. Whether the danger is real or perceived, big or small, allowing children to take part in an activity that may cause physical harm is a tough thing to do. However, it is one thing to prevent serious injury, but to avoid all injury is taking it to far. Having the ability to manage risks and make choices for ourselves is something that we all eventually have to do in our daily life, and it is something that takes time to learn. Getting a head start on these skills could increase the child’s potential more than sheltering them away until they are forced to learn these lessons anyway.
This kind of learning is not something that can be taught in a classroom nor from complete safety. It is a lesson in independence, self-responsibility, and understanding consequences that cannot be learned adequately without taking a few small real-world risks. Regardless of whether or not a place like the Land is right way to learn these lessons, they are certainly worth learning.
Safety is one thing, but pushing children too hard is another matter entirely. Consider “The Silicon Valley Suicides” by Rosin. In this article, danger takes a different form. At Henry M. Gunn High School in Palo Alto, home to some of the hardest-working students in the country, there is a very real concern for the danger of overworking a child; seemingly ordinary students tragically taking their own lives likely due to a combination of educational and parental pressures. In an effort to provide the best future opportunities for their kids, parents may sometimes push too hard. In some cases, they push way too hard.
Like the overprotective parent, any negative side effects of extreme child-pressuring are purely accidental. Finding a balance between pushing too hard and not hard enough is critical, but it is not always easy. Nevertheless, when an environment is created where a child is afraid to speak honestly and openly to their own parents, something has to be done. It is up to the parents to recognize when they have created such an environment. These situations do not happen overnight.
In addition, everyone has their limits. There is a point of diminishing returns where pushing forward starts to yield negative results and perhaps negative side effects. Constant stress takes a toll on people over time. There is a point where doing less may boost learning rather than detract, and an increase in happiness would be a powerful added benefit.
Finally, if there is one overarching issue in how children can be raised with good intentions but negative consequences, it is an aversion to mistakes. Most of us have this aversion to making mistakes, including myself, to a varying degree, and it is possible this trait starts from childhood. The overprotective parent does not want their child making a mistake of getting hurt. The parent over-pressuring their child does not want mistakes that will jeopardize the future.
In Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED Talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?,” one of the themes is that children are sent down a path in life by their parents and by the education system away from their talents and their passions. Rather than nurturing the child’s abilities, adults tend to waste them; they do not want their child choosing the “wrong” direction in life.
Furthermore, parents and educators instill this right vs. wrong mentality in their children for six or seven hours a day in the classroom. “If you’re not prepared to be wrong,” says Robinson, “you’ll never come up with anything original . . . And by the time [children] get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong . . . And we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make.” Overprotective parents, as well as schools, have a major part to play in this. They watch over the child like a hawk, half-expecting something to go wrong. Children do not get the privilege of being wrong. They do not get the opportunity to take the risk that may lead to them to be wrong.
Good parenting and over-parenting can be two very separate things. Overprotection and pushing too hard in education may be with good intentions but do not necessarily lead to higher potential. It has to do with finding a balance.
Something that is often overlooked is the benefits of making mistakes. It never feels that way at the time, leading to physical injuries or a bruised ego, but as we all know, they are part of life. Preventing the serious mistakes are a must, but their seriousness can also be subjective. More important is to turn mistakes into learning experiences so these children can find their own right path into the future.
Rosin, Hanna. “The Overprotected Kid.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic, April 2014. Web. 3 Feb. 2016.
Rosin, Hanna. “The Silicon Valley Suicides.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic, Dec. 2015. Web. 3 Feb. 2016.
Robinson, Ken. (2006, February). “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity?language=en