Who’s in Charge?

“Should kids have that much power, in what exactly?”

The question back to me was about a tweet I made a month ago: a flippant off-hand, though honest tweet that I was tired of kids having so much power. In our quest to boost the self-esteem of our children we have turned over a certain degree of authority to small, immature beings who often still need to be told to not put their hands on the stove top while it’s on.

The initial comment from me was born out of sympathy for today’s teachers, and a certain degree of frustration regarding how often I feel like I don’t know what the heck I’m doing: that the path of parenting is so poorly marked.

Recently I picked up a book called The Death and Life of the Great American School System written by Diane Ravitch. She’s a highly regarded academic who is a historian of the American education system, and was part of Dub-yuh’s education department responsible for bringing forth No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Ironically her book is a critique of NCLB and the current (2009) zeitgeist surrounding education and education reform: that the success of education is measurable the same way you can measure productivity in the workplace.

In the last chapter I read (not the last chapter of the book), Diane recounts her favorite teacher from high school, and how this woman did nothing about protecting students’ self-esteem; she was tough, maintained high expectations for her students, yet had the longest lines at the beginning of the school year when it was time to sign up for classes.

The point? There is absolutely nothing wrong with being tough with kids. There is nothing wrong with having high expectations of them. There is nothing wrong with telling them they are wrong, or that they lost, or that they are not the best at something. There is nothing wrong with teaching kids how to deal with life.

Very few people are blessed with high intelligence, exceptional athletic abilities, great looks, and exceptional charisma. In fact I don’t know anyone like that.

Life is about dealing with disappointment, and if there is one thing we are denuding our generation of of children of is the ability to deal with disappointment. There was a recent New York Times article about this. What are the unintended consequences of always propping our kids up, and making them always feel like little champions? Many anecdotes tell of the nightmares that managers in the workplace are having dealing with the new waves of college graduates who expect to have things spoon fed to them because, guess what, that’s what we’re doing to our kids. Yes, even in today’s job marketplace.

Little Suzie’s diorama? Did SHE make it? Johnny’s Pinewood Derby car? Is THAT why it won first place?

So when we’re hand holding, and finishing school projects, and yelling at referees, all the while never letting our kids venture past our front lawns because of the fear of child abductions (read Barry Glassner’s book The Culture of Fear for some eye-opening explanations of what we should REALLY be afraid of) you have to ask yourself, who’s really in charge?

Maybe the bigger issue isn’t “who’s in charge,” but who are we, the parents, doing all this work for, the kids, or us?

I really view that as a rhetorical question, and an ironic one, because I suspect we parents do all of those things to make up for doing everything to preserve the self-esteem of our children, which means avoiding the truly difficult job of parenting: lovingly, compassionately, being very tough on them, and reminding them that we are the parents.


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