I’m a terrible parent. Just a few weeks ago I left my kid stuck in a tree in our yard for an hour. She wasn’t very high, her head barely reached past mine, but she was stuck. Both my wife and I figure that some harm will happen to our children so we try not to get too worked up about it. I figured the worst that would happen was she would drop out of the tree and fall 3 feet to the ground.
Sure this could result in a broken arm, but would also be a valuable learning experience in knowing her limitations. She figured out how to get down and is up and down that tree enjoying it daily now. When she got out she was so excited about mastering the experience that she’s spent months talking about it.
This expectation of harm runs counter to much of the narrative in society today. Most people think that a parent’s job is to stop all harm from befalling their children1. It doesn’t matter how unlikely the harm is, you better stop it and you better do something to stop the random events in life from harming your children. Any parenting is judged by a single moment where life’s random happenstance may cause a single bad outcome on a single bad day for a child.
That means you need to be on top of them all the time because an unwatched child is a trajedy2.
This results in two types of well-intentioned, but damaging parenting.
First, we have all heard of and seen helicopter parenting. That’s the parent hovering around their child at the park in some attempt to make sure that they can save their child from anything that may interrupt the perfect play moment. While this is bad, the second is far worse though.
Snowplow parenting is the second damaging type of parenting on display in full force today. This is the parent always out in front of their child pushing anything bad out of the way. They plow all obstacles out of the way preemptively. Maybe they go to the teacher in a class to get exceptions for their child immediately so the child never hears that they didn’t do a perfect job.
Both of these parenting styles fall into what I call “happiness rhetoric”, the belief that we should always be happy and doing cool things. Both of these damaging parenting styles assume that the whole purpose of a child’s play and life is to be happy and have fun3. That nothing should be in their way ever and any struggle will set them back and damage their ego.
Both of these types of parenting assume that the sole purpose of parenting is building social media-worthy events into our kids’ lives.
Unfortunately, this means that when children become adults they have no experience with failure so when it happens they have no experience in overcoming failure.
The Importance of Risk and Failure
The big problem with avoiding all harm in anyone’s life is that much of what we do is done in a wicked learning environment. The rules are undefined, outcomes happen long after actions, and the environment changes so what one person does to achieve a goal may not work for you4. In these environments, failure is going to happen often because of the variables at play.
When we stop all harms we never let our children learn that failure is fine and that they can just keep going. Instead of learning that obstacles and failure are something that can be overcome children learn that they shouldn’t happen. They never learn to make the choice that obstacles don’t need to block them and that they can try again to go over them5.
With no failure or consequences at a “safe” young age with parents backing them up, children suddenly are thrown into the world where failures happen but have built no resiliency to deal with these problems.
The thing about risk is that it helps us learn rapidly6. Given that many careers people do now didn’t exist when I was in high school, learning is an important part of building any type of career. The careers our children are aiming toward won’t likely be options when they do aptitude testing during high school, thus they’ll have to learn on the fly to build expertise in these workplaces.
The Best Thing We Can Do For Kids
The first and the best thing we can do as parents is to realize that our primary job is to raise resilient productive adults. Adults that can thrive in the world they will encounter. That means parents need to stop damaging their children with helicopter and snowplow parenting.
To do this there are 2 major changes parents need to make according to Karen Lynn Cassidy.
Stress Isn’t Bad
First, stress and obstacles aren’t bad. All adults will acknowledge they fail at something. Sometimes I fail at being a good husband and am instead a jerk. I once spent an entire year failing at work such that my family was put in financial jeopardy and I lost clients.
I had to own up to that and that learning built the YouTube and course business I have now. One that can run smoothly alongside the programming business that actually pays the bills.
When we show our kids that stress and failure happen in life we’re helping them build resilience for the times they will fall short. If we waste our parenting time telling them that they’re perfect and they’ll never fail we have done a bad job preparing them for life.
Make Them Do More
The second big change we need to make in our parenting lives is to require more of them at home7. While it was great to drop child labour, that doesn’t mean they should do nothing.
I’m sure many parents have felt their children act like entitled brats that are ungrateful. The problem is when you require nothing of them at any point they learn that everything comes without effort and feel entitled to it simply for existing.
You can see this in how children treat the things they have. My oldest daughter had to save $100 starting at the age of 3 to get an iPad. She had to work for it entirely. Grandma and Grandpa were not allowed to contribute to the fund. That iPad was taken care of well by a 4-year-old. She knew where it was all the time and put it away to make sure it stayed in good condition.
At 11 she was given a phone and she has little care for that. She was also given a pair of headphones I was no longer using and at least once a week she has no idea where they are.
It’s a practical example in my house of how contributing makes her value the things she has more.
As my wife and I have talked about this the kids now do more chores. They have to pay for more of their own stuff by earning money for doing extra chores around the house. It was tough to start this transition, but over time they have contributed more without issue and that means parents have to do less of the work to keep a house running.
I encourage you to be a terrible parent according to society’s expectations. By doing this you’ll be setting your kids up for success as they beco
This whole post/video started by reading The No Worries Guide to Raising Your Anxious Child by Karen Lynn Cassidy PhD
- The No Worries Guide to Raising Your Anxious Child Page 47 ↩
- Free Range Kids Loc 219 ↩
- The No Worries Guide to Raising Your Anxious Child Page 20 ↩
- Range Page 21 ↩
- The Obstacle is The Way Loc 113 ↩
- The No Worries Guide to Raising Your Anxious Child Page 140 ↩
- The No Worries Guide to Raising Your Anxious Child Page 194 ↩