To Coddle or Not To Coddle?
“Students haven’t developed the skills to soothe themselves, because their parents have solved all their problems and removed obstacles. They don’t seem to have as much grit as previous generations,” Dan Jones, a past president for the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
This post is inspired from an article I read tonight – Coddled Kids Crumble – it discusses how colleges are seeing a lack of resilience amongst students – “The results of over a decade of nonstop hand-holding and helicopter parenting are boomeranging back to parents and educators.
Many college students are showing an alarming lack of even basic internal coping skills. As a result, today’s colleges and universities are becoming equal parts psychologists, in absentia parents, and even academic scapegoats (when students don’t get the grades they thought they would).”
I’ve read a few articles recently that highlight the differences between this generation and the one that came before it. Over the summer I read an author reminisce about being told to stay outside until the sun went down and not wearing shoes from June through September. Today that wouldn’t happen for so many reasons – for one, we would be worried about them stepping on rocks and hurting their feet.
Is the world a scarier place or are we just more scared? I think there’s two sides to this question. On the one hand, if the world is scarier then it makes sense to parent differently. On the other hand, just because certain aspects of life are more dangerous, it doesn’t mean we need to parent more closely in ALL aspects of parenting. We need to let our children go through obstacles on their own, but not when their safety is at risk.
I do think the world is scarier and therefore we are more scared. However, I also feel that a lot of the time the line is blurred and ends up crossed from being involved when something is dangerous to being involved in EVERY aspect of our children’s lives.
I believe that the media and social networks have created a generation of fearful parents. Day after day we receive messages of terrible things that can happen to our children if we let them cry, feed them the wrong food, don’t read to them enough and the list goes on and on. For every article/blog you read about one way to do something, you will find another article saying the opposite. It’s not even that you’ll read and receive conflicting messages, you will also receive warnings that if you don’t follow that way your child will suffer.
On the one hand it seems easier to be a parent when you have so much information and mommy groups at your fingertips. For example, my experience with Baby Led Weaning was successful because I was able to follow real time examples and had a network I was following and asking questions along with me. On the flip side, all this information can make you go crazy – am I ever doing the right thing? In someone else’s eyes you are always failing.
Even if we take everyone else out of the equation – it is hard to be confident in your own decisions as a parent. It is HARD to find a balance of allowing your child to develop into a strong and independent being and at the same time never wanting your child to be sad. At my haircut the other day, I listened to my hair dresser (she’s the best btw! been cutting my hair since I was 5) talking about watching your child be sad and how there is nothing worse. (While I can relate in a small way, I imagine it is much more difficult when your older children experience any sort of hardships as it pulls on different heart strings than a baby/toddler’s cries.) My mom referenced the quote, “you are only as happy as your saddest child.” It is only natural and normal to never want your child to experience heartbreak or failure but these experiences are invaluable learning tools. By removing obstacles and making sure everything is smooth for our children we are only stripping them of their ability to learn from these experiences. At a certain point you will not have the ability to intervene (for example in college or at their job) and if they can’t handle challenges on their own, they are at a disadvantage.
So how do we do it? How do we protect our children but still let them fail? I don’t have the answers, I just have my plan. It goes without saying that the answer to that question will completely change as the ages of my children change. For my baby, I need to let him fall down as he learns to walk; but I make sure he’s not in a dangerous spot to practice. For my toddler, I need to let him be independent and sometimes that means allowing the tantrums and crying. But I need to make sure he’s always in a safe environment – for example, if he tantrums in the grocery store because he wants a candy, I can let him tantrum but I can’t leave him alone in the store.
When he gets to middle school, I know I could check the class website every night to make sure his homework is done. Instead I plan to ensure there is “homework time” and see homework being worked on, but if the wrong assignment is done or incomplete, the natural consequence will be given from the teacher. If I check the list every night and review it, I won’t be giving him the opportunity to experience life’s consequences of making good and/or bad choices.
I plan to continue along that view — a guide but not an dictator. I am aware that it’s easier said than done. I am also aware that I will make mistakes and sometimes be a helicopter parent. But I am also aware that parenting is tough, and far from black and white.
A few weeks ago I read a post where a mom went through how everything is different now from when she grew up. (I can’t find it, so if you know which one I’m talking about please send it to me and I will link it.) One of my favorite things she said was something along the lines of, “In my generation no one’s child was gifted, now everyone’s is.” Not only are we coddling our children, we are also convincing them they are the BEST in everything they do. It’s a big blow if after 18 years when you leave the house, you only then have life experiences that show you that you’re really not the best in everything you do. It’s so important to ENCOURAGE our children and it’s also important to allow them to see their own strengths and weaknesses. What better way to discover your weaknesses than in a supportive and encouraging environment with your parents. If you shelter them from their own reality and convince them they are amazing in everything they do, it’s a harsh adjustment to real life.
With new research it feels like everything our parents did is wrong – sleeping on our stomachs and with blankets is now the opposite of what is recommended. It’s hard to keep up, even between my two children in just two years I found the recommendations have changed, and I am sure they will continue to change.
What will never change is there is huge value in creating a loving, encouraging and supportive environment for your child. You can never go wrong by loving hard.