When I read this article about the problem of over-parenting, and saw this video with a former Stanford University dean, I felt compelled to share from conversations with students and parents over the years.
Every day, I deal with children feeling a great deal of stress. That should seem the opposite of a childhood experience. I should be working with happy-go-lucky teenagers who laugh and leap and make time for creative play or social circles. Instead, I regularly see a steady stream of children who complain about their parents and the schedules that their parents enforce outside of school hours. They also tell how there are days when their parents sit with them to go over every detail of their school work or homework. For many of them, they have experienced this throughout their lives so they hardly understand that this kind of “over-parenting” is detrimental to their development. These will be the kinds of teenagers who turn into young adults with no coping skills and no ability to think or work independently.
For example, I had an eighth grade student spill some paint on a desk a few weeks ago. He quickly let me know, and I pointed him to my cabinet marked “cleaning supplies.” I told him to get some paper towels and spray and take care of it while the rest of the class was busily working, and I was moving around the room. In a few minutes, I approached his desk to see him simply smearing the paint around and around making little progress. I was annoyed at first, and I said something like, “Dude! That’s just making a bigger mess. You know how to clean it up, right?” He then admitted very honestly and innocently that he had never cleaned up a spill. Ever. He had never operated the combination of paper towels and spray to clean anything, and he is thirteen years old! This was appalling to me considering how children should have regular chores (like cleaning windows or cars or dishes) to help them develop life skills and accountability. Furthermore, he had no independent ability to see that what he was doing was not working and needed adjustment. He could not think of way to change his approach, so he simply pushed the paint around and around waiting for an adult to come along and save him.
Lately, I have been thinking of finding some way to communicate with the parents out there. I wrote on a similar topic years ago. If I could, I would make the appeal as clear as possible: Don’t do it for them. Resist that urge. When parents help too much, they create one of the most significant problems that teachers face today. That problem becomes society’s problem at the same time.
Some suggestions if you are a middle-school parent: Do not do their homework with them [maybe check if they completed it, but never check their answers]. Do not clean their room. Do not drop off their schoolwork or their lunch for them at school. Do not leave work early to pick them up simply because they are too “tired” to walk home that day. Do not carry their backpack for them. Do not clean up their messes. Do not put their laundry away. Do not clean their backpack or binder. Do not prioritize for them by planning out how and what they will study. Do not over-schedule them with more than ONE extra activity beyond school. MAKE THEM DO IT.
DO insist upon healthy food choices. DO tell them you love them and show physical affection daily. DO insist upon a bedtime (no homework after 8pm and asleep by 10pm). DO take away their devices at bedtime (no phones, no tablets, and no computers in their room after 9pm). DO provide consistency in their daily schedule with regular mealtimes, family time, fun time, study time, and bed time. DO enforce courtesy and manners with you and everyone else in all locations. DO insist that they shower, brush their teeth, wear deodorant, and wear clean clothes every day. DO tell them that you are proud of them as often as possible but especially when they earn it. DO teach them to pack their own lunch, wash the dishes after dinner, fold and put away their own laundry, and clean the bathroom. DO tell them that you are disappointed in them when they make poor choices but remind them how that never changes how much you love them.
I am curious about a dialogue on the topic or more suggestions that help, so I would love to hear from parents or other teachers on this topic. As a disclaimer: These thoughts come from my opinions and observations only and may not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer or colleagues. Thank you for your time, and feel free to comment below or send me an email offline.