Writer’s Block: Independence Now!

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By Corinne Wnek

How did our grandparents and parents know? How did most of us know? I’m talking about that time when we first realized that we were independent.  Most middle aged adults I know were expected to walk themselves through a maze of daily responsibility and decision making until one day they reached the goal that is commonly referred to as adulthood. But for way too many kids today, it’s going to take a whole lot longer to get to that finish line.

As an educator, I know that becoming independent is an individual process.  In looking back, some of us adults might have practically raised ourselves, while others of us are still working on it. The same is true for kids today. There just isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution out there when it comes to human growth and development. But why does it seem more difficult today for some kids to ‘grow up’, that is, to be self-reliant?

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Maybe it’s because some parents don’t let it happen. For example, one common parental behavior, that I put into a category I call ‘Never Ceases To Amaze Me’, is the willingness to engage in a battle each morning to get the kid out of bed and out the door to school. After all, how many late notices from the assistant principal can one family stand? By the time sixth grade rolls around, this routine should be as smooth as butter on a hot knife. And by high school? Solid. If kids can’t manage this first task of the day on their own, why should the rest of their day be any different?  See where I’m going with this?

Understandably, parents become frustrated with negative behavior and even look to avoid ugly confrontations with their kids. So, the next step might be to hire a ‘life coach’. Now if you’re wondering what exactly a ‘life coach’ is or does, the answer is pretty obvious.

A ‘life coach’ is hired help, like a tutor, whose primary responsibility is to teach someone’s ‘child’ the basic skills of life; that is, how to get up in the morning, how to plan what will be worn to school the next day, how to get homework done and notebooks organized, how to handle disagreements and reach compromise and how to limit the time spent playing video games, texting, etc.

Now if this sounds like good parenting to you, congratulations! You’re right, and your child probably doesn’t need a ‘life coach’ because they know from you what is expected of them. That’s the secret! Expectations of your child, not negotiations with your child. To all the ‘modern, millennial parents’ out there, save the negotiations for planning a summer vacation or deciding which restaurant to go to. Kids become independent when they succeed at carrying out age appropriate expectations.

And if you’re tempted to rescue your child from disappointments in life, think again. This kind of negative shielding smothers independence and resiliency.   If kids don’t learn how to recover from a setback by the time they are seven, it’s going to be a tough road ahead when they hit big, bad high school.

The late comedian George Carlin described it best in one of his funniest monologues about overly doting parents who try to console their son after he ran a disastrous race: “Now, Tommy, you didn’t lose, you’re the tenth winner.”


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