Dear Linfield Parents,
As many of you know, my father passed away unexpectedly in early October. As my sisters and I worked together to write his eulogy, a theme quickly emerged. Though he was raised in a time when women had limited options, my dad raised three girls to truly believe they could do anything. If we were facing difficult things in life, he didn’t solve our problems or try to fix them, though he often said he wished he could. Instead he empowered us, and he taught us where our strength comes from. We knew we could always call on him, but he never failed to point us back to the Lord.
My dad possessed an arsenal of wise sayings, and he repeated a few of them so often I’ve committed them to memory. This is one of my favorites: You can tell anyone anything, as long as you do it with respect.
I took him at his word, so at the age of twelve, I audaciously confronted a deacon from our church. This deacon also happened to be my volleyball coach, and on more than one occasion, I heard him tell others that he considered coaching to be part of his ministry. So after seeing more than one colorful tantrum on the sidelines, I decided it would be helpful to pull him aside after a game and privately tell him that his ability to share the gospel was suffering as a result of his competitive nature.
As you might imagine, this message was not well received.
I was tucked into my dad’s side as we left church the following Sunday when this deacon decided to confront my father about the conversation I had initiated with him earlier in the week. My dad listened quietly and attentively to every detail of my supposed offense, and then he simply asked two questions: Was my daughter disrespectful and was what she said true?
At that point, I was excused from the conversation, and I found myself worried about what I’d face when my father finished talking and took me home. However, instead of chastising me for embarrassing him or for putting him in a difficult situation, my father told me he was proud of me! He reminded me that speaking truth in love, while encouraged throughout Scripture, is risky and that it takes a boldness very few possess. He affirmed me by saying that I was called to be a peacemaker, explaining that a peacemaker doesn’t simply appease those around them, but that they actively engage others to agree upon what should be valued and upheld as true.
This was by no means the last time I encountered a coach, director, or teacher that blew it. While I truly believe that educators are passionate professionals, committed to the huge responsibility they have chosen in a way that deserves nothing less than the utmost appreciation and respect, we all are only human, and people don’t always make the right call.
Only once did I encounter a teacher who refused to allow me to speak with him privately. The next morning my father accompanied me to his classroom. When this teacher addressed my dad, my dad made clear that he wasn’t there to talk himself; he simply wanted to ensure that I was allowed to speak. I’m so grateful to my father for these lessons, for while he would review my options, rehearse conversations with me, and support my right to be heard, he always made clear that the problems were mine to address.
And yet, so many of our students are not being afforded this same opportunity to advocate for themselves. This is something that stood out to me recently in some interviews we conducted for Linfield’s Director of Admissions position because several of the candidates were coming from college level admissions offices. I was struck by the picture they painted of college-level students, so I did a little more research.
Dr. Jesse Viner and Matt Zajechowski of Yellowbrick, a psychology and treatment program for young adults, report that 95% of college counseling centers across the country are concerned with the growing amount of psychological issues they are seeing in college freshmen. They actually surveyed 100,000 students in an attempt to identify the cause, and they found that the students themselves pointed to helicopter parenting. Click here for an article that details more about their research.
In his blog on Psychology Today’s website (from October 23, 2015), Dr. Peter Gray claims that college students who experienced helicopter-parenting reported higher levels of depression and a more prevalent use of antidepressant medications. In her 2013 blog on Slate, Brooke Donatone insists that the problem is not that these young adults think too highly of themselves, as is often the prevailing thought among older generations. She says, “Their bigger challenge is conflict negotiation, and they often are unable to think for themselves. The over-involvement of helicopter parents prevents children from learning how to grapple with disappointments on their own. If parents are navigating every minor situation for their kids, kids never learn to deal with conflict on their own.”
Ultimately, researchers seem to all agree that helicopter parenting, while well-intended, interferes with the development of autonomy and competence.
I have said this before, and it is still true: I am very much in this parenting journey with you. My boys are 13 and 15 years old, and the temptation to helicopter parent is real! I often succumb to the impulse to take over and want to do things myself, and when things are difficult for my kids, I am very tempted to jump in to fight their battles for them. And yet, I am reminded of what my dad taught me, and I want to encourage that same sense of independence and self-advocacy in my boys.
So here is some very practical advice we can all (even those with our littlest Lions) consider:
- As soon as they can read a restaurant’s menu, encourage your kids to order their own food.
- If your kids have birthday money to spend, resist the urge to add their toy to your shopping cart; let them complete the purchase themselves.
- Before your pediatrician leaves the exam room, give your child the opportunity to ask their doctor any questions they may have.
- Sibling rivalry can be stressful! But pause before rushing in to solve it; see if your kids can come to a compromise without you.
- When your child comes home and tells you they don’t understand what they are doing in math, zero in on what they do not understand and then plan a time during their school day when they can approach the teacher themselves and ask for help.
- When your child tells you another kid at school is bothering them, help them come up with some strategies to try before you ask the teacher to step in. Also, listen closely and ask open-ended questions. Be honest with your kids if they are part of the problem.
- When your child doesn’t get the role in the play or the position on the team they hoped for, have your child ask the coach or director how they fell short and help them use that information to set a performance improvement goal and then to put a plan in place to achieve it.
- If your child does not like the elective class they ended up in, encourage them to fill out the request for a schedule change themselves.
- When your child receives a grade they believe is unfair, have them ask the teacher about it. Rehearse the conversation with them or even help them write an e-mail.
Truthfully, self-advocacy is about striving for independence while recognizing interdependence with others. It requires communication skills such as negotiation, compromise, and persuasion if we are going to reach our goals. And it’s something that takes practice!
Aiming to raise peacemakers alongside you,
Elementary School Principal
Linfield Christian School