“People grow best when they continuously experience an ingenious blend of support and challenge; the rest is commentary.”
As a society we are pretty good at supporting our children but not very good at challenging them. Somewhere along the line we developed the false idea that our children are “special little snowflakes” who will be crushed under the weight of any adversity or failure. Because we think this we helicopter above them, seeking to protect them from any unpleasantness or undue difficulty. This is not a good strategy!
In fearing our children’s fragility we have made them fragile. In protecting them from failure we’ve prevented them from learning how to overcome and continue on after a failure. In praising their achievements, instead of their efforts, we have created a cohort of children reluctant to try new things in fear that they will fail and thereby expose their deficiencies. In creating “safe spaces” we are raising up a generation of adults unable to cope with the rigors and difficulties of the real world and incapable of accepting a reality that does not comport to their expectations.
What can we do about this as parents?
First, make your kids do hard things. It is ok and even healthy for them to fail. They will fail and it is preferable for them to fail in a safe environment, like the home, than in the secular corporate world.
Second we need to define success by commitment and effort, not grades or goals. Too often we as parents use extracurricular activities such as sports or music to focus on finding or developing a particular skill. Instead consider: what is the thing for? Our children are not going to be professional athletes and we would be fools to bank on it. That does not mean sports are without value. On the contrary, sports help to develop discipline, encourage camaraderie, and are just plain fun! We should make our sports choices in light the purpose of sport. Are sports encouraging discipline or are they taking away disciplines such as home-work? Are friendships developing or is the competition so intense that the kids are at each other’s’ throats? Are our children enjoying sports or have they become a chore?
Likewise we need to prefer the development of character to the development of any particular skill. How your child responds to defeat or victory is far more important than whether they win or lose. How they respect their coach, teammates, and opponents is far more important than how fast they can skate or whether or not they can hit a curveball. Sports are a great place to model character, to learn how to love one’s enemies, and to practice putting others first, but we are going to need a counter-cultural/Biblical view of sports to train our kids in such a way that sports help the development of faith instead of hindering it.
The same principles are true of academic pursuits. We want our children to learn not so they can become puffed up and proud with knowledge, but rather so they can better know God and winsomely share the Gospel with others. We want our children to work through hard passages of literature as a means to help them better understand Scripture. We want them to stick with a difficult math problem as preparation to stick with a difficult marriage or difficult children they may have some day. We want them to reach their potential not in order to gain riches or a great name, but rather to be better suited to excel at any task that God may call them to.
We need to help our children to see their lives not as unconnected tasks and events that we frantically engage in, but rather as parts of a greater whole. What is this whole? God’s Kingdom. God has called us to partake in His kingdom and everything we do, from how and when we eat our meals to how we study to when we play sports must be done in light of this Reality.