When did the central aim of parenting become preparing children for success?
This reigning paradigm embodies the fundamental insecurity of the narcissist global capitalist culture. There is an unbending fixation on prosperity, social recognition, competition – all of them in the future. When each parenting act is administered with the distant future in mind, what becomes of the present? A child parented in the glare of ambient anxiety that surrounds each trivial choice or activity is an anxious child. Their outlook to life and themselves, formed or destroyed, by hand-wringing anxious parents.
We seem to lie at the precise crossroads of this inherently conflicted approach of the present and the future of our child. Like so many others in the jittery child-rearing mob, we can feel and believe that overparenting as a trap. But how do you escape the trap?
Whether a child is learning to ride a bike or doing his own school project, he is still viewed through the limited binary lens of either smart or stupid. The looming question is hardly ever “Is my child happy?”
As tales of meddling parents reach a fever pitch, we have seen varieties of baffling parental interference. It displays, not just a lack of common sense, but a lack of wisdom. It ignores personal dignity, sadly.
Instead of allowing kids to experiment and learn from their mistakes, parents hover where they are not wanted nor needed nor welcome. They accompany children on school trips and shadow them in friend’s homes. Caught up in college admission race, parents treat securing their children a spot at one of the colleges based on popular but somewhat dubious rankings, as an all-or-nothing proposition.
Parents do their children’s homework, heavily edit their projects, fire questions at teachers, dispute grades and hire expensive subject tutors, GMAT coaches and “private admissions consultants”. Even after kids graduate, the madness continues. These behaviors mould kids into dependent beings who are NEVER sure of themselves. They constrict their possibilities and restrict their imaginations.
Lythcott-Haims, an authority on parenting writes, “We speak of dreams as boundless, limitless realms. In reality, often we create parameters, conditions, and limits within which our kids are permitted to dream — with check-listed milestones on the path to achievement.”
Helicopter parenting (as this phenomenon is commonly known) threatens a child’s future. It does enormous psychological harm. A 2011 study by sociologists at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga found a correlation, between helicopter parenting and medication for anxiety or depression. Other studies suggest that these kids are “less open to new ideas” and take “less satisfaction in life.”
Kids need to sally forth independently without constant supervision. They need to try and even fail. And when they fail and look around for a parent to bail them out, they need to hear the words, “I am confident YOU CAN figure this out for yourself. However, if you wish, we can sit and discuss.”
Stop the uneasy comparing of report cards and standardized test scores, the tireless griping about the never-ending hassles of homework, karate classes, art classes, dance classes, and special subject tutoring.
Inability to disengage as above is a side effect of the prevailing fantasy among parents that the “right” college education will secure a child’s comfy seat in the upper-middle-income class. Parents are so laser-focused on how to ensure success that they’re willing to trade in the joys and self-guided discoveries of a rich childhood for some promise of security in the far-off future.
It’s absurd for parents to allow this illusion that success in life depends on admission to one of a handful of elite colleges to guide their behavior from the time their kids are in preschool forward,
Although loosening that grip on getting kids into the “perfect” school does seem important, it’s somewhat unlikely to end the current plague of controlling, stressed-out parents and helpless, insecure children. In this anxious age, the future will always trump the present. But even if this idea gets thrown onto a growing pile of knowledge and is summarily forgotten, the truth is that when parents laugh and enjoy the moment and also teach the satisfaction of hard work, when they listen closely and also give their children space to become who they are, they wind up with kids who know how to work hard, solve problems and savor the moment, too. In other words, get a life, and your child just might do the same someday.