I think kids born in the 1950s and 1960s had the opportunity to try and fail, and their experiences engendered real, contextual learning that prepared them to succeed. Sometimes our parents would say, “good job,” but a pat on the back wasn’t the driving force propelling baby boomers to achieve.
When I was in high school, I ran track. No one came to watch me at a track meet, but it didn't make me feel bad because no one else's parents were there, either. Participation in team sports was driven by the individual child and not by parents who herded or guided kids to take certain paths.
Parents weren’t hyper-vigilant. I believe it's because it wasn't needed. For example, choosing to be part of a team meant there was an intrinsic desire to work cooperatively to achieve a goal. Improvements were based on learning from mistakes, and healthy competition provided important lessons.
These days I think it’s difficult to stay out of the affairs of our children. We want to smooth their paths. But does parental assistance (or interference) really help them, or does it disable their ability to learn to solve problems on their own?
When I was a teenager, I wanted contact lenses. But didn’t feel I could ask my family to pay for something so extravagant. I also knew I would need things for when I moved out for college in the fall: dishes, silverware, glasses, sheets and towels, pots and pans, small appliances, and a bicycle. In order to make it happen, it took planning.
I worked three jobs — part-time after school, a baby sitting gig in the evenings, and a weekend job at Jay Jacobs, where I served on their fashion board. I was able to pay the $600 needed to buy contact lenses, and also saved enough for the bicycle and other things on my list.
This all sounds very much like, “I had to walk ten miles in the snow to get to school,” but it's meant to say hard work is often necessary to get where we want to go. And when self-identified goals are in our sights, we have real incentives to achieve them.
It makes me wonder if every generation feels life was tough when they were young? The saying, “Where there is a will, there’s a way,” is profoundly true. I hope our desire to make life easier for our kids allows them to develop goals, and devise ways to achieve them without mom's and dad’s help.
Resilience. Self reliance. Resourcefulness. Encouraging these qualities could be among the greatest gifts we give to our children.
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