In helicopter parent era, self-reliance is a gift for the kid who has everything

This is a tough economic time for many families, especially as the Christmas shopping season is in full swing. Good news for parents though: One of the best presents you can give your child doesn’t cost anything, doesn’t even need to be wrapped and will last a lifetime — the gift of self-reliance.

D.H. Lawrence offered this sage advice back in 1918: “How to begin to educate a child. First rule: Leave him alone. Second rule: Leave him alone. Third rule: Leave him alone. That is the whole beginning.”

Children who have responsibilities and high expectations know they can achieve, that their efforts matter, that they are believed in. When children are very young, they bristle at having anyone help as they loudly proclaim, “I can do it myself!” Building on these little successes forms the foundation for confident, self-sufficient children who can take ownership of their actions.

But what we are witnessing is an epidemic of parents who, although motivated by love, are doing so much for their offspring that these coddled children aren’t learning the skills they need to lead an independent life. I am hearing from educators not just around the state but around the country that children are less and less able to problem-solve — because their parent-pals have been taking care of their every need and want for them.

These are people who would rather be friends than parents because parenting is hard and thankless work, and they want their kids to like them. These are parents who are denying their children the opportunity to suffer the consequences of their choices and grow from their blunders, something every child needs to become a mature, responsible adult.

There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes — it’s one of the basic ways children (and adults for that matter) learn, picking themselves up after a fall, taking a lesson from the experience and moving forward with that new knowledge. In fact, failure and disappointment give children the choice to get back up and teach survival, innovation, reinvention, accountability — and the opportunity to be successful next time. Without the resiliency learned through missteps and being held responsible for their actions, young adults are going to have a rough go of it in the workplace, in relationships and in life.

Kids should be taught that if they don’t get what they want, they should recommit and double down to make things happen. By making a choice to be successful, they become invested in the decision, gain healthy self-esteem and discover the joy and dignity of being able to do for themselves.

Part of self-reliance, of course, is taking personal responsibility for our actions, including accepting sometimes uncomfortable consequences. But here again, parents are swooping down to make sure their kids get a pass. These parents encourage entitlement and victim mentality and deny their children the satisfaction and esteem gained from actually earning something by oneself. And these parents may even be like the mother who called up a human resources director to negotiate a higher salary for her child. (Yes, that actually happened. Don’t even get me started on Google’s “Take Your Parents To Work Day.”)

In a chat with a school superintendent, I asked why the system’s legal bills had been skyrocketing. Union troubles? Vendor contract negotiations?

No, turns out it’s parents. Parents who lawyer up rather than back up teachers and school administrators in disciplinary and other actions. What lessons are they teaching their children?

You may be persuaded that this societal shift doesn’t affect you, but if you pay property taxes (and school expenditures are the biggest line item in every town budget), you are subsidizing this highly developed and completely misguided sense of entitlement.

The irony is that in a country that has prided itself on independence, we are creating a nation of dependents — across the entire demographic spectrum.

While we’ll never stop worrying about our children and will always want to protect them, we are first and foremost role models, not friends. It’s our job as parents to make ourselves obsolete, launching independent, mature, responsible adults into the world. Is there any better gift to give to our children than that?

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Susan Dench

About Susan Dench

Susan Dench is the founder and president of the fast-growing non-profit, non-partisan Informed Women's Network. Recognizing that many women are tired of "politics as usual," Susan decided to take action and develop strategies that are innovating the way women and politics intersect, nurturing and encouraging women in fun, energetic gatherings where views can be expressed in a supportive environment and then translated into practical solutions that produce results.