Children Are More Resilient Then We Think

As parents, we need to realize that transitions in children’s lives take ever-increasing maturity and growth.  Children can only grow to the next stage if they are allowed to.  Much has been written about adolescence and the need for them to differentiate from their parents.  Storm and stress is the hallmark of this stage, and the portal to adulthood.  The obsessive desire to protect children from these, to reduce stress and conflict, leads to dependent and immature adults.

I don’t know where are when it started.  As cliché as is now seems, mine was a pretty delightful childhood, basically with parents who were there when I wanted and needed them and left me alone when I did not.  On weekends, I would disappear all day, in the woods building tree forts or the such, until my mom rang the bell for dinner.  She had no idea where I was or what I was doing.

What caused the change, the fear of ever-present danger, the compulsion to control every aspect of a children’s life, the view of children as fragile creatures? When did parents lose faith in the resilience of their children?

All the hallmarks of adulthood, taking on increased responsibility for yourself and your decisions, assuming greater risk, accepting consequences (and learning from them) are being robbed from our children.  We are raising a generation of children who are expected to get good grades and test scores, and little else.  And if they do not, there is a ready diagnosis and medication.  We have gone from an era of “yes we can” to “no he can’t”.  Chores are a term of a different era.  Children are allowed to talk to adults with a degree of condescension and dismissiveness that is not healthy for them.

Too much control and power is very scary (and very unhealthy for) any children.  As children age, they need boundaries more than protection.  What is the consequence of this:  kids who cannot make decisions for themselves and fear the wrong things.  These kids fear what they cannot control because so much has been controlled for them.  They fear the strange, the unusual and the unpredictable.  What they should be fearing is that they do not have the tools to take risks and learn from mistakes in a way that will lead to a meaningful and fulfilling life.  The sad truth is that it is good for kids to experience failure sometimes,  to suffer sometimes, to not be happy sometimes.

Vicariously living through your children is treating them as something they are not and expecting them to be what they cannot be.  The irony is that this over-protectiveness is preventing students from growing and taking away the tasks of adolescence.  Students to go through a period of “storm and stress” and engage in a “psychosocial moratorium” where they define who they are. They will not just pass over this if it is not allowed to go on… it will just be foreclosed to the future, frequently with disastrous consequences.  Not letting kids be kids is one of the most horrible things we can do as parents….it is a really misguided approach to parenting that may have more devastating consequence than abuse or neglect…but many parents mistakenly see it as protection.

Author: Scott White

I am a nationally recognized expert on college admissions, having worked in schools and colleges for 35 years. I have been regularly quoted in major publications including the NY Times, the LA Times, The Boston Globe, the Washington Post, Atlantic Monthly, Time Magazine and others. I am widely published on various aspects of the college admissions process and present at state and national conferences on a variety of college admissions related topics. I have worked in college admissions as well as independent day and boarding schools. The last 25 years I have worked in public schools, 14 as a school counselor and then as a Director of Guidance at elite, suburban public schools including Montclair High School, Westfield High School and Morristown High School. I am now an independent college counselor for SW College Consulting in Montclair. I can be contacted as or 973-919-6798.

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