I spent the last two weeks writing about how important it is not to coddle and over-protect your child (here) and then suggested some times that it might be appropriate to intervene (here). Before I move on and leave the subject altogether, let me offer a cautionary tale from some years ago that, for me, puts it all into perspective.
This is really a tragic story and it makes me sad to write it, but I think it's important because it can prevent other people from suffering the same fate. It's a story I've pondered often in my own parenting efforts.
I once had a student who was a wonderful child in many ways. The student was talented, bright, and full of possibilities. This student had loving parents and the parents were enamored with their child. Everything the child did was celebrated and the parents worked hard to create a wonderful life for the child.
During the child's later middle school years, some small, problematic behaviors began to occur. Nothing major, but some less-than-ideal things. This is normal--it happens with every child as they work through puberty and the attendant stresses.
However, the parent made a critical mistake. Parent began to intervene. Instead of listening to the teachers and others who brought the behaviors to light, Parent became argumentative and felt that teachers were attacking Child. Parent began running interference for child--celebrating every achievement and ignoring the less-positive feedback.
Child began to grow entitled and felt untouchable and started to make some even less-desirable choices. Child eventually took some actions that led to more formal discipline by the school. Still nothing major--a serious talk and detention hall.
Parent was outraged. Furious. Felt it was unfair, unwarranted, and so on. Fought it every step of the way.
It will not surprise you to learn that Child grew up with a strong sense of entitlement. This had an impact on the way Child acted--more and more spoiled and disagreeable. Whenever natural consequences came, Parent intervened, seeing every disagreement in which the Child was involved as a conflict between justice and injustice. Even formerly trusted sources and advisors were shunned because they gave advice and counsel that was too hard and direct to be listened to and did not sufficiently celebrate Child.
Fast-forward a few years. Child struggled in high school. Teachers were impervious to parental pressure. Peers shunned Child, who had now become spoiled and engaged in self-defeating social behaviors and was unable to keep or maintain friendships. Worse, every action Parent and Child took to rectify the social situation actually made it worse.
But here is the tragedy: Parent was totally and completely unable to help Child. Parent couldn't see what was going on because Parent had become habituated to running interference and protecting Child from every blow. Parent saw every adversity as an injustice to be fought and a personal attack.
Child was bitterly unhappy, unable to function successfully and no one could help because those closest didn't see the problem. And Parent had effectively taught Child not to listen to or take criticism from anyone else. So Child was stuck and kept making choices that made the situation worse. I remember watching and thinking, "How can you do that?" but, like others, I was no longer a welcome source of advice or feedback so my hands were tied. It was very frustrating to watch and see--and not be able to help.
Everyone around Child could not believe Child or Parent could be so blind. No one could help, though, because those who cared enough to be honest were shunned and seen as the enemy.
This may seem an extreme situation, and I agree that the outcome is not common. However, it started out with very normal behaviors and giving in to very normal parental temptations. Those behaviors then became habits and it grew and grew.
This is something I try to keep in mind in my own parenting. In addition to the list of warning signs I posted earlier, I have thought of an additional sign: if you hear something from a teacher or coach, or the parent of a peer, listen. Sure, maybe they hate your child and have an axe to grind. But in my experience, that is fairly rare. Listen and watch. Maybe what they say is unfounded. But if you hear the same thing from multiple sources, you do your child no favors if you ignore it.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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