Lately, it seems that many schools are adopting a bizarrely lenient attitude toward disciplining children as well as bending over backwards to accommodate these children’s and their parents’ every demand. This is evident at all levels of education, from primary school to colleges and universities. It’s unclear what’s causing these school administrations to believe that children should be subject to no limits, no discipline and no stringent requirements for receiving a passing grade.
Perhaps it’s an extreme over-reaction against the excessively harsh discipline employed in the past. Perhaps administrators are simply responding to the increasing pressure of those helicopter parents who insist that their children should be allowed to do whatever they want and to graduate, regardless of whether or not they’ve mastered the material.
Whatever the cause, these administrations are, in fact, doing a terrible disservice to today’s young people and to society as a whole.
The rate of PTSD in many grade-school teachers is sky-rocketing, and if things continue apace, no-one will be willing to go into teaching at all. The saddest thing is that these schools are turning out children who are ill-suited to being constructive, productive members of civilized society.
Childhood is a phase of intense physical, emotional and psychological development. Children need to learn what behavior is appropriate in their society, and how to get along with their peers and the adults in their lives. They need to learn how to play by the rules, as opposed to being taught that it’s acceptable to break the rules or to have no rules at all.
Kids need to learn essential values such as empathy, responsibility, hard work and self-discipline. They must be taught conscientiousness, resilience and integrity. The way our schools have been doing things, we’ll have exactly the opposite result.
When schools refuse to set limits, give kids consequences, or have appropriate expectations of academic and social performance students are deprived of the skills and attitudes necessary for their future success.
Children need limits
Recently, I read a fascinating article by Kathryn Streeter, in The Week, entitled “My daughter’s teachers stood up to my helicopter parenting. I’m so glad they did.” In the article, Ms. Streeter describes how she was making a case to her child’s teachers, school counselor and principal that the child should be held back a grade. Her argument was that her daughter was the youngest in her class and although doing well academically, she was lagging behind socially.
The school staff disagreed with Ms. Streeter’s request, telling her that her daughter was “where she needs to be.” In the article, Ms. Streeter writes that, one year after agreeing to the school staff’s recommendation, she realized how right they were and “felt grateful that I’d listened to them.” She saw that her daughter was thriving both academically and socially, and “showing me how to be resilient to pressure, and ultimately, how to be a better human.”
Ms. Streeter realized that “one of the greatest challenges for teachers and principals is dealing with stressed, over-reaching parents who, like me, can’t see the bigger picture. What ostensibly counts as supportive parenting can sometimes inadvertently disadvantage a child.”
Ms. Streeter learned a valuable lesson about stepping back and allowing school staff to get on with their jobs. She shares what she’s learned in order to help other parents do right by their children. Our schools don’t have to revert back to institutions in which children are harshly punished for minor infractions, but the pendulum has swung to an absurd degree in the opposite direction.
Children need respect, but they also need guidance and limits. They ought not to be abused, but at the same time, they shouldn’t be permitted to abuse others.
They shouldn’t be humiliated for not knowing the lesson, but there ought to be clear and consistent expectations that they meet a certain standard in order to progress to the next educational or career level.
If we think it makes kids happier to spoil them, the stats contradict this. A recent Toronto Star article points to research which shows that the rate of depression, anxiety and addiction in high-school and university students has exploded in the past few years, and many are saying that over-protective parenting and overly lenient school environments are a large part of what’s to blame for this. In many institutions of higher learning, parents of students in their late teens to late 20s are arguing with teachers about their kids’ marks and insisting that the young people receive their degrees, even without having submitted passing essays or exams.
Parents must take responsibility for correcting this situation. They must first of all, stop over-protecting and coddling their own children. They must see that every time they spoil their child, they further decrease the child’s chances of having a happy and successful life.
Parents must also begin lobbying their school administrations, not to be more lenient with their kids, but to be less so. They must do like Kathryn Streeter, and listen to the wise advice of their school staff.
They must insist that their children not receive a passing grade unless they have mastered the material, and they must equally insist that their children receive appropriate discipline and consequences for unacceptable behavior.
They must do these things to help their children learn how to be positive, productive, adequately educated and socially successful members of society.
This is the only way we’ll be able to save our children and perhaps, even the future of our society.
This post was written by Dr. Marcia Sirota and originally appeared on Medium.com. Dr. Marcia Sirota is an author, speaker, coach and psychiatrist and the author of "Be Kind, Not Nice: How to Stop People-Pleasing, Build Your Confidence and Discover Your Authentic Self." Sign up for her popular newsletter, Wisdom Wednesday, at her website. Her books are available on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.