Setting Our Kids Up To Fail

carlinFAIL! This MISGUIDING meme has popped up on my Facebook news feed on numerous occasions now, and given all these pseudo-skeptical conspiracy-theories, oximoronly uttered by so-called “truthers,” floating around on the Internet, it seems, at first glance, that Carlin’s call may be more than justified.

Sounds like fantastic advice, doesn’t it? It would make so much sense that, if we all educated our kids to become critical and skeptic of everything, the world would be in such a better place?

Here’s where the child psychiatrist would come in and say, “Whoa, not so fast! What do you mean, children? Define children for me, will ya?” Well, I am not a child psychiatrist, but I am currently reading a book by a really interesting German one. So what’s following are my personal thoughts which I have had for as long as my children are old, but now, after reading his books, I can put these thoughts into Michael Winterhoff’s intelligent words.

Children, huh? Let’s talk more about those children this meme is talking about. Obviously Carlin was not thinking of the really little ones, because he ties his statement to children that are “learning to read.” Even he seems to realize that teaching the toddler, whom you want to send to bed, not eat dirt, or not pull the cat by its tail, to question you, the parent or caregiver, might backfire. “Max, don’t throw your food on the floor, but you shouldn’t believe everything I am saying!” Confusing for the child? You bet, and on more levels than it’s obvious, which I will touch upon later.

Carlin clearly speaks of children that we teach reading. So anything from first grade, Kindergarten maybe even, to high-school, if not longer. As if they were all the same.

In third grade, my son learned about the American revolutionary war; and he loved, loved, loved it. He knew the players and the dates to the days. He had read about them. He didn’t question what he had read, though. Thankfully. Can you even imagine the chaos in schools, if the kids really do what Carling asks them to, question everything? “1 + 1 = 2.” “Wait what, really? Are you sure, Ms. Jones? Do you have a citation for that? Or do you have any evidence? Maybe the government only wants you to teach us that in order to control us! To take our attention away from chem-trails.”

Utter chaos; and a generation of kids who would not learn anything. Getting through the curriculum? Forget it, all the teachers would be able to do is argue whether or not the basics of our knowledge are true fact or a scheme fabricated by the CIA, aliens, or the Free Masons wanting to take over the world.

Kids in grade school need clear and direct guidance from their care givers, need to be able to trust what the adults we entrust them with, i.e. mostly teachers, say.

Questioning comes later. Yes, it must come, when they are 16 or so. When their psyche is developed enough that their mind can handle the fact that adults are not always right – without the psyche imploding from this realization. If you evoke that too early, you damage the kid’s soul.

When it becomes natural for them to question, then it will be fair to ask, “What do you mean, Mr. Smith, when you say evolution?” Because then, and only then, the children have gathered enough knowledge base and evidence to measure new information against things like the trustworthiness of what they read or hear, whether religion is a myth and cannot be used to validate science, or if it’s likely that Hollywood stages a school shooting to support gun control. And guess what, at that age, they still really suck at that questioning thingy, and still need a lot of guidance from people they trust. Only if they have learned a certain amount of trust, they can deal with Mr. Smith’s answer, that evolution is a pretty damn good theory, and has not been falsified scientifically as of yet.

So, why I am ranting about this here, you might ask. These memes appear in social networks, but who does that in real life anyway, telling kids to question everything, to act like adults? Well we do, and we allow, if not expect, it to be done. We, or kindergartens and schools with their modern open concepts treat kids not as kids, but as little adults. We ask them to decide when they want to eat, when they want to play what in open groups, which they can join and leave whenever they want.

Sure, they learn a little bit of self-determination – which they will later on anyway – but, because they lack perspective,

  1. they don’t develop any tolerance for frustration (à la “What? I have to wait until this game is over until we all play another one?”) and
  2. their psyche stays in baby-mode, because they get what they want when they want it. It’s baby-mode because that’s all babies do: they want food, they get it. They want to sleep, they sleep. Kindergarten kids need to learn to wait, to deal with that little frustration. Letting kids self-determine what they want to do when, renders this development void and sets them up for failure.

When? Some of you readers – maybe if you hire people or even work in HR – may have noticed that, in recent years, the resumes are filled with jobs the applicants held only for three years or less. “I don’t want to play Lego anymore, so I walk over to the sandbox.” turns into “I’m done with this job…I start a different one.” They keep doing what they learned in Kindergarten, as little adults, because they have not developed since! And they come late to interviews, in their weekend hang-out clothes, with no clue about the business they are interviewing for.

These young adults also cannot hold jobs anymore, because they aren’t able to deal with the frustration of a superior wanting them to do something now (although they are hungry and want to eat) or generally because they cannot stand someone demanding something from them. They feel they are partners – like they were partners of the Kindergarten teachers – and not as employees. And “Who’s the boss to say what needs to be done?“ “Where is the evidence, boss, that you can ask me to do the extra report? Are you a government puppet, boss?”

Why do these young adults feel like partners? Because in Kindergarten and grade school, they were treated as partners. When the teachers step into the background, letting the kids decide what they are going to do that day, the teachers are degraded from guides to mere enablers, and the kids elevated to decision makers, to partners. Unfortunately, the children never leave this level, thus failing at their jobs when they are fired for acting like partners, although they aren’t.

But is it really that bad to learn how to take decisions? Yes, although, of course, little decisions are fine, and important. “Do you want strawberry or vanilla ice cream for lunch?” is what’s right for their level. When lunch takes place should be the decision of the guiding body, the parents at home or the teachers at school.
The failing at learning frustration tolerance is one negative side effect of treating kids as partners. The other is sneakier. Imagine you let the kids decide where the next vacation is going to take place. And once there, something goes really bad, someone gets injured, or even dies. Who assumes responsibility?

Obviously, we cannot burden the kids with that, and the adults must take the brunt. Very much unlike in the real world of adults, where the decision maker is the one taking on the responsibilities. So, what the kids learn is: “Cool, I am a partner in this, I can decide, but I don’t have to carry the burden of responsibility.” Guess what: psychiatrists see more and more cases of teenagers and young adults who have no clue of the consequences of their actions, and little to no empathy. They know what they do is wrong, but they don’t know why it is viewed wrong. Or, worse, they question the fact what they do is wrong. Because they learned that no matter what their decisions were, someone else is at fault if the situation goes bad.

Am I saying we should teach kids of any age that they have to take full responsibility?

By all the gods: NO! But that comes later. When they are not kids anymore.

What we need to do is to step back, get out of our constant catastrophe mode, listen to our intuition and realize that kids are not little adults, they are not our partners, they don’t decide and are therefore not burdened with the consequences.

They are just kids. And the only good question kids should ask is this little one that drives us crazy: “Why?”

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4 Responses to Setting Our Kids Up To Fail

  1. So many thoughts on this, most of them in agreement. It boils down to something I’ve observed with little kids: the more control you give them, the unhappier they are. They *want* to know what their boundaries and limits are–it makes them feel safe. Sure, they might not like having them enforced, but it’s not our job to be our kids’ friend, it’s our job to be their parent. Friendship, like independent thinking, can come later.

  2. Sarah Fuhro says:

    Kids quickly figure out when they are really given a choice and when the deck is stacked. I learned how we as parents erode the real ability to choose when I had a toy store. Many times parents would bring in kids with their $5 gift or an allowance and would announce loudly that the child could spend that amount. The kid would pick something out that was within the budget. The parent would then say: ‘this is stupid,’ ‘this is junk,’ ‘what would you do with this’ etc. There was one wonderful mother who let her child buy the same dinosaur week after week without saying, ‘you have that already.’ So many people cannot trust their choices, or feel OK about their mistakes because we take away the very underpinnings of the choices we offer.

    • We would definitely be the parents who would limit the choices in a toy store. Like when the boy wants to buy the umpteenth toy gun. With the perspective that, eventually, we’ll be giving him an allowance and let him use it at his discretion, except for drugs. The idea would be to get them used to limits, and to give them a chance to learn how to tolerate frustration.

      • Sarah Fuhro says:

        First of all, no guns in our toy store! My point is that you don’t tell someone they can choose whatever they want if you don’t mean it. If there are limitations don’t say: the choice is up to you!

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