This recent article by the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank, is a nice springboard to a topic I’ve been mulling over for the past few weeks and really for the past few years. It’s no secret if you read this space that I am a big believer in giving kids room to explore, struggle, and even fail. As my kids get older, I find I am having increasingly mature and urgent conversations with them about why their mother and I parent them the way we do, and what we hope they get out of it. Lately, I’ve been hammering away at the same three lessons, which I fear many kids get all the way to college without touching let alone learning:
1. Take responsibility. For a very long time, it has been on Aaron and Jada to wake up in the morning, to complete homework, and to pack for extra-curricular activities with no adult intervention. If you have spent your entire childhood with a human alarm clock, constant help in doing homework, and a live-in assistant who preps your gym bag, college is going to be a rude awakening.
2. Deal with stress. The importance of resiliency, and the tragic consequences of not knowing how to cope when overwhelm, are increasingly known and emphasized. And yet how easily we parents swoop in at the first sign of distress. Without being overly callous, I have let our kids sit for a minute in the discomfort of stress, acknowledging its existence and encouraging them to persevere through it. Aaron and Jada now know that if they’re having a late night and they’re tired and they still have homework and they’re anxious about it and it’s their turn to clean the kitchen, the only thing they’ll get from petitioning me for a rescheduling of their chores is a lecture about how sometimes you have to do what you’re supposed to do in less than ideal circumstances.
3. Live with freedom to do both good and bad. This is a hard one, because I realize that room to sin means that sometimes kids choose poorly, with adverse consequences to them and sometimes others. Whether it’s staying home alone, having Internet access, or being on social media, the opportunity is ripe for behaviors that are self-destructive and/or hurtful to others. I don’t wish this for my kids or any kids, but I prefer that mistakes are made now at 10 and 12 than for the first time at 18 or 22 or 26, when the moral, social, and criminal consequences may be far more intractable.
Since we live in the shadow of a college campus, in a neighborhood called University City, and since Amy and I are both college alum and college faculty, talk of college is never too far from our family conversation. College prep usually takes the form of getting good grades, or as kids get to the application phase it’s about researching schools and lining up financial aid. But there’s another part of college prep that’s even more important in every way than academics or finances, and that is preparing our kids to take responsibility, deal with stress, and live with freedom. Here’s hoping they’ll be ready when it’s time.