“Can you shut up?” doesn’t actually mean “Can you shut up?” “Can you shut up?” means “Will you shut up?” Because presumably, the speaker is physiologically capable of shutting up–unless there is some new disease (foot in mouth”?)–of which I am unaware. The question is whether or not the speaker will stop talking.
Just as many adults are tired of being harangued by newscasters, salespeople, advertisements, and other kinds of incessant stimulus overload, many of our children have had it up to here with the sound of parental voices. Imagine a world–a more silent world–where children were sometimes left alone to figure it our for themselves. Would you be able to leave them alone?
“That stick is too big! put more twigs over here! there isn’t enough room there for air to get in!” That’s one way to teach your nine year-old son how to build a campfire. But it makes me nervous just thinking about all those words out in the woods. Another way to teach your nine year-old son to build a campfire would be to say, “There’s a fire pit and some twigs.”
“But if I don’t tell him how to do things, how will he ever learn?”
You are not the be all and end all of information. Your children are learning a great deal–much of the information we’d be happy for them not to have–without you, their parents. You didn’t teach them about Taylor Swift* or Facebook. You didn’t teach them how to play “Blood, Blood, Blood, Shoot, Shoot, Shoot, Kill, Kill, Kill.”
The question is whether or not you’re going to have the kind of relationship with your kids where they are open to hearing about what’s important. Because they haven’t been inundated with endless verbiage from the time they were old enough to hear.
“In a relationship” teaches one of my favorite therapists, “repeating something more than three times in a year is nagging.”
How can we expect our kids to distinguish what is important–“Don’t take drugs”–from what they need to figure out for themselves: whether or not they want to take music lessons, how to entertain themselves (without screens!), what clothes to wear? If we just keep up the constant stream of words, how will they figure out that they are capable of figuring things out?
I know a sophomore in college who lives in a dorm in the town where she grew up. She takes a full course load and is on the crew team. When she gets back to her room after classes and athletic practice, she frequently takes a nap.
Or tries to.
Her mother, just as frequently, comes over to her daughter’s dorm room and wakes her up. “Do your homework” she exclaims. “You have a paper due!” “Why can’t you get organized like your older sisters? Don’t you know how important your college grades are?”
You know who else–after the age of four–doesn’t get to decide when to sleep and when to study? Prisoners of war.
If your high school age child isn’t getting out of bed, getting dressed on her own, getting to school on time, then there’s something wrong. But here again, yelling at him isn’t going to solve the problem and may make the situation worse. The relevant questions might have more to do with WHY the kid isn’t willing or able to get himself together and get to school.
When your preschooler is trying to do a puzzle, let him alone. If you do the puzzle for him, you will communicate that getting the puzzle done is more important to you than your child enjoying the process. Emphasis on completion is not what the child is about. If mom’s anxiety is causing her to complete the puzzle for the child, mom should back off.
If your elementary school child is making brownies, let him alone (until it’s time to work together to clean up the kitchen.) If the goal of the process were to have some brownies, you could go to the market and buy some. What we’re looking at here is a child figuring it out. And who knows, along the way, he may learn how many cups are in an ounce.
Science Fair projects, needless to say, should be done by middle schoolers not by their parents. “But all the other families are cheating” is a poor argument. It’s middle school for goodness gracious sake! No one cares. I’ve been working in college admissions for over three decades. Here are words I have never heard: “Well, Johnny looked like a viable candidate here at Olde Brick University, but then we found out that he didn’t win the science fair in seventh grades!”
College application essays should be written by the applicant. College application essays written by parents are 1) easily detected by my colleagues in admissions, and 2) subvert the integrity of the student’s process. “We love you and trust you and are sending you off to college, but we’re writing your essays for you”? Bad plan.
Just as our children need silence from screens so that they can reflect, look inward and–imagine!–think about picking up a book, they also need a break from the constant advice that gushes from well meaning parents. By “picking our battles” and focusing on what our kids need rather on what we want to tell them, we increase the odds that they will grow up to be able to make good decisions on their own.
* Who may be very nice for all I know. We’ve never met