December 21, 2009

The "Real" World

Parents are often concerned that if they, a teacher, or an environment is atypically supportive, it will harm the child’s ability to “make it in the real world.” An example might be a classroom environment where children who struggle with organizing their belongings and assignments at the end of the day are given help doing so. Or, a class where a student is encouraged to finish a project rather than being given consequences for completing it late. These themes of task and time management are only two of the skills that our kids need to learn by the time they are independent adults. Coping with competition and disappointment and developing an accurate sense of one’s own strengths and weaknesses are others. The question parents ask is: “How will my child learn if not through exposure to the harsh reality of the adult world?”

Our fears and worries drive these concerns. It is as if we envision our child at age 25 as being no different from our 10 year-old, despite our acknowledgment that change will undoubtedly occur. What is critical is that our children are given time to mature, time to develop the skills that will enable them to manage time and tasks successfully. Telling them that they are “irresponsible” is not a method of promoting responsibility. It is an indictment of their moral character.

Today’s elementary students are being asked to function as middle-schoolers were only a generation ago. Evolution doesn’t happen that fast; the demands on our kids have outpaced what is developmentally appropriate for many. Skills are not acquired through critique from the “real” world. In fact, expecting children to achieve what they cannot yet do results in a drop in both motivation and self-esteem. Kids become discouraged if, despite their efforts, they cannot meet expectations. They become hopeless and even less likely to try to meet demands.

The path to helping them develop the skills needed for the real world is to meet them where they are and encourage their growth. The challenges need to be ones that they can, with effort, handle successfully. This serves to increase their motivation and their sense of confidence. It is this belief in one’s ability to handle challenges and the motivation to do so that, in turn, propel growth in one’s skills. Only when kids have time to mature and space to develop confidence and skills will they be equipped to face the challenges of the adult, “real” world.

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