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By Amy Goldizen
Progressivism’s Disservice to Our Children
In our world nurtured by a generation of participation awards where everyone gets a trophy and an “A for effort” is standard practice, it shouldn’t come as a shock to us that so many of our youth today lack drive, ambition, and work ethic. We’ve made our kids soft – and while “soft” in the sense of compassion, acceptance, and understanding offers a positive contribution to the world and the lives of so many within it, the lack of initiative and the capability to cope with negative emotions have all but disappeared. Our society is what many refer to as progressive – a premise suggesting that we’re steadily making progress in favor of growth and development. Unfortunately, this perception is far from the reality of a painful truth. It’s time to wake up. It’s time re-evaluate our parenting methods for the sake of our children.
A large number of old techniques have been deemed ineffective or disadvantageous and thrown out. It is now understood by the majority of the public that spanking a child as a form of punishment can have varying degrees of emotional and psychological damage on a developing child. Parents in favor of progressive modern parenting have adopted what is called, “gentle parenting”, upon this realization. I understand the logic and science that support the indication that physically punishing a child is wrong. I fully believe that through the consistent and proper implementation of positive reinforcement, gentle parenting proves to be the form of parenting most conducive to the healthy development of a growing child.
That being said, society has taken the idea of gentle parenting too far – they’ve read into it too much. Gently parenting your children, or using the practice as a teacher or a coach, does not mean that we should sugar-coat the feedback we give our children. Gentle parenting should not serve as an excuse to allow children to do as they wish, ignoring and devaluing structure.
As parents practicing gentle parenting techniques, we must be mindful not to become lost in society’s obsession with being arrogantly progressive. Progress and growth are great, but not everything that was traditionally valued is wrong simply because it isn’t a part of a new liberal movement. We’ve taken the beautiful concept of gentle parenting to a radical extreme that has left our children without valuable life-skills that would ultimately have benefited them.
We’re raising kids that feel entitled, lack work-ethic, have little motivation, and quit prematurely in difficult situations that would have otherwise been highly rewarding once resolved. In our effort to protect our children’s psychological and emotional health, we’ve forgotten to teach our children the value of hard work and perseverance. We’ve forgotten to disclose to them that the world won’t always be as kind and as safe as the home environment that we’ve created for them – and they’re unprepared for what awaits them.
If we deny our children the opportunity of experiencing disappointment, want, and self re-evaluation, we are doing our children a disservice. Not only will they be unfamiliar with what negative feelings feel like, they will lack the effective coping skills necessary to overcome those negative feelings when they inevitably occur. When our children reach adulthood, the world will not be cognizant of their need to be gently parented. To be blunt, the world doesn’t care if your feelings get hurt, and your child’s experience will be no different.
Your child, now a grown adult, graduates college and secures their first job. Lacking motivation and work-ethic, they’re perpetually late, they fail to meet deadlines because the work is “boring” and they feel they should be placed in a position that better suits their interests, and they have no fear of rejection. After all, you’ve let them move at their own pace (you didn’t want to unnecessarily stress them over a few tiny minutes), you allowed them to quit activities they started and decided were “boring” mid-way through the session (you couldn’t bear seeing them lack enjoyment), and you always safeguarded them from criticism (even if there was clearly room for improvement).
Do you see where there is a fine line and a huge gray area when it comes to gentle parenting? It is important to understand that you can effectively implement the use of gentle parenting techniques throughout your child’s life, while still emphasizing the importance of responsibility, hard work, and respect for authority. Would your needs to be coddled at work be met? Absolutely not – and neither will your child’s as they enter the adult world.
Implement gentle parenting techniques to a degree that it is beneficial. Establish a home environment and a relationship tone that emits acceptance, love, and kindness. Provide a safe platform for your child to feel comfortable in coming to you with their problems, thoughts, and needs, ensuring that they will have trust in the honesty of your guidance yet will never have to be fearful of your reactions.
Be their safe haven when the world will not, and teach them the difference between your home and the harsh reality of the world. Teach them to be kind, but that not everyone will be kind to them. Teach them to acknowledge and accept their feelings and that it is okay to fully experience them. Teach them the value of letting negativity go once they’ve taken time to feel, digest, and navigate through their feelings.
Arm your children with the skills they will need to feel confident, capable, and ready to excel in their relationships, their careers, and throughout the rest of their lives. Give your children chores, show them how to complete tasks satisfactorily, and let them bask in the rewards of acknowledgement, praise, and heightened self-worth when they’ve completed a task to the best of their abilities. Encourage your children to persevere when they face situations that seem difficult. Remind them that practice makes progress and that nobody will ever be perfect. Tell them that it is okay to fail and that when one door closes, one more valuable will open in due time.
When gentle parenting is used in excess, despite being based on well-intent, it harms our children! According to child psychologist, David Elkind, it is essential to our children’s development that they are allowed to feel badly at times. He explains that, “we learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure we learn how to cope.” If we spend too much time and put too much effort into making sure that our children don’t experience the disappointment that accompanies a poor grade as a result of failing to turn in an assignment, or the anger on behalf of a friend whose feelings they’ve hurt, they will never experience the feelings that are necessary to inspire the motivation required to cope with and correct behaviors that led to such undesirable emotions. Removing failure from our children’s experience is a huge disservice to their development and their ability to cultivate effective problem solving skills. Experimentation – trial and error if you will – is a major component of success. Over time, this inability to remedy uncomfortable situations can contribute to the onset of depression and anxiety disorders at which point it is too late to re-evaluate the extent to which you’ve chosen to gentle parent.
Contrarily, kids that are taught the value of taking initiative, putting in the thought and effort that is necessary to overcome any obstacles they may face, will establish a sense of confidence and familiarity with the art of critical thinking and problem solving. In fact, a form of therapy, called problem solving therapy, is actually designed to expose children to situations that challenge their confidence, comfort level, and ability to analyze the situation by way of critical thinking. As children are presented with challenges, they’re taught to acknowledge any feelings of insufficiency and worry, accept them, and to move forward, prompting the child to take initiative to engage in experimenting through trial and error in pursuit of a resolution. Once the child successfully completes a task, a notably renewed confidence and rewarding sense of achievement is recognizably evident. Making a conscious effort to allow your child to summon the motivation to employ problem solving experimentation within a safe environment (provided by you – the gentle parent) sets a solid foundation for good mental health.
Progressivism has established heightened levels of acceptance, awareness, and desire for growth – but as is with most good things, in excess, they can prove harmful despite good intentions. When implementing gentle parenting techniques, know that you are giving your child a beautiful gift, modeling behavior that they will adopt and benefit from for the rest of their lives – but be mindful. Don’t become hyper-focused on protecting your child from rejection, judgement, and negative emotions in their entirety. Instead, take the instances of their occurrence to model effective problem solving, utilizing these moments as opportunities to help your child learn to move past them in a manner that is conducive to a strong body, mind, and spirit.