The Helicopters are Still Hovering

I recently came across a great article in the New York Times that discussed raising successful children. I was inspired to share my thoughts on the topic, since developing successful children is the mission of The Artistic Edge (TAE).

For those of you who follow TAE, you know that we have a ‘secret sauce’ that produces a competitive edge for young people; it is the unique combination of arts and leadership education.

Why do we believe that? It’s simple. Highly developed creativity and leadership skills make a person stand out over others. In fact, a recent study by IBM cited creativity as one of the most sought after skills. CEO’s from around the world look for it in their new employees.

The problem is, young adults are entering the workforce unable to differentiate themselves from their competition. They are in the sea of sameness.

Everyone these days has a university degree, decent references and volunteer experience showing they care about their community.

“So what! What else you got?”

The job market is now global. So, it is essential that young people applying for jobs figure out not only what makes them special, but what they can contribute to a prospective employer.

So what do helicopter parents have to do with this? Actually, a lot. One of the most important ways anyone learns to master a skill is through practice and making mistakes. I always say, “Mistakes are practicing for your success.” The best time of our life to go through that process is in childhood and adolescence.

Unfortunately, many 21st Century children have been robbed of this very valuable learning experience because mom and dad have done it for them.  We are taking away opportunities for them to learn, when we, as adults, solve the problem for them.

Now, more than ever, parents have removed the ‘dirty-work’ of growing up. Life is stressful, so we think, “if I can make something easier for my child I am helping them.” Sometimes you are, but you are also doing them a disservice by not allowing them to struggle through something that is a bit difficult for them.

In her New York Times article, Madeline Levine says, “The happiest, most successful children have parents who do not do for them what they are capable of doing, or almost capable of doing.”

It is important to remember that through challenges children learn to persevere, take accountability, adapt and ultimately realize that success comes from effort. It is not handed to you on a silver platter.

I actually was at my doctor’s office a couple of weeks ago having a check up and we had a conversation about this very topic. Her children are now in their mid-twenties, and although they do have successful careers they still struggle with some of these very skills. When my doctor was in her early twenties she was married and moving to another continent. Her children could never have taken on that level of responsibility at that age, she said. “Did I do some wrong as a parent?”, she asked me. I smiled.

In many ways 30 is the new 20. What my parents took on as responsibility in their early twenties (having kids, buying a house etc), most don’t achieve until 30 these days.

Are they capable? Yes, they absolutely are. But, I believe they aren’t given enough opportunities to practice the skills they need.

“If you treat your walking toddler as if she can’t walk, you diminish her confidence and distort reality. Ditto nightly ‘reviews’ of homework, repetitive phone calls to ‘just check if you’re O.K.’ and ‘editing’ (read: writing) your child’s college application essay,” says Levine.

So where do we go from here? I think today’s parents need to remember that it is okay for their child to make mistakes, scrape their knee and get frustrated when something is difficult. Coaching them through those moments, instead of solving the problem for them, may just be what the doctor ordered.