It is easy for parents to get caught up in the belief that it is their responsibility to identify a pathway for their child to proceed down en route to a successful life, and then direct them down that pathway. Likewise for educators, it is easy to believe that it is their responsibility to shape children and adolescents into eager students who will go to college, which will lead to success. It is easy to believe that the more we push children, demand of them, direct them, and handhold them, the more likely it is that the child will become a success. That is the narrative that society pushes, oftentimes blaming parents and educators for not doing enough, not doing it earlier, and not doing it with more rigor.
Parents and educators do not deserve so much of the credit or blame when it comes to shaping children into successful adults. First, the way we define success is problematic in itself (consider what success means to you in light of these 5 deathbed regrets and these 24 regrets). Second, social and economic conditions that children are born into have a far greater impact on their future than proactive parenting or schooling does, and ignoring this most often leads to forms of victim blaming and practices that promote it (e.g., grit). And third, adults overestimate the benefits they provide to young people by way of deliberately trying to guide them down certain pathways, while grossly underestimating the harm they can cause by doing so.
Parents and educators generally want the best for children. They want a world where their children come out ahead, or at least keep pace. And the more that parents and educators try to prevent children from taking full control of their lives; because they fear the children will make suboptimal or wrong choices, or that they won’t go down the right path; the more likely it is that they will deter the children from finding out who they are, where they want to take their lives, and how to make the most of it. In an attempt to put them on a right path, they end up moving each child away from an authentic, unique path that best fits each one of them. Some young people find ways to rebound; many do not. As a whole, adults end up doing more harm than good.
A better way forward for parents and educators is to focus on removing the obstacles that prevent young people from taking control of their education and lives. Addressing trauma or psychological distress is an obvious place to start. Next, remove toxic environmental conditions (e.g., bullying), or remove children from such toxic environments. Then, remove structures and practices (e.g., compulsory attendance, mandated curriculum) that undermine self-efficacy and prevent them from taking charge of their lives. Then, step back and breathe.
Note, removing these obstacles does not mean removing adversity or denying them the opportunity to experience failure. All of the aforementioned obstacles inhibit growth, are not natural, and are unnecessary. When young people are able to focus their time and effort on their interests they will stretch themselves through meaningful challenges that move them further down their own pathways.
It is time that we adults stop seeing ourselves as authority figures, decision makers, guides, or the ones who will protect children from themselves. It is time that we instead see ourselves as sounding boards, helpers, resource providers, and living examples of people who are leading remarkable lives themselves.
If you also believe that we need to elevate the role of children and adolescents in their own lives then we encourage you to get involved in what we are doing at Abrome.