The Challenge for Parents: Letting Our Children Be Children

Childhood should be a time of awe and wonder; an opportunity to play, explore, create and to learn in a fashion that promotes healthy living and optimism.  Then why do so many children suffer from anxiety and depression, and why do the numbers only increase as they grow into teens? For many students, schooling is a leading cause of anxiety and depression.  With all the talk going on in our community about anxiety and depression, and the recent visit by Frank Bruni who spoke to our community last week, I thought I would reiterate the things we, as parents and educators, must think about for the sake of our children.

Our society is robbing our children of their childhood by placing undue pressure on them to “succeed” in schools that are increasingly disconnected from their lives.  Students across the nation attend schools for seven hours per day, often engaged in work that is uninspiring or even unnecessary in today’s world. They are caught in a testing culture, and a high-stakes college acceptance game, that is irrational and damaging. On top of that, many are over-programmed with extracurricular activities when they are not in school. Just read Frank Bruni’s Book, “Where You Go is Not Who You Will Be” for the evidence.

I read, almost weekly, articles about the damage, both physically and psychologically, that we are causing our children – damage that can have lifelong effects. The articles are readily accessible for parents to read, backed up by research that tends to consistently report the same findings.

What underlying fear or anxiety is causing caring and loving adults to create such a pressure factory for our children? What is this belief that unless children get into highly selective colleges, or choose the “right” career, their future is doomed, or at the very least limited? And if this wasn’t damaging enough, we have created a generation of young people afraid to make mistakes or fail.  This may be most damaging of all. Fear impacts the ability to think critically or creatively. As a result, more and more college professors report that incoming freshman are not ready for college, and employers increasingly report that graduates are lacking the necessary skills to be successful in the workplace. This should be a wakeup call that the way schools teach is not working.

Even if we believe the education system worked for us, and prepared us for our lives, the world has changed dramatically, and the system no longer serves the needs of our children. If we do not begin to change our mindset, and open our eyes to the world our children live in and will inherit, we are doing them all a terrible injustice!

In communities like ours, this can be especially challenging. It is daunting for highly successful and educated parents to grasp that what might have worked for them is not right for their children.

We are beyond debate. Numerous studies by professionals and national institutions in the areas of education, psychology, and in the business world, too, all come to the same conclusion. We are harming our children emotionally by teaching to the test, and too many schools are failing to engage our children and prepare them appropriately. We are hurting our children when we place the emphasis on the product and grades and not on the joy of learning and exploring.

Needed change must prevail over outdated conventional wisdom. In order for students to flourish, put children first – understand that no two brains are alike, and that children need a variety of learning approaches. Children need teachers who truly care, and know each child; who will nurture each child’s curiosity and emotional growth; and will encourage risks and failure in order for them to grow and gain confidence. The simplest way to kill a love for learning is to instill, knowingly or unknowingly, a fear of failing.

And children need parents who support schools that put students first, as we strive to do each day at Hillel; parents who love kids for who they are, support their interests, and allow them to be children – to play and grow, and to help them to understand that there are multiple paths to living a meaningful, purposeful and happy life.


2 Responses to The Challenge for Parents: Letting Our Children Be Children

  1. Shai Goel says:

    Steve, there is an inherent problem in what you propose, and that is that hard work is simply that, HARD. It is not fun, some of it is dry, it requires persistence, and perspiration.
    I am all for developing my kids creativity and innovative selves, But that can not overshadow and can not and must not overlook that success and joy and yes freedom come from hard work. Why? Because by working hard you develop an appreciation for what you have, what you have attained, what concepts you needed to master in order to progress to the next level.
    That brings contentment.
    That brings self respect.
    That brings emancipation, and yes, ultimately happiness.
    I agree wholeheartedly with you that in early grades say 1-3, kids need time to explore themselves but thereafter a more structured approach, that yes embraces innovation and creativity, BUT also embraces structure and rewards struggling.
    i believe Hillel comes short in that.
    I believe my kids can not spell because they are not tested, I believe my kids tend to be disorganised because its not a value that Hillel prizes, I believe my kids do not have a strong academic work ethic because Hillel gives them to many second chances and yes does NOT let them fail (as you suggested is key for long term success)
    Creativity is paramount, innovation is paramount, but those creative minds need to be organised and prepared to sweat by getting poignant homework. Assign kids khan academy, assign the kids IXL. Make them watch explanatory videos on these sights for better understanding and independent thinking, emancipate their brains and stoke their self confidence by letting them learn for themselves through these innovative websites.
    On that front, to me as a long time Hillel parent, Hillel has failed
    . As the saying goes ” 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration.”

    • Steve Freedman says:

      Hi Shai:

      Thank you for your comments. I appreciate your feedback. We both agree that hard work is a value. My blog had nothing to do with judging hard work. Children need to work hard, persevere and, of course, be challenged. While you are certainly entitled to your opinions, they simply do not align with the preponderance of educational research and findings.

      Hillel works tirelessly to provide an education that positions our children to succeed in the world they will inherit, adopting best practices culled from extensive academic work done in the fields of education, mental health, and neurology. We also work to find a balance. Our program, curriculum, and approach are not one-sided by any means; we find a balance in allowing children to be children while giving them many opportunities to learn in multiple ways.

      You seem to think failure is an end product. I suppose in traditional schools that may still be the case – and that is just one area where schools fail children. We are about learning. So, if children fail as part of their learning, we want them to go back and learn from their mistakes, master the skills and concepts, and “fail forward.” This is not about second chances – what good is failing and moving on? – it defeats the purpose of learning!

      The proof is in how well the vast majority of our students transition to high school and beyond. They spend up to 13 years at Hillel and 4 in high school. Our graduates do amazingly well in high school and get into top universities and colleges in disproportionate numbers. And while they’re at Hillel, when our 5-8 students take a standardized test, they consistently rank highly in language arts and mathematics.

      I invite you to come in to speak further about this; come and tour the school with me so you can see, first hand, what is actually going on, and speak to our alumni. They are the ones who are best able to tell you how Hillel has done anything but “fail” them.

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