AUTHOR: Sean Savage | POSTED: January 14, 2011 | COMMENTS: 1 Comment
CATEGORIES: Daddy on The Fly, Education, Tags: ask for help, education, helicopter parents, homework, Khalil Gibran, protecting your family
I’ve learned that there are pros and cons to inserting myself in the details of our children’s lives. “Helicopter parents” hover over their children and protect them from developing their independence and decision-making skills. I understand the desire to watch over our children closely, I just do not know if this is the best approach for their long term development. As Khalil Gibran writes in The Prophet, “your children are not your children.” I believe us parents owe it to our children to give them independence and freedom. They need to learn how to fly on their own. But I just had a moment in which I abandoned the hands off approach and fired up the helicopter myself.
Recently, our son Ryan hit a rough spot in his advanced math class and results on the past two tests were less than stellar. His confidence was dropping and the math performance seemed to be seeping into his other subjects and impacting his confidence. The end of the quarter was coming fast and there was little time to turn the ship around before grade cards were inked.
Carolyn and I had a detailed discussion and we decided it was best for me to try and help him. For the next ten days, I would make his education my number one priority. I was raised quite independently and had to figure my school work out on my own growing up, particularly as I moved into junior high and high school. I had eight siblings so my parents’ time was spread out amongst all of us Savage kids. Carolyn and I had taken a similar track with our children, but for the moment that strategy was not working.
I would start this two week experiment with a heart to heart talk with Ryan. I entered his room while he was working on his computer and announced my intervention into his day-to-day academic life over the next two weeks with the objective of helping him end the quarter on a positive note. He rejected the proposition profusely. His anger was swelling as I realized this was transitioning from a heart to heart talk to a showdown. First one to blink loses. And then he dropped the bombshell I was not expecting. “Dad, you were a terrible student in eighth grade.” The accurate body blow stunned me for a moment as I collected myself and took a deep breath. I am not sure where he had intercepted this sensitive data, but I must have slipped many years ago and admitted to my unfortunate academic swoon in junior high. Now my slip of the tongue was coming back to bite me. The only answer I could return was that I wanted to help him to NOT repeat my eighth grade year. And really, that I knew he could do better and would help him prove it.
Ryan resisted mightily in the first couple of days as we laid out a game plan. He’d study on his own after school, and I would quiz him before bed and then briefly in the morning. As the initial test and quiz results came in at 100% and 96%, Ryan’s confidence immediately picked up and his resistance subsided as he saw the process working. Ryan ended the quarter brilliantly and all of his grades moved up in those final couple of weeks. We just received his grade card and his movement up at the end really helped and it is firmly planted on the refrigerator. In addition, expectations went up as he begins the third quarter. One of Ryan’s teachers emailed me and simply stated, “We expect great things out of Ryan in the next quarter.” Ryan re-learned that he is smart and is capable of doing great work.
I committed to be more involved with both Drew and Ryan tracking their academic progress and not be quite as “hands off” as I had been in the past. I learned that I was not paying close enough attention. However, they still need to learn how to navigate the academic process independently and so I will be seeking a delicate balance. I also learned that acknowledging my personal shortcoming academically from eighth grade is not a reason to give my child a free pass. Most importantly, nothing is more important than a child’s confidence and self worth. The end of December into January was not about getting a 100% on a science or social studies test, but restoring my son’s belief in himself. This outcome made it worthwhile to become a “part-time” helicopter parent.